Understand, yes, but don’t overlook

I wonder if the prime minister and David Cameron saw a news report on Monday stating that a 50-year-old man is in danger of losing his sight in one eye after suffering an “apparently motiveless” beating and kicking in front of his family by up to 20 teenagers in a street in Chester.

I wonder if the prime minister and David Cameron saw a news report on Monday stating that a 50-year-old man is in danger of losing his sight in one eye after suffering an “apparently motiveless” beating and kicking in front of his family by up to 20 teenagers in a street in Chester.

The assault happened near a pub at about 8.45pm on Sunday.

I also wonder if either Mr Blair or the Tory leader saw another news item on Monday about youths throwing paint over a seven-month-old baby after being disturbed as they tried to break into a car near Kidderminster. This incident also happened on Sunday, at about 7pm.

Welcome to 'Blair's Britain', a country where after almost 10 years of New Labour rule many people walk and live in fear of gangs of yobs who have come to think the law cannot or will not touch them, and who are liable to respond with (sometimes extreme) violence to any rebuke or challenge to their thuggish, anti-social behaviour.


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In two-and-a-half years' time, or thereabouts, it may be Mr Cameron's Britain. And what would the yobs have to fear then - apart from being hugged and cuddled by people inspired by the new prime minister?

After Mr Cameron's 'tough love' utterances last week on the subject of youth crime, ITV showed film of youths indulging in menace and vandalism and sent it into the nation's living rooms to a musical accompaniment of the Beatles singing “All you need is love”.

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The Tory leadership was not happy, but it got what it deserved.

Let me remind you of a few lines from Mr Cameron's speech to the annual convention of the Youth Justice Board in Cardiff.

“So to those who simply say, crime is the fault of the criminal and that's all there is to it, I say: tell it to a young offender. Tell a 16-year-old boy, abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, on drugs, dyslexic, hyper-active . . . tell that boy it's all his own fault when he ends up in (the young offenders' institution in) Feltham. See if that works.”

Well, who would tell such a kid that it's all his fault? One would have to be utterly heartless or thick to say that. But let's turn the question round. If such a youngster is generating mayhem and fear in his local estate or community, what does the Tory leader think should be done to address the immediate problem and establish law and order?

Should the local victims, individually or collectively, tell him that they strongly suspect he's had a terrible upbringing, that they understand it's not his fault, and that they are therefore minded to set up a local support group for him rather than report him to the police? Should the police take the same attitude?

(At the risk of appearing unduly downbeat and cynical, I shall add that many people might suppose they already do in some parts of the country.)

At the core of the 'tough love' message there is much common sense. We all know that a youngster brought up by dysfunctional parents (if he is lucky enough to have two), living on a 'sink' estate and educated in a bog-standard comprehensive school is far more likely to fall into anti-social behaviour and criminality than someone raised in a traditional family where the mother and father have sound parenting skills, living in attractive house in a leafy suburb and educated in a good school.

But it doesn't mean that loutish, thuggish behaviour by the former should be overlooked or condoned. And it certainly doesn't mean that the victims of it shouldn't receive proper protection from him and his mates. They may well agree that the underlying social problems have to be tackled too. But these have been allowed to build over many years - decades even - and it may well take just as long to conquer them, In the meantime, law abiding citizens will need to feel safe.

That feeling is often lacking these days. And fresh evidence of that has just come in a poll, by Ipsos Mori, showing that 43pc of the British people select crime and violence as the topic causing them most concern. It was the highest crime rating in the six major economic powers examined in the poll.

That surely has to be some indictment of a government that has had power for a decade and has invested some considerable time and energy in telling people that the crime threat exists more in their imagination than in reality. But how can law-abiding Britons expect more from a Tory leadership that, in its rhetoric at least, appears now to be - with the Lib Dems - to the soft left of a Labour government on the issue of crime?

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