Let’s make restorative justice a reality in 2012

Robert Buckland MP 2.53pm

Having worked for many years in the criminal justice system, prosecuting and defending in criminal cases, I am acutely aware that the trial process does not - and cannot - address the problems faced by victims of crime.

Since my election to Parliament in 2010, I have taken an increasing interest in restorative justice and how it can play a bigger role in the criminal justice system in the UK. Restorative justice can help turn lives around for the offenders and aid the healing process among victims of crime.

Restorative justice allows a victim of a crime and the offender to meet face-to-face, enabling both of them to play a part in finding a positive way forward. The practice, already being used across England and Wales in our schools, workplaces and in parts of the criminal justice system, can empower victims and communities to come to terms with their trauma and may also help to reduce crime by making offenders understand the impact of their actions.

In the immediate aftermath of the summer riots up and down the country last year, it was clear that far too many of those involved in the rioting and looting were young people.

In the debate held following the recall of Parliament, I encouraged the need for making those responsible come face to face up with the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done. I suggested this to be a good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.

I was very pleased to be part of an inspirational meeting held at the Pilgrim Centre in Swindon one Friday evening in November last year, organised by my local Quaker group.

Quakers are committed to working for peace and justice through nonviolent social change. Quakers seek to practice peace at all levels, whether being active in disarmament or promoting mediation among children.

It was an excellent evening and I was pleased to see that there are many local people in Swindon, in the Council, in schools, in church groups and the police who are committed to restorative justice. We all agreed that there were excellent examples of restorative justice methods being used in Swindon by the police and the Youth Offending Team, and that more work should be done to spread its use.

In the House of Commons, I asked Nick Herbert MP, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, about the steps the Government is taking to increase the use of restorative justice. I took this opportunity to raise awareness of the effective use of restorative justice procedures in Swindon by both the youth offending team and the police, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution.

The Government has specific plans to support the invaluable work being done locally. The Minister assured me of the Government’s commitment to delivering more restorative justice across the system. The Minister agreed with me about the value of the work in Swindon in not only providing enhanced victim satisfaction, as victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process, but also in reducing reoffending rates.

Last month, I met Lizzie Nelson from the Restorative Justice Council. The work of the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police was highlighted; they have been doing some useful restorative justice work in response to the riots.

Greater Manchester Police as a Force is very pro-active in the use of restorative justice. In November 2011 they resolved over 600 crimes using these methods. While the restorative justice work has been slower than anticipated and the Force have not been able to resolve as many cases as they would have liked given this method, there is tentative progress being made, with one offender having agreed to a conference and another using a ‘shuttle method’ with a second offender. This can only help both the victims and also the offenders face up to the severity of the crimes committed.

The Government is considering how they can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder. Funded by the Ministry of Justice and implemented by the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), the Government has also recently introduced a register that lists all qualified practitioners of restorative justice - a process where offenders meet their victims and hear about the pain they have caused.

The Government will also be piloting new Neighbourhood Justice Panels, where local residents, properly trained and with advice and support, will be able to bring victims and wrongdoers together to deal with local problems in a way that gives them a real say in the outcomes for their communities. I am delighted to say that Swindon will be one of the pilot areas.

The great thing about restorative justice is that victims are never forced to go through the restorative justice process. The wish to meet the offender has to be led by the victims themselves. Currently many victims of crime who want to meet and confront their offender have to fight very hard against entrenched practices in some of the agencies that purport to offer welfare. I am keen for Swindon to be used as a beacon for restorative justice practices and am pleased that the Swindon Youth Offending Team and the Neighbourhood Team are already well engaged in these practices.

I believe that momentum is starting to build around restorative justice issues. Between November 2011 and February 2012, there was media coverage of restorative justice issues that almost reached 40 million people. An ICM poll, commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust, showed that 88 per cent of the public felt that a restorative approach was an appropriate response to the UK riots. Books such as Belinda Hopkins’ The Restorative Classroom show how thinking on restorative practice in schools can make a difference.

