CAMDEN COUNCIL in north London has a new magazine—Camden Living. The front page lead is “Cracking Down On Crime”. The editorial and another whole page are devoted to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs).
On my estate, tenants’ meetings frequently discuss what to do about the noise generated by children playing football or hanging out with their mates.
Even one kid methodically practising their basketball skills can drive you mad. And when a large group take it in turns to drive mopeds around the estate it’s almost enough to start World War Three.
But the Labour councillor was wrong to argue in his letter in last week’s Socialist Worker that we should support ASBOs as a way of giving power to local communities.
Socialists have a choice. We can either address the causes or join the right wing chorus for scalps. Ask any teenager and they will tell you—hanging around isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Overcrowded homes and a lack of cash mean there is no alternative to hanging out with your mates on the street.
This was once recognised by many of those now pushing ASBOs. They were part of the early 1980s generation of Labour Party activists who had a strategy of taking control of local councils to improve the lives of working people. They included home secretary David Blunkett, leader of “the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire”.
They prided themselves on being able to set up youth clubs, expand the number of apprenticeships and create decent jobs. But when the Tories demanded massive cuts in council spending they caved in. They took responsibility for shutting youth clubs, ending apprenticeships and replacing secure jobs with private contractors.
Today they promote ASBOs and scapegoating. Huge amounts of money are spent on extra police patrols, curfews and banning orders. That money could instead be spent on facilities for our children.
Scapegoating doesn’t make our communities feel more “cohesive”.
On my estate this debate brings out the best and worst in people.
Ten years ago in Camden we set up a joint campaign with teenagers, tenants and trade unionists to lobby the town hall. We won extra money for youth services.
We showed how working class communities can unite to both make a difference in the here and now, and to offer a strategy for changing the world into one that we would want to bring up children in.
Our vision of a different way of organising the world—one that uses resources to benefit the majority—provides a real alternative to New Labour’s increasingly right wing social agenda.
Many people are repelled by the attempt to demonise young people—but they lack confidence to fight it. The role of socialists is to stand up against the reactionary propaganda pumped out by the government and the media, and to organise people to resist it.