Tuesday, August 16, 2011

British PM David Cameron: "we have to show a lot more love"

So, I know there's been a flood of opinion and some analysis of what's been happening on the streets of England in the last week. I don't have a whole lot to add to that. But in trying to wrap my head around what's going on, I've come across a few things that seem like they are worth sharing...

First, here's the full transcript of a speech given by current British Prime Minister David Cameron back in 2006, a few years before he was elected. It was referred to in a recent Guardian editorial as his "hug-a-hoodie" speech. It reads in part:
For some, the hoodie represents all that's wrong about youth culture in Britain today. For me, adult society's response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right.

Camila Bhatmanghelidj, of the visionary social enterprise, Kids Company, understands. In her new book, Shattered Lives, there is an account of a girl whose pastime it was to "steal smiles", as she put it. To viciously hurt people in the street who she saw smiling. It's the only thing that would give her pleasure.

Of course we should condemn her behaviour. But that's the easy part. Because if you knew that that girl had suffered years of abuse and neglect from her family, and years of institutional indifference from the social services you would begin to understand that there is more to life on the streets than simple crime and simple punishment.

That girl is getting better now, thanks to the deep understanding and patient work of Kids Company. She still struggles - Kids Company don't do miracles. But she's not offending any more and she's just completed a course with the Prince's Trust.

So when you see a child walking down the road, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement - think what has brought that child to that moment.

If the first thing we have to do is understand what's gone wrong, the second thing is to realise that putting things right is not just about law enforcement.

It's about the quality of the work we do with young people. It's about relationships. It's about trust. Above all, it's about emotion and emotional development.

Of course we should never excuse teenage crime, or tolerate the police ignoring it. We need tough sanctions, protection and punishment. And if the phrase "social justice" is to be meaningful, it has to be about justice, as well as compassion and kindness. It has to involve a sense of cause and consequence - of just rewards and just deserts.

One of the most important things we can teach our children is a sense of justice. Too many young people have no understanding of consequences - of the idea that actions have effects. This is bad enough for us - wider society, who have to suffer the crime and cost of delinquency.

But it is truly disastrous for them - the children themselves. Young criminals became older criminals, and they end up with wrecked lives, wrecked relationships, in prison, on drugs - either dead or with such a bad start in life they never really recover.

So we have to have justice - we have to fight crime firmly and completely. Justice is about setting boundaries, and stepping over those boundaries should have painful consequences.

But that's not the whole answer.

To build a safe and civilised society for the long term, we have to look at what goes on inside the boundaries. If the consequence of stepping over the line should be painful, then staying within the bounds of good behaviour should be pleasant.

And I believe that inside those boundaries we have to show a lot more love.
The continuities and contrasts with his recent speech on the violence in England are interesting:
This continued violence is simply not acceptable and it will be stopped.  We will not put up with this in our country.  We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets.  Let me be clear.  At COBRA this morning we agreed full contingency planning is going ahead.  Whatever resources the police need they will get.  Whatever tactics the police feel they need to employ they will have legal backing to do so.  We will do whatever is necessary to restore law and order onto our streets.  Every contingency is being looked at.  Nothing is off the table.  The police are already authorised to use baton rounds and we agreed at COBRA that while they’re not currently needed we now have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours’ notice.

It is all too clear that we have a big problem with gangs in our country.  For too long there’s been a lack of focus on the complete lack of respect shown by these groups of thugs.  I’m clear that they are in no way representative of the vast majority of young people in our country who despise them, frankly, as much as the rest of us do, but there are pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick.  When we see children as young as 12 and 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society.

For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I have spoken about for years.  It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society.  People allowed to feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and that their actions do not have consequences.  Well, they do have consequences.  We need to have a clearer code of values and standards that we expect people to live by and stronger penalties if they cross the line.  Restoring a stronger sense of responsibility across our society, in every town, in every street, in every estate is something I’m determined to do.
So, we've gone from "thinking about what has brought the child to that moment" and "putting things right is not just about law enforcement" to "nothing is off the table", including baton rounds and water cannons. From the need to "find long-term answers to put things right" to "the continued violence is simply not acceptable and it will be stopped". From "condemning the behaviour is the easy part" to "we will not put up with this in our country".

The 2006 David Cameron might ask the 2011 David Cameron: where is the love?

Of course, that's a cheap shot. It's probably not entirely fair to compare these speeches, which were delivered in quite different circumstances and to quite different audiences. (Although right now, I'm not sure why I would be worried about being fair to David Cameron...!)

In any case, while there are some pretty obvious differences in the approaches Cameron advocates in these two speeches, it's the similarities beneath the surface that are striking.

Most importantly, while Cameron's 'hug-a-hoodie' speech suggests a bit more understanding and love, the love is conditional -- it is for those who stay "inside the boundaries". In both speeches, justice is presented as a matter of 'setting boundaries' and 'crossing lines'. What changes between the speeches is how he suggests those who 'cross the line' should be treated, not how or where 'the line' is to be drawn.

This is typical of the way the 'anti-social behaviour'/'respect'/'responsibility' agendas have taken root in Britain and elsewhere. Their manifest failure to achieve their own aims is mobilised as an incitement to extend their application, rather than to re-examine their core premises and assumptions.

And so, while today Cameron turned up at a youth centre to lecture the assembled kids about respect and gangs, he wasn't there to listen. Instead he will listen to William Bratton, who he has apparently engaged as a consultant. Bratton, of course, was Police Commissioner and Rudy Giuliani's right hand man in New York during the period that geographer Neil Smith famously dubbed "the revanchist 1990s".

** exasperated sigh **

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