In conclusion, it is about all of us, you and me, and how as a society we work together to tackle the problems and conflicts that we face. Let’s make this vision more of a reality in 2012.

Robert Buckland was elected MP for South Swindon in May 2010.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertBuckland

Egremont’s review of 2011

Nik Darlington and Alexander Pannett 10.30am

This time last year there was no such thing as Egremont, yet in September, thanks to you, our readers, we were voted the 5th best Conservative blog in Britain in the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011.

We have been pleasantly and quietly stunned at this ascent, proof that there is room in the blogosphere, amid the shouting and name-calling, for pragmatic, centre-right commentary.

Herein a review of our year: an account of where we have come from, how we have done it and what we have covered.

Twitter. A few words on that. All our posts are automatically tweeted via the Tory Reform Group and those of us on Twitter post and share articles and comments. These are in turn shared by followers (thank you). Since February, direct referrals from Twitter have comprised 13 per cent of our page hits, slightly behind the highest, Facebook, which gives 19 per cent of our referral traffic.

These figures have fluctuated (Twitter has on occasions provided up to one-third of referral traffic) but Facebook is usually ahead. This comes as something of a surprise because it feels that Facebook’s reign as the pre-eminent social media sharing platform is over and Twitter is in the ascendancy. But there you have it. We have a Facebook page too, on which all our articles are linked, and it seems to be working by sending nearly one-fifth of readers our way. Particular thanks go to Aaron Ellis for his assistance with its running.

The power of referral traffic is very clear. Guido Fawkes provided one-tenth of that traffic - or 1,538 hits - but most of it came from one article and in a single day. Saying that, fully one-third of traffic was from search engines, a vindication of our SEO strategy and a comforting sign that readers are actively looking for us (or stumbling across us!) rather than just being told to look at us. Eighteen per cent came direct.

Paul Abbott has achieved a lot this year in his full-time guise as Robert Halfon’s more-than-capable parliamentary confrere, not least setting up the brilliant Parliamentary Academy and being a driving force behind the FairFuelUK campaign that prompted the Chancellor to cancel a planned rise in fuel duty.

But we are sure that Paul would agree with us that his most noteworthy achievement of 2011 was to cause a one-thousand-strong stampede to Egremont on 23rd November. 'Why the Left should love Margaret Thatcher' has had more than 2,000 unique page views and been syndicated elsewhere thanks in part to Paul’s incisive prose and winning analysis but also the mighty sway of Mr Fawkes, who kindly referred to us as ‘the Wets’ blog’ (thank you, Harry).

Generally, readership has been consistent throughout the year, with the occasional noticeable peak. The ‘big bang’ arrived shortly before the Barnsley by-election, 3rd March, as Craig Barrett's article 'Liberal Democrats are looking down the barrel in Barnsley' won positive reviews (one half of the editorial team is gracious enough to concede that his learned-if-not-sensationalist commentary on Oxbridge dons was not the principal cause of attention that day).

Then on 3rd May, Stuart Baldock wrote an insightful piece about the Libyan rebels and there was poignant coverage of UN World Press Freedom Day; but the draw was Cllr Rene Kinzett’s presentation of 'the Conservative argument in favour of the Alternative Vote'. It was a brave and well-argued article deserving of publication. Perhaps not our most ‘popular’ feature of the year if the outcome of the AV referendum was anything to judge by, but it received plenty of attention.

August is usually the sleepy month of politics but this year we had riots. On 9th August, Nik Darlington's in-the-moment reflection ('We know nothing, except we are all to blame for this') attracted Egremont's highest traffic thus far. It was syndicated on the front page of the Huffington Post and received interest from TV station Al-Jazeera.

Media website Journalisted listed the biggest three news stories of 2011 as the Arab Spring, phone hacking and the Eurozone debt crisis. All three topics received plenty of comment on these pages, humble though we would say it was. We would not pretend to be major actors in these debates, let alone lead them. We try to focus on our columnists’ areas of expertise and on less well covered issues. But we always try to ensure our coverage matches the import of events.

