To watch the speeches of Tony Blair in reaction to the recent shooting of fifteen year old Billy Cox in Clapham bought home just how little Blair understands of the lives of ordinary Londoners. As we all should be, the Primeminister was genuinely shocked and yet one got the impression that those voxpopped to distraction by the media had seen it coming. Shocked certainly, but sadly, not surprised.
Where a government has been in power for ten years, should they not see this sort of thing coming too? What I believe shocked Tony Blair and his government was another very public demonstration that what ever they try to do, gun crime only gets worse.
Like many people in power, Tony simply doesn’t understand why not everything he has done works. Let’s not pretend that any government could rule this sort of thing out. They couldn’t and they should never expect to be able to, but where the New Labour project has failed is in raising aspirations on estates such as North Clapham. All the extra police (although they are really Community Support Officers and not proper Police at all), do not seem to have made a difference.
Way back in 1997 we were promised that New Labour would not just be tough on crime, but they would be tough on the causes of crime. We have seen plenty of inititatives to tackle crime but the aspirations of those in our inner cities seem to be lower than ever. It is hard to fathom, but social mobility is lower in Britain than it has been for decades. How can that be after ten years of continuous Labour government?
What was the point of ten years of labour government if at the end of it, 70% of Britain’s wealth is now held by 5% of the population? More than at any time in my lifetime.
Where Tony Blair and New Labour deserve credit is the issue of poverty. The huge increase in Gordon Brown’s tax-take has lifted people out of poverty, simply by direct transfer of tax from some to benefits for others. Indeed such has been the success of New Labour in throwing benefits at the poor that we learn this week that they have entirely overstretched themselves, (well us really) and have little choice but to cut back.
It was always the view of some on the left that to achieve real progress in social equality, a period of high public spending on social security would be required to achieve breathing space, in which time the building blocks could be put in place for a broader based economy of real ‘opportunity for all’.
For the government to have succeeded in this aim, not only would those opportunities have to have been created but they would also have to be appreciated by those that need them most. If we look at the recent trouble spots in London, Peckham, Clapham, Streatham and many others are all within easy commute of what is currently the World’s financial capital, the City of London.
Perhaps it is contrary to popular opinion, but most of the three million jobs in the square mile do not require a university education. There are good jobs with good salaries available on the doorsteps of these communities and yet somehow the youth of this these estates do not see the opportunity and do not seem to be able to break through. Why? Is it race? Is it culture? Why is it that instead of heading across the Thames supplying a much needed boost to London’s labour market, huge swathes of the community see the openings as being for someone else, not for them? Why would so many of the young rather stick to crime and gang culture?
Many will blame the media. Little credit or kudos is given to a good days work for a good days pay. If you can’t be as brilliant as Beckham or as cool as Kate, you might as well just be bad, which lets face it, is far easier to achieve.
Unions too seem to want to poor scorn in the value of work. No matter what the earnings are, they are seemingly not enough and the value of work is constantly called into question, even for what would seem in the real world of the private sector to be really quite reasonable, and certainly provide a better standard of living than many could have dreamed of twenty to twenty five years ago.
Another attack on the value of work of course comes from Gordon Brown himself. Who can forget the election pledge “we wont raise income tax” which was cruelly complied with by a doubling of national insurance. The tax burden on the low paid is ludicrously unfair and must be tackled. In short, we must I increase the real value of work, as well as the perceived value.
The truth is of course, that for someone like me who has been lucky enough to be born into a very secure middle class family and spend my life in areas such as Cornwall, the Cotswolds or Kew, Despite my pretty average qualifications, I don’t really know what makes these communities work and I don’t know why the young feel they are barred from jobs such as mine. I suspect that in this way at least, Tony Blair and I have something very much in common.
This is precisely why we need to empower local communities to find real solutions that work for them. It is perhaps natural for any Labour Party of any generation, to wish to control things from the centre.
Paramount to their self image is the idea that they can create the solutions and any devolution of this is a threat to this. The truth is however, that white middle class men and women in Westminster are not the people to solve the issues, it is simply their job to facilitate local communities to do this for themselves. Well I say simply…
Surely we need to get into schools and sell the benefits of a good education there. Believe it or not, the purpose of doing well at school is not for the benefit of the school in the league table, not is it to impress Ofsted, yet that is what our school children are faced with. Teachers talk of the pressure put on pupils to do well in SATS tests. This pressure is entirely bogus. The SATS test are not there for the pupils, they do not take the results into the world, but the pressure is passed on to the pupils by the school and it’s teachers because they are required to meet the targets. It seems that a place up the league table is so important that it obscured the very reason the school is really there, to give youngsters the best opportunity of success in life after they leave.
It seems obvious to me, that it would be far easier to engage our young people with their own education, if we were able to communicate that the motivation of the school and of the teachers is to help them achieve, not vice-versa. To do this, we surely must free our teachers of the burocratic millstones they carry as well as the ridiculous amount of testing that has built up to test teachers rather than to help them assess their pupils needs.
Education has always been a political football, it always will be. We will never be more than a couple of years away from the next ‘Great Education Debate’. This government saw very early that if they were to maintain power, they must find a modus operandi where by they could prove themselves successful. They chose targets and statistics. After all, we do live in an accounting age. Sadly, the whole point of education is not to prop up the egos of government, real success is probably invisible.
Real success is when someone gets so much out of the start they get from education that they achieve their potential in life. Not just by getting good results or attending university, but by actually being the best adult they can be, the one they really want to be.
This of course, is vitally important across the whole spectrum of society, however it is the only way that we are going to tackle long term poverty and social exclusion. There might not be much of a political prise in that, but there is something far more valuable.