Thursday, 17 June 2010

No respect for the working class

The following first appeared in the Newspaper "Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!"

On 10 January, the government announced its much trailed, ' Respect Action Plan'. According to the official press release, police and local authorities are to be given 'tough new powers to deal with families who blight communities with unacceptable behaviour'.

These powers include 'a new house closure order temporarily sealing properties that are the constant focus of anti-social behaviour'- and 'parenting orders where a child's behaviour requires it'. These 'parenting orders' can be applied for either by schools or by local authority housing officers or community officers. There will be 'sanctions' for those who 'refuse help', including fines and withdrawal of benefits.

Once again Labour is trying to show how tough it is. One of the slogans that helped propel Blair into power was 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.' He's certainly kept to his word on the first line; the prison population has almost doubled since Labour came to power in 1997 and now, by flexing their muscles in the direction of the under-privileged and their children, New Labour are again showing us just how tough they are.

For, make no mistake, although the action plan occasionally speaks of 'proposals' that will, 'provide help and support' for families and' and support for people 'struggling with the challenge of parenting'; by far the bulk of the text is concerned with the punitive measures that will be imposed if this 'help and support' is not accepted.

Not that we needed this new plan to tell us how fixated this government is with punishing the young dispossessed. Not when Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are scattered among the poor like confetti at a wedding. In some cases these orders are issued to kids whose learning difficulties are so severe that they cannot understand the conditions they are supposed to comply with. In one recent case-exposed by a Panorama documentary a boy with such problems was arrested for breaching his ASBO because he took part in a five-a-side football match. His order forbade him from associating with more than three people.)

ASBOs are issued on the strength of evidence that would not be accepted in a court of law. Hearsay evidence, often from unknown sources, is read out by a council officer, and, in many cases the recipient is only aware of the order being issued when it is actually presented. In other words, people are being tried and sentenced in their absence. In some instances, particularly in Greater Manchester, where the council slavishly follows the New Labour doctrine by issuing more ASBOs than Greater London, the photographs of young children who have been given orders are printed on leaflets which are posted through neighbourhood letter-boxes. Shades of wanted notices in the Wild West.

As if this demonisation of the poor was not enough, we have the spectacle of 'problem families' being evicted because their children have been subject to ASBOs Let us imagine for a moment that, in such a case, the child has indeed behaved badly - does anyone really believe that the answer lies in putting the family on the streets? Clearly those responsible for home office policy do.

"Dispersal Zones' are now the order of the day in many cities, again with Greater Manchester leading the way. In these no-go areas, people can be forcibly dispersed because they are guilty of congregating on the streets. They do not have to be committing a crime, or even causing a nuisance, the fact that they are there clearly implies that they are up to no good.

What has been the response of the media towards this outright attack on the poor? Predictably, the right have welcomed the proposals, but so have parts of the so-called liberal press. Will Hutton, writing in The Observer, says that Blair's line on respect 'deserves better than the buckets of bile poured over him by left and right alike'. Hutton quotes the Chief Constable of Strathclyde, who says that he can identify the houses that will 'incubate the next generation of criminals 'He says that the combination of out-of-control children, desperate poverty cheek-by-jowl with great affluence, the impossibility of even rudimentary success at school and a delinquent peer group are toxic'. Amen to that, but why don't the Chief Constable-and Hutton suggest that we do something about the affluence instead of giving the poor even more problems?

Just in case there is anyone out there who doesn't believe that this respect agenda is class-based, consider this: during the reign of this government we have seen the children of the powerful and privileged clearly seen to be behaving badly. From the Prime Minister's son drunk and throwing up in the streets, to Jack Straw's lad procuring drugs and the next-in-line to the throne taking them, along with dressing up as a Nazi. Did anybody suggest slapping an ASBO on those three, or evicting their families from their homes?

Perhaps that question ought to be asked of the new 'Co-ordinator for Respect', the head of the taskforce which will supervise the whole agenda. Step forward, Louise Casey, who has been chosen for the role on a salary of between £75k and £159k. Not the first time that Ms Casey has been chosen as an overlord. In 1992, when she was the Deputy Director of the charity Shelter, she was appointed to head the government's Rough Sleepers' Unit and earned the nickname, 'homelessness tsar?. She immediately declared that handing out soup and sleeping bags to those living on the streets was merely perpetuating their misery and began a campaign to stop people giving to the homeless. The number of homeless people now stands at record levels, more than 101,000.

Again demonstrating that it is one law for the rich, in a widely leaked and reported after-dinner speech last year, Louise Casey said: 'I suppose you can't binge drink any more because lots of people have said you can't.... I don't know who made bloody made that up, it's nonsense...Doing things sober is no way to get things done.' The respect agenda is in good hands then.

Amidst all the spin words and phrases trotted out in this agenda, one line of sense stands out. 'Respect cannot be learned, purchased or acquired-it can only be earned' They might have added that respect cannot be 'punished into' people.
Eric Allison

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
BCM BOX 5909

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