Our columnists this year have come from far and wide. We have been honoured to feature blogs from the former foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, from John Lamont MSP, and from current Conservative MPs, Robin Walker, Robert Buckland and Rory Stewart.

And to name just a few of our more regular commentators: we have had economic and political analysis from David Cowan, who also won a Spectator economics blogging prize in October. Former TRG chairman, Giles Marshall, always offers a thought-provoking take on the shape of the modern Tory party. Aaron Ellis brings hard work and dedication to the foreign affairs brief. Sara Benwell gives us an edge in the finer details of finance. Meanwhile Craig Barrett’s pithy and profound musings about everything from electoral politics to taxation have been consistently among our highest read articles.

For some months, Jack Blackburn, as well as being our resident expert on film, culture and theology, has been turning his hand to weekly reviews of PMQs. Jack’s 'letter to Mrs Miliband' in November was utterly inspired and as good a PMQs review as you will read on any national broadsheet.

Naturally, most of our readers come from the English-speaking world and as much as 80 per cent from Britain (79 per cent) and the United States (11 per cent). Canada, France, Australia, India and Germany also have sizeable followings and our readers are spread as far and wide as Sierra Leone, the Seychelles, Haiti, the Palestinian Territories, Iran, Mongolia, Peru, Latvia, Israel, Vietnam, Japan, South Africa, Sweden and even, dare I say it, Uzbekistan.

And that, as they say, is that. The end.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2012.

“Out of the Ashes”: David Lammy’s Post-Riot Manifesto

Giles Marshall 9.30am

The last time there were riots in Tottenham, the local MP’s response was to crow that the “police got a bloody good hiding”.  He may have been chiming in with the views of many of his constituents, but in the aftermath of riots that encompassed the brutal murder of a police constable it was never going to be a response that scored highly on the constructive engagement scale. 

This time, the local MP, who was a boy growing up near the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985, raced back from his holiday as soon as he heard of tension in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan, spent hours and days in constructive engagement with the local community and the police, and has now published a book of his reflections on the state of urban Britain.  But then, David Lammy has always been a very different character from his predecessor. 

The former Higher Education minister hasn’t necessarily been one of New Labour’s more impressive spokesmen, but in his post-riots book “Out of the Ashes” he seems to have discovered a political voice that might just be the making of him.  No-one can doubt Lammy’s credentials in reflecting on the lessons of Tottenham in 2011.  Brought up in the area he now represents, a boy in a single parent (his mother) family from the age of 12, and a black student in a private white-dominated school for much of his secondary schooling, Lammy has personal credentials aplenty in casting his eye over the inner urban landscape that exploded so suddenly last summer.  He also understands how government works, and has a close knowledge of the mechanics of the New Labour project under both Blair and Brown. 

Yet his is no ‘angry voice’ and it is certainly not an apologia for New Labour.  It is a very personal, dignified and thought provoking reflection that offers plenty of food for thought when it comes to devising policies to regenerate a Britain whose broken state Lammy firmly recognises.  It is a virtue of his book that it does not represent some dully partisan approach but instead seeks to find practical ideas in community projects which have already been tried and tested.  Lammy may write as a Labour MP, but there is much here that One Nation Tories could readily identify with. 

Not that there isn’t anger in “Out of the Ashes”.  Go to the book’s last chapter, “Banks and Bureaucrats”, and you’ll find an eloquent and condemning account of the powerlessness of the modest citizens left homeless by the riots, and treated mercilessly by the banks.  As Lammy recounts the wretched behaviour of banks whose own irresponsibility caused them to be bailed out to the tune of billions of taxpayers’ pounds, you can almost hear the levels of indignation rising and you start to ask why every representative doesn’t regard the contemptuous treatment of his constituents with similar outrage. 

Even here, Lammy soon morphs into the would-be fixer, examining how bureaucracy might just work in his constituents’ defence.  This is his virtue.  Unlike socialists of yore, the current MP for Tottenham sees people in small community terms, to be helped and engaged with by similarly community-based ideas but backed by the power of the state.  The key is that the state comes second, not first. 

