Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The Cardiff Bay kiss
I finally got to ask the First Minister about the Home Office's National Respect Squad yesterday. In particular I wanted to know what input his government had had and how well equipped it is to deal with Welsh circumstances. Rather predictably he had not heard of it.
What had started off as a straightforward question degenerated somewhat when North Wales Conservative member, Mark Isherwood, brought his own peculiar brand of rhetoric to the issue:
Mark Isherwood: As you know, anti-social behaviour damages the lives of many, and often leaves older and more vulnerable people living in fear and despair. However, it is a matter of huge concern that almost half of all anti-social behaviour Orders issued to young people aged between 10 and 17 have been breached on more than one occasion, and that 35 per cent of ASBOs given to those aged under 17 involve children with a diagnosed mental health disorder, or an accepted learning difficulty. Therefore, what action do you propose—at Home Office and devolved level—to reverse this deteriorating position, so that you may truly be tough not only on crime but on the causes of crime?
The First Minister: It is important that we give equal weight to both those strictures. I do not know whether you would be able to enlighten us as to whether you adhere to the John Major philosophy of ‘understand a little less, and condemn a little more’, or to the new ‘let us get to understand the hoodies’ philosophy, which is, apparently, the new policy of your leader. It is important that we understand why young people feel that they want to rebel through anti-social behaviour, and to see whether we can divert them away from it by music programmes, sports programmes, or some other way of getting rid of that surplus energy before it diverts into the ways that have become a nuisance to pensioners and other people trying to live their lives.
At this point the Labour Party's answer to Zinedine Zidane got to his feet and delivered a 'Cardiff Bay kiss' to David Cameron and his 'hug a hoodie' campaign:
Carl Sargeant: The ‘hug a hoodie’ campaign seems to be rubbing off on Nick Bourne’s team and Peter Black—they are soft on crime, again. You do not have to be young or old to behave in an anti-social way; the issue is about dealing with anti-social behaviour as a whole. Do you believe that opposition AMs should distance themselves from the Westminster policy? What we should be doing in Wales is looking after the people and ensuring that anti-social behaviour does not affect them, whether they are hoodies or not.
The First Minister: I agree. We just want to ensure that the environment in which young people grow up is one in which they do not feel attracted to anti-social behaviour, and that, when they gather in large and sometimes threatening numbers in front of a Spar shop, and therefore discourage a pensioner from feeling safe enough to go out to buy a few necessities at 8 p.m., somehow or other they understand why they are threatening those pensioners and making them feel that the streets do not belong to law-abiding people any more. It is a difficult issue, because young people feel like congregating, but, on the other hand, it makes pensioners’ lives a misery. We must broker between the generations, to ensure that everyone is regarded as a full citizen, without causing problems to other citizens in Wales.
Quite why I was dragged into this little spat I do not know. I never even mentioned hoodies and neither has my Party leader. However, there is no doubt that this macho posturing on the part of Labour politicians is getting out of control.
There is no longer any real debate about how to deal with the problems of particular communities, instead we have politicians competing to see who can sound the toughest. The objective is not to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour but to scare people witless and then to demonise the opposition. It is a tremendously dishonest tactic.
It is especially hypocritical when the First Minister is able to join in with this game despite the fact that he does not know any of the details of the latest Home Office initiative or how it impacts on his government and its agenda.