Tough sentences for rioters are spot on. And so too eviction from council housing and a halt in benefit payments if they are found guilty.
So declares Claire Perry, Tory MP for Marlborough, in an exclusive statement to Marlborough News Online following her return home from holiday in America.
She missed last week’s recall of Parliament – on the advice of government whips – but suggests that it might have been better to recall schools and put pupils back to work instead of allowing them to loot shops in major cities across the country.
And she believes in the creation of the UK’s own Bill of Rights, to ensure that there is a proper balance between rights and responsibilities for all citizens.
“The shocking scenes of rioting and mayhem on British streets were shown around the world last week and I saw first hand, while on holiday in America the impact they had on people’s perception of this great country,” she writes.
“The most common question was, ‘from the Royal Wedding to this in a coupla months – how did that happen?’ The quick answer is ‘young people off school, up for a ruck’ given that one fifth of those convicted were 17 or under and the most common occupation given in court was student. ”
“In my view it might have been more effective to recall schools and teachers early rather than Parliament. But of course, these events were not like the tuition fees protests, where there was a solid grievance that was applicable particularly to one group.”
“Instead, from the initial trigger of an Operation Trident policing event (itself ironic since the Trident team was set up in response to accusations of police insensitivity at the time of the last major period of urban unrest in Britain in the mid-1980s) the riots spread and spread to become more about mayhem and looting and less about protest.”
“Politicians from all parties, as well as the well-informed British public are now asking themselves how best to deal with these events, both immediately and in the long term.”
“While there have been mutterings of ‘knee jerk reaction’ to the tough sentences handed out for various crimes committed during the riots, I think they are spot on and reflect exactly what people want. I also have to note the incredible efforts made by the Police and magistrates — who are, let’s not forget, unpaid volunteers– in swiftly arresting and prosecuting those involved.”
“I also applaud the moves to evict or sanction those found guilty who are in social housing or housing benefit tenants. We have a huge shortage of social housing in this country (I would estimate that one quarter of my surgery cases involve housing problems) and it is time to make the contract between social housing tenants and the state very clear. Access to subsidies or state-provided housing brings with it certain responsibilities and breach of those should result in sanction.”
But Mrs Perry is concerned about other policy proposals such as shutting down social networking sites.
She points out: “We cannot applaud the use of Twitter or Facebook in spreading news and information during protests in Iran or Egypt and then call for its restriction on our domestic networks.”
“But these concerns aside, we must act on the true causes that lie behind these events and this has been the main question from the 35 emails and letters I have received on this subject – ‘What are you going to do over the long term?’ ”
Her conclusion is, first, employment or activity.
“We know that unemployment continues to hit hard among our youngest members of the workforce and this has been a persistent and intractable problem,” she says. “This is even a relative problem in the Devizes constituency, which consistently ranks amongst the lowest in Britain for unemployment.”
“July’s figures showed another year on year fall in local unemployment and we rank 620th out of 650th for unemployment by constituency in the UK. But youth unemployment has risen almost 6 per cent in the last 12months.”
“There is both a demand side issue — lack of jobs, and a supply side issue — lack of skills to be addressed in solving this problem.”
“The government’s progress in creating hundreds of thousands of real apprenticeships, setting up dozens of Enterprise Zones and getting the education system to focus on real subjects rather than qualifications that are not worth the paper they are written on, will help.”
Mrs Perry’s second concern is the question of rights vs. responsibilities.
“The riots have forced all of us to focus on those tough questions about the balance of our ‘rights’ as citizens with our responsibilities to each other and to society,” she writes. “For years many of us have been grumbling about the mission creep of (initially) perfectly laudable and welcome health and safety and human rights legislation into all areas of our lives, including police tactics, benefit sanctions, prisoner rights and many other areas.”
“While there is welcome government progress in cutting red tape and bureaucracy and reigning back health and safety restrictions, I think it is time to go further, stand up for common sense in these areas, and define what we, as a country want, with a British Bill of Rights.”
Social cohesion is her third priority.
“A fancy term for what many of us in Wiltshire feel instinctively — a commitment to our local area and our neighbours,” she declares.
“This brings a sense of restraint and responsibility that will stop us from looting a local shop because we know the owner or from smashing up the streets because we would likely be part of the clean up gang.”
“This is perhaps the most difficulty area to tackle, because of the huge underlying problems such as uncontrolled immigration that can destroy local communities.”
“Long term unemployment and welfare dependency that makes people depend entirely on a faceless ‘state’ for their well-being rather than on local employment or activity and a centralisation of political decision making.”
“That means local councils are dependent on Westminster handouts, not local rates or council taxes and local schools care more about what the Department of Education, not local parents, think of their performance.”
“But these are exactly the problems that the Conservative policies with a Big Society agenda are trying to tackle. Local jobs. Local volunteering. Strong local high streets, not faceless supermarkets.”
“Local councils with a stake in the local economy. Vibrant schools that look out not up. A national citizenship service that gets all young people working together on local projects. “Supporting social cohesion and responsibility is perhaps the most important thing that central and local government can do.”
Yet she fears it is a long term problem and that any solutions will equally be a long time in coming.
She adds: “But perhaps the riots have done us all a favour by making us focus on the underbelly of British society and the problems that we must solve to be a strong and prosperous society.”
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