Some of Lammy’s themes will chime with even the most vigorous social conservative.  He has no truck with the liberal notion that fathers in families don’t matter.  After all, he grew up without one for a significant period of his childhood, and hasn’t put on rose-tinted spectacles to view the experience subsequently.  He wants strong male role models in deprived urban areas who are not vacuous celebrities or weapon toting gangsters.  He believes every sinew should be strained to keep fathers, especially separated ones, involved in the child rearing process. 

On criminality, he believes in punishment, but once punishment has been made he wants effective rehabilitation and offers an interesting – if rather uncosted – form of ‘social impact credits’ to pay for it.  This is where the Lammy medicine veers away from the world view of many Tories – he knows his proposals will cost money, and is happy to advocate this.  After all, he is not planning to cut the state.  Not when it has so much to do. 

Lammy’s Britain is broken because too few jobs are around to give people the necessary self-worth, and because poverty is surrounded by plenty, and because the voiceless see the influence wielded by the small community of the well connected.  He takes examples that look like the Big Society in action on a small scale, but believes that they need proper state support to become full blown solutions. 

He writes with authority and integrity because, whatever else you think of him, he knows his constituency intimately and has been there when a promising young man has been gunned down by a gang emptied of the last signs of human morality, or when a young offender has been failed by the would-be system of rehabilitation.  When a politician writes with this level of sincerity, knowledge and commitment, he deserves a hearing.  From all parties.

"Words, words, mere words", but Ken Clarke is correct about reforming Britain’s prisons

Nik Darlington 8.10am

The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has an important article in the Guardian today, in which he blames the riots that swept English cities this summer on this country’s “social deficit” between mainstream society and a “feral underclass”.

Some people are dismayed by the language used. Be that as it may, dismay all you wish but I would wager that more people are horrified by the criminal acts in Tottenham, Croydon and elsewhere than some choice words of a popular old hand known for plain speaking. Actions speak louder than words.

For what it is worth, “feral” derives from the Latin ferus meaning “wild”. In turn, “wild” means “uncontrolled or unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure” - an apt description of what occurred in English cities in August.

And Mr Clarke is not playing to any ‘nasty party’ gallery because he is writing in the Guardian, whose readers have not voted Tory since the 1950s; if it had passed you by, the Tory press and the Justice Secretary do not see eye to eye in many things beyond a penchant for beer and cricket.

More importantly, Ken Clarke writes that the underlying nature of the riots and the rioters must be a prompt for “radical reform”. Our prisons are places for punishment, of course, but there must be a heightened emphasis on rehabilitation.

Punishment alone is not enough… Locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing.

It’s not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were, in fact, known criminals. Close to three-quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction. That is the legacy of a broken penal system - one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful. In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes - individuals and families familiar with the justice system who haven’t been changed by their past punishments.

I am introducing radical changes to focus our penal system relentlessly on proper, robust punishment and the reduction of reoffending. This means making our jails places of productive hard work, addressing the scandal of drugs being readily available in many of our prisons and toughening community sentences so that they command public respect. And underpinning it all, the most radical step of all: paying those who rehabilitate offenders, including the private and voluntary sectors, by the results they achieve, not (as too often in the past) for processes and box-ticking.

I have noticed some people lazily describing the Justice Secretary’s words as lacking depth and an understanding of underlying problems. Evidently, they read the sexy headline (probably chosen by the Guardian) about a “feral underclass” and bypassed the article itself, which if they had bothered to read might have found their answer.

However, reform can’t stop at our penal system alone. The general recipe for a productive member of society is not secret. It has not changed since I was inner cities minister 25 years ago. It’s about having a job, a strong family, a decent education and, beneath it all, an attitude that shares in the values of mainstream society.

Just in case the casual reader thought this was mere rhetoric, replete with the ethos of long-held experience, are coalition government policies such as deficit reduction, welfare reform, work programmes and liberalising our schools.

Rehabilitation must be the watchword of this Government’s penal reforms. After this summer’s riots, in which three-quarters of the tried perpetrators are reoffenders, that fact is staring us in the face more than ever.

