Imagine Britain without kids terrorising streets
I am afraid I know how many people react when they hear that another teenager has been stabbed or shot on the streets of London. For them, it is like the news of a small bomb in Albania, or a motorway pile-up in the Philippines.
It’s a tragedy, they may think, but one that has no real bearing on their lives. And if you belong, even vaguely, to that category, then I urge you to look at the map, and see how these murders are now dotted across virtually every corner of London.
Then you will see that it could be near you; it could be near me. It’s happening less than a mile from the Palace of Westminster, and it’s happening in towns and cities around Britain, too.
Then you reflect that for every death – and there have been 26 in the past year – there are thousands of less grievous injuries, and myriad assaults; and if you are like me, you start to feel a mounting sense of rage. What has caused this catastrophic collapse in values, this culture of criminality?
How come modern Britain seems incapable of dealing with these teenage gangsters? And how come they are spreading apprehension – the fear of crime, if not crime itself – into areas that are demonstrably safe?
We all reach for the automatic remedies. Lock them up. Zero tolerance. Build more prisons. Crack down on thugs. And I am certainly not saying that our instincts are wrong.
We need to get more police out on the street, and we need to end the combination of bureaucracy and political correctness that keeps police filling in forms when they could be on patrol and reassuring the public.
We need to end the appalling rowdiness on the buses and we need people to feel safe on the platforms of railway stations.
But we also need to recognise that we are dealing with the consequences of vast social change – and that we cannot rely on law and order alone.
Before these kids start killing each other, we can save time, and money, and lives if we get to the heart of the problem. These children are growing up without boundaries. They have no respect for adults because they have never been taught any such thing.
In some cases, they will be full of the rage of teenage males who never had a father, and who find themselves teased about the relationships subsequently formed by their mothers.
They need people who can talk straight to them, and give them a sense of right and wrong, and ambition and confidence. That is a hard task. The schools can’t cope.
The social services can’t possibly be expected to fill the gap. That is why I am so happy that Daily Telegraph readers are this Christmas supporting Kids Company, a charity whose mission is to help some of the angriest and most vulnerable children in the city.
Kids Company has so far had more than 11,000 clients, and, like so many politicians, I am full of admiration for what they do. But then there are thousands of other teenagers who never come anywhere near the orbit of such an organisation.
They are sucked into gangs, into crime, and they help to degrade the quality of life for millions of people who yearn for the streets to be safe, and who have become nervous of children in a way that was unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago.
We must tackle this problem, and, as Mayor of London, it will be my number one priority. I will encourage and support groups such as Kids Company, and I will do so in a way that is ruthlessly politically incorrect.
I don’t care if there is the occasional whiff of Christianity. I don’t care if the kids are lined up in rows and given boot-camp-style bawlings. I don’t care what methods are used, provided it is done with love and understanding, and provided someone does something.
It strikes me as incredible that the current Labour Mayor has said absolutely nothing about the problem, and it is a disgrace that he and his cronies are able to funnel millions down the gullets of various political action groups – with no tangible benefit to Londoners – when these millions could be used to support voluntary groups and change the lives of these children.
Think of the advantages to our society if we can start to get this right. Think how much more wonderful London and every other British city would be, if we could restore security to the streets.
Street safety is vital, because it is the precondition for solving virtually every other urban problem. Look at the appalling inequalities in London. It is a scandal that a child born in Haringey is three times more likely to die at birth than a child born in Richmond.
If you travel eight stops on the Jubilee Line, from Westminster to Canning Town, there is a fall of eight years in the life expectancy of the surrounding communities. That is as big as the difference in life expectancy between Britain and Lebanon.
Londoners have worse problems with obesity than anywhere else in Britain, and 4,000 die every year from obesity-related conditions. But how can you expect people to go jogging after dark – or at any time – if they are terrified of juveniles?
How can we hope that they will use municipal tennis courts, if they are dominated by young thugs? It is this insecurity on the streets and in public spaces that does so much to deepen divisions, and to segregate communities, and to create ghettoes of disadvantage slap bang next to some of the most affluent places on Earth.
Unless people feel safe on the streets of an urban area, they won’t open shops there, and they won’t locate their businesses there, and they won’t buy houses there, and they won’t send their children to the local school – and so the inequalities are deepened.
But if we restore that sense of security, then we get the opposite effect. We get confidence, and investment, and an erosion of inequalities, and people deciding that it is worth doing up the house, because the area is coming up.
And we can only get that sense of security if we not only improve our policing, but if we use every means possible to steer these kids away from crime. So I hope you give generously, folks, and Happy Christmas.