Emma Ware is about to embark upon a law degree at Kings College London. She has previously worked in the City, served in the British Army, and played cricket for Surrey.
I have always believed that everyone has an interest in politics. Those who deny any political interest will often talk at great length about their desire for a better education for their children or a smoother road for their car.
My political interest evolved from a noisy BBC Question Time armchair contributor to an active role within the Epsom and Ewell Conservative Association; I am also a law student and a school governor. I was propelled from my armchair by a successful fight with the local council to grant licenses to vendors to sell food and drink in our borough’s parks; as a mum of five I know that snacks are the cornerstone of a consensual society. My little victory showed me that with an idea and a determination of will anyone can make things happen. Anyone can get things done.
I am a longstanding party member but became active just before the 2019 election which is a little like going to your first football match to see your team win the cup final. After the election I joined the Conservative Policy Forum to discuss government policy and debate policy ideas we had as a group, a very enjoyable way to spend an evening. The CPF announced their inaugural Policy Pitch Competition; members were invited to send in their ideas. The winning idea would be discussed with the relevant minister. The attraction of a platform like this is not the kudos of victory but the opportunity to have your idea debated, challenged and improved by like-minded souls. I was going to Harrogate anyway. I would be attending the Forum. I sent in my idea. I had very little expectation.
I took out the little black book that after many years of happy marriage has seen the phone numbers replaced with policy ideas. I chose an idea that with two sons on the precipice of their teenage years I had given a lot of thought to.
The last ten years of Conservative Government have seen a remarkable reduction in the volume of first-time entrants to the Youth Justice System with figures falling by 85 per cent since 2009. However, re-offending rates have risen as have lengths of sentence and incidences of suicide and self-harm within Young Offender’s Institutes (YOIs). Evidence suggests YOIs do more harm than good when dealing with first-time offenders. HM Prison’s Inspectorate in 2015 said that YOIs ‘were rife with gang violence’ and they ‘were no better than conventional adult prisons at preventing re-offending.’
I proposed a scheme to keep first-time offenders out of prison and create a conditional amnesty to clear their criminal record if they did not re-offend for three years. The scheme would run concurrently to a three-year suspended sentence and if they did not abide by the rules of the licence or they committed a crime they would be rearrested and sent to prison.
The scheme has four elements.
Initially, it would provide a mentoring system where offenders were matched with a relatable mentor from their own community, ethnic, and socio-economic, background. The mentor would help set goals, offer advice, and understand the challenges they would face. They would act as a liaison with social services, the probation service, and the police. There are already many charitable and public sector sponsored mentoring schemes; I have had personal experience of the marvellous mentoring work Chance UK does with vulnerable children.
Next, they would enrol on an educational/vocational course giving them a qualification that would lead to employment. We have a fantastic further education network of colleges, the funding is already there, the implementation of this would be minimal.
Additionally, they would get involved in a community project, possibly helping other young or vulnerable people. Similar to community service but more purposeful and with an emphasis on providing a sense of altruism and community spirit.
Finally, they would also take part in a sport, either coaching or participating themselves. Sport can provide a positive outlet for the tribalism that young people seek in gang culture. Many first-time young offenders are committing gang or knife-related crime. In the year to March 2019, government statistics showed 4,500 incidences of knife crime were committed by children. Again, charitable organisations like Sports Works Ltd are already achieving amazing outcomes in this area.
If at the end of three years they have earned the qualification, have continued to work positively within their community project and have remained engaged with the sporting scheme they will have their criminal record wiped clean. This policy offers a meaningful second chance for young people who have taken a wrong turn.
I was delighted to find my idea resonated with so many people and was truly astonished to win. The CPF provides a vital channel for ideas to travel from the grassroots to the centre of government and I can’t wait to promote my idea within Whitehall. My experience shows that the Conservatives continue to be the party of innovation and ideas and I urge every member to get involved in their local CPF.
Everyone is interested in politics; everyone has an idea; now everyone can be heard.