By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2110

Gordon Brown’s tough talk won’t stop knives

This article is over 13 years, 6 months old
It seems that in the last week the entire political establishment has jumped on the issue of knife crime.
Issue 2110

It seems that in the last week the entire political establishment has jumped on the issue of knife crime.

Gordon Brown used his monthly press conference on Monday of this week to announce his new get-tough approach. There are to be tough “community payback” schemes, tough plans to deal with “problem families”, and tough curfews for the under-16s.

But beneath all this robust language it is clear that none of our politicians have a clue as to how to reduce the number of young people carrying knifes, only the vague hope that by talking tough they can prevent their political rivals from outflanking them.

Brown’s community payback scheme is one such example.

Here those convicted of carrying, but not using, a knife will be forced to undertake up to 300 hours of work over 50 days.

“Communities… should have a role in deciding what they should do,” says Brown. “Cleaning up parks or scrubbing graffiti, and what time they should do it, such as cleaning the streets on Friday and Saturday night.”

The overwhelming majority of young people who carry knifes do so out of an acute sense of fear that unless they are armed, they may become the next victim of a stabbing. Some are scared for their lives every time they leave their house.

Does Brown really believe that people in such a situation will be deterred by this scheme?

Is it the case that the very small number of people who have become so alienated from the society that they see little value in human life – neither theirs, nor anyone else’s – will now think twice before reaching for a blade?

Surely even New Labour knows this is rubbish.


Brown is attempting to lay the blame for knife crime at the feet of the families of the 110,000 children he claims have been found guilty of anti-social behaviour.

“I think all of us recognise that the first responsibility where a child is in trouble or in danger of getting into trouble rests with the parent,” he argues.

Now up to 20,000 of those families could face “parenting action” programmes, and even removal to residential accommodation for retraining.

Those that refuse the scheme could find themselves evicted from social housing and their children taken into care.

How making families homeless, turfing their belongings out in the street, and then sending their kids to a care home will make the situation better is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless the idea does have a specific ideological purpose. It says social problems in our communities are the result of personal and family failure, rather than being connected to any wider concerns.

If knife crime is the product of families that are out of control, then there need be no discussion of other issues, like the levels of exclusion from schools, unemployment rates, crap jobs and lack of apprenticeships. There need not be any understanding about the way many working class young people feel completely undervalued and under siege.

Above all it means that the state can absolve itself from any responsibility for providing real remedies to the situation.

By accepting such a right wing agenda on crime, Brown has given credibility to David Cameron’s talk of a “broken society”.


He has allowed the Tories to suggest that some problems may not stem only from failed individuals but from a society whose values have failed – an idea that can masquerade as both left and right wing.

But we cannot afford to allow the right to dominate the debate over crime.

Many people rightly feel that anti-social behaviour and violence grow when the idea of community is undermined. This notion of community rests on the idea that we are not just atomised individuals, but people capable of collective action.

Struggles to improve our estates, build community centres and challenge the way our education system is developing as a test factory have the potential to unite people in ways that no mainstream politician seems capable of.

But the success of such campaigns is dependent upon rejecting the idea that young people are the problem and that a crackdown is the answer.


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