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Renovation Zones could do for skills and social activity what Enterprise Zones promise for economic activity

Paul Marsden 11.29am

The devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes. Keep people busy with productive work and activities and their is less chance of crime and general listlessness.

The term “tradecraft” is usually understood to mean a skill acquired in illegal activity. We should turn it on its head and apply it to productive activities. Unlike other community programmes, ‘Trade Craft’ would be mandatory for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. It would also be linked to benefits.

A policy called ‘Tough Learn’ would be worth 30 per cent of current benefits - a taper relief system that avoids removing benefits entirely, and similar to what the coalition government is proposing in its welfare reforms.

It is important not only to provide short-term activities but rather to design projects relevant to long-term community needs. For example, the community centre is run-down and in need of a replacement or a refurbishment, so local people would be hired to achieve these goals. Priority funding could be derived from National Lottery and local government funds and people would work under the supervision and coaching of qualified tradesmen. Training will be linked to real work that benefits the community. In the process, people could gain qualifications in short amounts of time, and then go on to complete further qualifications. Instead of a year or two years of traditional vocational training, people will be ‘upskilling’ in the space of a few months.

Another idea is to provide enthusiastic and entrepreneurial types with a box of tools to help them set up their business, such as registering it, simple guidance on business plans, basic accounting and other business activities - with no cost to that individual. Failure will be expected but we should accept this and keep encouraging people. Not everyone will become the next Richard Branson but that is not the point.

The first time a young person sells their product or service and receives payment in return will inspire them to put in more hours of hard graft and succeed. It gives them self-confidence and belief in an honest living.

Like other policies discussed in previous posts, these Renovation Zone initiatives could easily link up with the Government’s existing policy of Enterprise Zones. The latter are a good step forward for reviving economic activity. Add in the impact of Renovation Zones and you can revive social activity too.

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Renovation Zones could breathe life back into Britain’s troubled communities

Paul Marsden 11.25am

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation.

'Problem' estates in towns and cities are not the only places in Britain that are poor, disadvantaged, rundown and crippled by crime.

But they are the right place to start if this country is seriously to tackle the problem of an ingrained ‘underclass’.

Some people recoil from any kind of finger pointing. They chart complex causes and overwhelm us with the alleged impossibility of the task in front of us. Some demand great swathes of public money to spend on grand projects. Some will seek to spreak the blame across society and target bankers, MPs and the media. Equally, some will point out the unfairness inherent in stop-and-search tactics towards minority populations. Some people urge longer prison sentences and the removal of benefits and housing from looters and rioters. Some urge building youth clubs with pool tables. Some call for corporal punishment.

Instead of hyperventilating about causes and consequences and the same old policy prescriptions, we need quick, decisive, smart intervention to make a difference.

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation. There is no perfect prescription, so these RZs will need to adapt and evolve. These are the values that must underpin the RZs:

  1. To instil lifelong learning throughout the community.
  2. To keep working age people in work.
  3. To keep young people busy with productive activities and new skills.
  4. To organise projects to look after vulnerable people.
  5. To reudce community carbon emissions and enhance the local environment of landscape, property and streets.
  6. To instil pride and belonging in the local community, British values, history and traditions.

Local communities must discover their own leaders and find their own solutions. With all due respect to hard-working councillors, police officers and social workers, top down control won’t work. Responsibility must be owned and practised by the community itself. A cultural shift is required.

What matters must be what works. There is no national solution underpinning the idea of Renovation Zones. Here are just a few ideas about how they can function to be a positive driver of change.

  • Social Media: Publicise and recognise good work through social media outlets. Empower teams of ‘Street Leaders’ using Twitter or instant messaging services to communicate events and projects, seek new ideas and discover proven methods.
  • Loyalty schemes: These could be sponsored by local businesses. Loyalty schemes can be created cost effectively using QR codes or barcodes rather than physical loyalty cards. Codes could be held on smartphones and allow the collecting of loyalty points for attending events such as parenting classes or renovation projects. These points could be traded for discounts in local shops.
  • Micro-learning: Renovation Zones could be a locus of flexible and innovative learning for people turned off by traditional methods. Short courses and projects should be recognised with certificates and diplomas, according to a national standard.  It is preferable for a young person to attend one day or a few hours of learning, for instance creating a website, which can go towards larger qualifications, rather than setting the bar too high and achieving nothing at all.

