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Home > Politics

Duff Respect

13 January 2006

On Monday Tony Blair declared that if his grandfather, or indeed his father, were to be magically transported to 21st century Britain, both would 'marvel' at modern technology - such as podcasting - but, on the flipside, both would be 'shocked' by the 'loss of respect in local communities and on the street'. In his podcast to readers of the Sun Online on Wednesday Blair declared that, 'None of us, alone, not even government, can put respect back at the heart of our communities, but acting together, we can, and we will.' Hence the Sun's wonderfully pithy headline summary: 'Blair urges: Shop a yob'. Easy. Criminal justice has never been so simple.

The Sun's coverage of Blair's Crucial Respect Action Plan has been quite laughable. We added the word 'Crucial' to round off the acronym, but really Blair is so eager to appear 'in touch with the people', or at least Sun readers, that it really is only a matter of time till he slips a misguided 'crucial' or
'booyakasha' into one of his mp3s. For the moment however, a photo of him pointing a pressure hose at some innocuous graffiti has shown that he means business. This initiative isn't merely a case of catching a few eyes with the extension of a few more police powers that won't be implemented properly. Nor is it merely a case of making the right noises for a disillusioned but still gullible populace. Oh no. This is the Prime Minister himself pointing a pressure hose at some innocuous graffiti. He clearly means business.

The thrust of this bold new rehash of tired old clichés is of course, that in order to return to the kind of society where young men doff their caps at old ladies rather than spit phlegm in their faces and rape them, what we need are tougher laws. So, in his historic embrace of podcasting technology - he really is the Ricky Gervais of modern politics - Blair outlined some potential situations which the proposed increase in police powers will help to combat.

He began with the example of 'a pub or a club that's continually the scene of rowdy scenes outside with fighting and drunken behaviour' - in this case the police will have the power to close down the offending establishment and review their licence. Then he really got into his stride. 'People who use their home for
persistent anti-social behaviour will be evicted....'; 'Where you've got gangs of youths hanging around and they're refusing to disperse, you can put fixed penalty notices on them....'; 'Where there are parents out with their kids in the middle of the day when the kids should be at school - they can be subject to penalties too.' Wow! The end of the yob is nigh! These new powers are sure to reach the parts that other extraordinarily similar powers could not reach. But what about drug dealers? Surely the PM intends to help us combat this most pernicious destroyer of the community? Of course he does. Fear not.

'Where drug dealers are, you know, driving down the street in a fancy car with a lot of cash on them, the police will be able to take the cash, and the drug dealer will have to - or suspected drug dealer - will have to come and prove that they got it lawfully to get it back.'

Phew. Sadly, this is the same police force who this week exonerated themselves from any wrongdoing in the murder of terrorist - or suspected terrorist - Jean Charles de Menezes, so we know we're in capable, if breathtakingly corrupt and self-serving hands. Of course, the very real problem with all of this trendy headmaster posturing is that it totally fails to address the root causes of why 'people today ain't got no respect'. And without addressing the root cause of the perceived epidemic of anti-social behaviour, Blair is just applying a sticking plaster to a tumour. When the Respect Action Plan is up and running, there is no doubt that the so-called 'yobs' will continue not to give a flying fuck. The only difference might be that the increase in hastily applied legal sanctions will make them feel slightly more justified in not doing so.

Sadly, as we all know, the roots of social dismay are much more difficult to address than the dense mass of undernourished leaves clinging tenuously to a framework of rotten, untended branches. If you'll pardon the metaphor. You can't stick a fixed penalty notice on poverty, no more than you can serve an ASBO on hopelessness and rage. So it's easy for Blair and serves him very well to be seen to be doing something, and in passing the buck of responsibility back to ordinary citizens, he can even pretend to be acting out of some democratic impulse. He isn't grasping around in the dark for short-term solutions. He's giving the power back to the people. And the Sun, who have set up a special hotline where the mob can shop yobs to their hearts' content, are right there with him. What a team.

One thing's for sure: respect sure ain't what it used to be.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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