Alistair Thompson is a councillor in Portsmouth and part of the City Seats Initiative in West Bromwich. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
Whilst listening to the Today programme yesterday morning I nearly choked on my toast, after hearing Nick Robinson announce that Gordon Brown was going to talk about getting tough on the thugs and hooligans who roam our streets. This new initiative we learnt has been driven by the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter driven to suicide because of anti-social behaviour.
Why did I nearly choke? Simple, because over the last 12 years Labour have weakened our police, created a mismatch of different groups with a shared responsibility for tackling the scourge of bad behaviour. And the truth is that all of Labours tinkering, new laws, money wasted on police bureaucracy, human rights and time spent talking about these problems has achieved nothing, in fact the problems are getting worse.
Take a case that I have been involved in my work as a local councillor. In the past a phone call to the police would have been the trigger for action. Now I had to tell the residents that the Council would coordinate the inter-agency response, involving the Police, Housing Association and Council, but before this could happen my resident had to keep a diary of the problems.
This complicated process took months and in the end the resident started to accept these problems. I still have her diary as a reminder of just how broken the system has become. I firmly believe that this Labour tick box exercise is not designed to stop these pint-sized rambos from terrorising their locality but so the Home Office can point at all the activity that is taking place. Sir Humphrey eat your heart out!
I don’t blame the police, because I think they get a really hard time. The youths know the law better than any solicitor, so they know exactly how far they can push the police, they know they can spit, bite, kick and scratch any bobby who tries to arrest them with impunity.
Of course officers can only try to make an arrest the 17% of time they actually spend on the street, whilst most policing seems to be left to Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) who are seen by all as a way of policing on the cheap. And don’t be fooled that those who we want to target do not distinguish between these quasi-coppers and the genuine article, because they do; locally in Portsmouth PCSOs are often called ‘keystone cops’.
And does anyone buy the line peddled on Today by Alan Johnson that there are considerable powers of conviction and eviction in place, and that the failure in this case was all down to the police? Yes, the police do need to accept some of the blame but we all know what Mr Johnson referred to takes years to bring to bear and who wants to endure years of abuse, vandalism, intimidation and violence, especially when you have young children? Most people simply move to somewhere else.
At the next election, we must not allow Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson to wash their hands on this issue, they must not be allowed to pass the buck to the police and councils. We must remind voters that it is Labour who has promoted irresponsible policies on the family, encouraged a huge expansion in welfare and have prevented the police from getting to grips with this problem.
So what is the solution? To me it’s simple, the responsibility for dealing with anti-social behaviour must be given back to the police, but reforms can’t stop here.
The police must be freed up from the shackles of paperwork. In the first instance get the actual police officers back on the streets and give the paperwork to the PCSOs, but I hope that within months of a Conservative Government much of the paperwork will be ditched freeing up more police time and getting more people on the beat.
Criminals should know that if you break the law you will have your collar felt. In short, thugs and hooligans should fear the forces of law and order.
The Government and councils must also do more to tackle bad behaviour, but not more seminars, interagency meetings, action plans, intervention strategies or other ways of seeming busy. Firstly if you receive any form of state support, I think you have a contract with the state to obey the law and if you break this you should incur a penalty. So benefits must also be tied to behaviour.
Councils must be allowed to kick out those who misbehave from their homes. There are plenty of law abiding families on our waiting lists so why do we keep the ‘bad’ in homes and the good homeless!
And we must do more to tackle the problems before they start. We must as Iain Duncan Smith has been saying tackle these problems before they start. We must start building up families and supporting parents, rather than breaking them up and trying to pick up the pieces once it is too late, because if we don’t there will be more tragic cases like Fiona Pilkington and her daughter .