Given the economic climate, the RZs cannot incur much additional funding. They must be a cost neutral venture. It has to be recognised that throwing more money at problems is not a panacea and misses the point that real change only occurs when people want it to.

The creation and management of RZs would be the task of ‘Street Leaders’. They could work solo, in partnership with other Street Leaders or alongside local authorities. It would be up to them to establish the best solutions, decide timescales and set budgets.

It is an ambitious idea but if Britain is to repair its Two Nations then ambition is what is required. As a starting point, RZs could be rolled out in the shadow of an existing Government policy: Enterprise Zones.

The possible synergies are beneficial and varied. A new comunity centre could be developed in a disused shop thanks to the quick bypassing of red tape. A Micro-Enterprise Project might secure money to fit super-fast broadband services to permit free Wi-Fi for a local street. Generous tax breaks might permit local building companies to take on young trainees and apprentices, who would assist in building the new community centre. This centre’s address could be used as a registered address for young entrepeneurs starting new businesses. It even could become a local business centre, fostering enterprise and offering training and development.

The opportunities are endless. All that is needed is the courage to try.

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NEW POLICY SPECIAL: How to repair the Two Nations of Britain

Paul Marsden 6.00am

Nearly three thousand people have been arrested since the summer riots. Hundreds have been processed through the criminal justice system. Many have gone to prison for a long time.

Still we are left with a distraught and angry majority, fed up with the bad news coming from the same areas of our towns and cities.

The minority who perpetrated the trouble remain angry with the world and transfixed by instant fame, celebrities and a ‘bling’ culture. They demand respect without earning it. They refuse to tolerate others and live in fear of each other, the police and anyone in a position of authority. That fear is turned into aggression. An aggressive mindset manifests itself in groups - or gangs - of ‘honour’ with their own uniforms, music and language. If they cannot beat the system they beat each other, they rob from local shops and they mug the elderly. Every day there are over 180 acts of anti-social behaviour in the UK.

There is a small, isolated section of British society that despises traditional British society. Two societies. Two nations.

The response of politicians to the riots has been considered and firm but it has been reactive. We must be proactive. The riots present Britain with a real opportunity to turn failed systems upside down. We cannot persist with the status quo.

Britain must bridge the divide between the so-called “underclass” and the rest of society. We need to listen and understand those angry voices. Violence, threats and law-breaking are not ways to break a conflict. Dialogue is the only way to affect meaningful change.

In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, a future Conservative Prime Minister, wrote his seminal novel Sybil, or the Two Nations. It is a story about the worsening poverty in Britain’s industrial towns and cities and the gulf between rich and poor. Its male lead, Charles Egremont, gave his name to these pages. In Sybil, Egremont undergoes a Damascene conversion from louche layabout aristocrat to passionate investigator of that widening divide between people like him, and people like the Chartists.

We now face a more subtle divide in this country. The divide is no longer between rich and poor but rather between people who generally respect others in society and those who generally rebel against society. The growing tension spilled over into violence and looting this summer and it could do so again. We need practical solutions, now.

Over the coming days, I will describe a range of solutions and policies that could be put in train right away, broadly around four themes.

'Renovation Zones' to improve skills, restore faith in communities and get people working again. Reward responsibility and loyalty.

Accelerate the removal of entrenched obstacles in our education system. Reinstate and augment the traditional factors that work, and remove the ones that don’t. Replace them with greater flexibility, particularly micro-learning.

Regenerate communities through real leadership. Replace the gang structures with street leaders who are outside the political system but inside communities.

Carry out meaningful and lasting prison and justice reform, centred around a rehabilitation revolution.

Together, they form a programme of renovation - a programme to repair the Two Nations of Britain.

