Victoria Borwick is the former Conservative MP for Kensington and was the Deputy Mayor of London to Boris Johnson from 2012 to 2015.
As I write this, 60 young people have lost their lives this year. Sixty families grieving. This cannot go on.
As the previous Deputy Mayor of London, I saw at first-hand how you can tackle this problem. When Boris was Mayor he inherited a murder rate of over 21 young people a year – in 2008 from Ken Livingstone. We saw this figure as too many – one is too many in my eyes, although at the time our murder rate for was lower than New York. Kit Malthouse, now a Member of Parliament, had the job of tackling this head-on, yet at every weekly team meeting, there was intense scrutiny from the Mayor and his support team on tackling youth violence. By working across parties, across all London boroughs, Kit established community networks and joint engagement teams. As a result, he reduced this terrible death toll.
We cannot expect the police to be social workers. As they say in the African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child – in fact it takes an entire community of different people to engage with young people in order for them to experience and grow in a safe environment. Thus we need that same joined up thinking now – the Joint Engagement Teams I experienced at City Hall worked with the boroughs, the police, all the emergency services, the schools and the local community. The police know where the hot spots are, they usually know when the criminal activities take place, so they can identify the likely crime spikes and target accordingly. The police must identify the most harmful gang members and can give them a stark choice – leave that lifestyle and relentlessly enforce the law for those who continue to offend.
I have been out with our local Met Police teams in North Kensington and in the community – they know their patch, they know every young person walking the streets and more importantly when they don’t know them – where have they come from? We must not forget the vital role of those officers who actually know their communities, and who know what is going on. We must allow them to do their jobs.
However, what are the other parts of the community doing to help? Evidence showed that on the days that there was after-school sports or other activities on offer then crime was reduced. Keep our school facilities and sports facilities open longer, late into the evening, not for our teachers to work longer but for youth organisations to run. The main cost for many youth organisations in Central London is their premises. Well, we do have premises – they are called schools, but through inflexible health and safety regulations, these are often locked and barred, just when they could provide a safe space for our youngsters. We need to link our young people into the local “YOU” organisations – the cadets – the army cadets, the police cadets, air cadets, fire cadets, the Scouts, the Boys Brigade and all the rest – these organisations are there providing that week-in-week-out support that can be missing in young people’s lives, they provide the structure, the role models and the range of activities, and most of all they support each other and generate pride and a sense of achievement.
Put simply, for a young man to raise a knife or gun to another is a failure for all of society and every single one of us needs to look at why that is. Anyone who has been involved with these volunteer groups knows that they attract young people from across all communities, faiths and income. Social Services has been known to fund placements for young people at risk, as they know the support that they will receive. Locally our young police cadets in Kensington took over 80 people on holiday last summer – after the Grenfell fire, they were united through positive action from their local community – keeping young people safe and protected at the most vulnerable time in their lives.
Many brave families have worked so hard to help young people and give them support and we must learn lessons from them too – the Kinsella Family, the Mizen family come to mind, but there are many more who have taken positive action in their local communities to stop young people dying.
Words are cheap – as Sadiq Khan approaches the latter stage of his first term in office, he needs to do more than talk or pass the blame onto others. He has the responsibility in London to sort this mess out and must get an urgent grip and use his power and influence to keep our young people safe.
It was never nice in my role as Deputy Mayor to attend funerals, anniversary events or memorial services – too many times have I stood side by side next to grieving family members and sobbed quietly into my handkerchief. I cried at the unnecessary loss of life. I cried at the future plans these young people had to travel, to carve out a career, for marriage, for children and grandchildren that were over before they had even begun. I cried for the families who thought that their children were safe in our city.
No more deaths, Mr. Mayor. No more deaths.