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Year 2005 No. 79, June 16, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

“Safe Communities”, Values and New Labour’s Vision for the Youth

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

“Safe Communities”, Values and New Labour’s Vision for the Youth

Teenager's Legal Challenge to "Anti-Social Behaviour" Law

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“Safe Communities”, Values and New Labour’s Vision for the Youth

by Workers’ Weekly Youth Group

To understand New Labour’s vision for the youth, we need to look at their vision for society.

            Prior to the General Election, the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke launched the government strategy, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, on January 17. The vision for society described is one in which people “can work together to create leading businesses, respond to common challenges” and “draw on the best talent available”.

            This vision relies on developing a “sense of inclusion and shared British identity and mutual expectations on all citizens to contribute to society,” and “widespread social participation”. The government’s intention is to “give greater emphasis to promoting a sense of common belonging and cohesion among all groups, setting out a vision for an inclusive British society in which ... people have opportunities to develop a greater understanding of the range of cultures that contribute to our strength as a country”. The phrase “contribute to our strength” should be interpreted in terms of the programme to “Make Britain Great Again”. What about that range of people and cultures that are deemed not to contribute to this programme? This is how their racism operates and in this respect, “extremists who promote hatred are marginalised”.

            The document explains that the government cannot carry out its strategy alone, and that business, communities and individuals have their roles and responsibilities. “Business has a vital role in ensuring that the talent of all is used and many companies have already been leading the way in promoting diversity”. “Community groups” will “strengthen the sense of belonging and cohesion in society”. “Individuals have a responsibility themselves to contribute to society and use services appropriately”.

            Similarly, an earlier speech by Alan Milburn, Power to the People: The Modern Route to Social Justice, given on December 8 last year, (which, incidentally, did not mention the word society even once) spoke of “empowerment for individuals and communities” and claimed “Britain’s strength ultimately resides in our families and communities, where the character and values of citizens are formed”.

            The same ideas are found throughout Labour’s election manifesto. The relation of individuals to their collectives is obscured, substituting the “community” in place of the concept of the collective. Milburn’s quote above on “Britain’s strength” is a New Labour rendering of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous statement that there is “no such thing as society”, only individuals and their families.

            New Labour would like to construct “safe communities” of individuals who essentially fend for themselves and their families. The bourgeois concept of society as a simple sum of individuals rather than individuals being a product of society and various collectives went into deep crisis during the eighties with Thatcher, continuing into the nineties. Far from resolving this crisis, New Labour has attempted to give it a typically “Third Way” style rendering by introducing their idea of the “safe community”, where everybody is supposed to keep an eye on what occurs within its boundary. Each community is to be a fortress of “British values” – defined as the mainstream – those with “extreme” values are suppressed. “No going back to ‘no such thing as society’. Going forward instead to power and resources in the hands of the law-abiding majority,” as Tony Blair says in his preface to the Labour Party Manifesto.

            Going back to the programme to “Make Britain Great Again”, Blair tells us that “the British people have the capacity to make this a great country”. In their third term, Labour will “forge an even stronger bond between the goals of economic progress and social justice” (or investment with reform in favour of big business) and “cement a new social contract with rights matched by responsibilities”. This social contract is summarised by Blair as “we help you, you help yourself; you benefit and the country benefits”; “self-interest and national interest together”. They will do this, the manifesto later says, by “making Britain the best place to do business”.

            What is the place of youth in the safe communities? Labour proudly declares that “there are record numbers of police” assisted by new Community Support Officers; “new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour have been introduced” (already used to target dissent) and “we have halved the time from arrest to sentencing for persistent young offenders”. The youth are under control, maybe even under curfew.

            The central thread of New Labour’s “Third Way” brand of individualism is the battle over values. This seems to be how their racism and chauvinism is operating, not literally around colour of skin and nationality, but around the values that serve the British state. These are the values of individualism, but also the values that motivate wars of aggression.

            There is a lot in the manifesto and the speeches of New Labour about instilling young people with these values and mobilising them for programme of “Making Britain Great Again”. For example, in Charles Clarke’s speech: young people will “grow up with a sense of common belonging”. Labour “will improve opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to learn and socialise together to develop an inclusive sense of British identity alongside their cultural identities”. It will help young people develop what it calls social participation, through “citizenship education in schools, providing increased opportunities for volunteering and by exploring options for developing local ceremonies to help mark their transition to adult membership of society”.

            New Labour’s programme is one of instilling this kind of chauvinism and individualism amongst young people, of initiation of the youth into the official values that New Labour is defining for society. This is certainly having an impact on the cultural level of young people. But the emphasis on individualism is also being challenged as youth get together to discuss and affirm that what at first appear to be personal problems and issues are in fact problems and issues of the society. In all this, the battle over values is key, part of which is the need to challenge the ruling ideology on the concept of the individual in relation to collective. Confusion over this relation underlies New Labour’s youth strategy.

            Society defines the individual and collective rights and duties. There can be no possibility of harmonising the interests of the individual with society in New Labour’s thinking; rather, an indoctrinated set of “British values” that serve the interests of British capital. There cannot be any rights and duties either; rather, “opportunities” and responsibilities. There is no alternative; those that seriously attempt to create an alternative will be marginalised as “extremists”: being “radical” is the privilege of the government. Young people need to challenge and are challenging this vision of society.

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Teenager's Legal Challenge to "Anti-Social Behaviour" Law

A 15-year-old teenager, known as 'W' for legal reasons, who is subject to a town centre curfew is to challenge government "Anti-Social Behaviour" policy in court by initiating judicial review proceedings. He is being backed by human rights group Liberty in taking Richmond Council and the Metropolitan police to London's High Court.

            In the "dispersal zone" established in Richmond, London, and put in place at the beginning of June, police can impose a 9pm curfew on all under-16s in the area. Young people under the age of 16 can be forcibly returned to their homes by police if they are out unaccompanied by an over-18 between that time and 6am the next morning. The power to enforce such curfew zones was given to police and local authorities in Labour's Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.

            Liberty's legal director James Welch said the laws attack all children, not just the badly behaved. "No-one objects to reasonable sanctions for bad behaviour but these powers fail to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty," he said.

            'W' made the statement: "Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I've done something wrong. But they shouldn't be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I'm under-sixteen."

            Liberty notes that "'W' has never been in trouble with the police. He is a bright, conscientious and churchgoing young man who is taking some of his GCSE's early this summer. His interests are sport and music."

            According to Liberty, "In the latter part of last year, 'W' was affected by a 'designation’ under section 30 (6) of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. Under this power, a senior police officer designates an area for a curfew and this is endorsed by the local authority. Once such an order is in place, the police have the power to remove any unaccompanied person reasonably believed to be under 16 if they are in the area after 9pm. There are hundreds of these designations in place all over the country. Crucially, the power to remove doesn't require any bad behaviour on the part of the young person."

            Richmond Council, in conjunction with the Metropolitan police, has used the measure in three areas – Ham, Twickenham and Richmond centre – since the act came into force. "We very much hope the judge will uphold their continued use. This is an important test case which will have repercussions nationwide," a Council spokesperson is reported as saying, referring to their "important contribution".

            Liberty called the case a "test-case challenge to one of the cornerstones of the Prime Minister's existing 'anti-yob' laws – child curfew zones. ... This case is a direct challenge to the Prime Minister's approach to young people and anti-social behaviour. It is quite right to clamp down on bad behaviour but not to treat all young people (with or without hoodies) as criminals."

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