Visit Egremont tomorrow for the first instalment on ‘Renovation Zones’.

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Paul Marsden was a Member of Parliament for eight years between 1997 and 2005. He was elected as Labour MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham on a crest of Blairite hope and promise but went on to oppose Labour’s foreign policy after 9/11 when he rebelled against the war in Afghanistan. In December 2001, he crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. In 2002, he was appointed a shadow health minister responsible for mental and prison health, and highlighted the dramatic increase in suicide rates among prison populations. In 2005, he was disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and became the first MP since Winston Churchill to re-cross the floor of the House of Commons, prior to retiring from Parliament at that year’s General Election.

Following stints as chief executive of a trade association and an educational charity, Paul Marsden is an international business consultant working in the UK and Brussels.

Rap music plays a big part, but there is a lot else wrong with our Two Societies

Nik Darlington 10.50am

In the aftermath of this summer’s rioting, my Egremont colleague Sahar Rezazadeh wrote that music inspired gang culture has infected our streets.

The riots were a product of gang culture and nothing else. A gang culture that is inspired, encouraged and glorified by music, especially American rap music.

The rioting and looting that swept English cities had many causes and influences, though rap music and the gang culture it celebrates is undoubtedly one of them.

This is the argument given this morning in The Times (£) by Libby Purves, in an article that also offered a qualified defence of the historian David Starkey, whose ill-chosen but apt comments on Newsnight caused a brief media storm.

David Starkey was certainly an idiot to mention Enoch Powell, even though he was pointing out that Powell was wrong in his predictions, since it wasn’t black-on-white violence.

But when he said that in gang culture “white chavs have become black”, he was trying to sum up, in a pithy telly-debate way, something that everybody with ears knows perfectly well.

Listen to them on the bus, for heaven’s sake, or on the after-school trains in leafy suburbs. White kids who want to seem tough and cool do talk in Jamaican-Bronx patois, trying to sound black. A role model in this inauthentic imitation is the 53-year-old BBC disc jockey and all-white bishop’s son Tim Westwood.

…Also, in his defence, the reason Dr Starkey used the offensive word “chav” was that his fellow guest [Owen Jones] was plugging a book under that title. A clear nod towards him acknowledged that the word was the other man’s, not his.

…His comments on Newsnight were clumsy, the ensuing fracas with the other two (equally unqualified) speakers mishandled. But it would be a pity if his detractors, in their stumbling panic to announce their own non-racism, closed down all discussion of the animating lawless rhetoric of top rappers. We should not be forced to turn a blind eye, or respect gangsta material as a valid “culture”.

…Ideally, Dr Starkey should have come armed with quotations. It would have been a treat to hear him learnedly quote Gangstarr: “I make the moves, I’m never faking/ Cause the loot is for the taking.” Or B.I.G.: “I ben robbin muthaf*****s since the slave ships… I’m robbin’ bitches too, I wouldn’t give a f*** if you’re pregnant/ Give me the baby rings and the ‘I love Mom’ pendant.” Perhaps a line or two from Outsidaz: “Zee rob white guys with nice lives… I need trick money, quick money, get me real rich money… anything I wanna do, I goes and does it.”

…You reckon none of that has anything to do with the riots? That the rap culture had no influence on the twittish lad in Nottingham jailed for posting online “kill a million Fedz, riot til we own cities”? Of course gangsta rap isn’t the only reason for the riots. But it gave a language and a bravado to the hangers-on. Cultural historians should be willing to consider that, rather than pecking Dr Starkey to death like a shedful of panicking hens.

Or, to continue the bird analogy, doing like the the ostrich does and sticking your head in the sand at troubling but honest analysis. All of society - whatever that means anymore - has contributed to these developments via unrestrained economic and cultural liberalism.

Danny Kruger, a former adviser to David Cameron, put it brilliantly in an instant opinion piece for the FT (£).

London has an underclass (a hateful word to the people in it, but no worse, and more accurate, than “the poor”). To generalise brutally, they are un-nurtured, brought up in a microculture of neglect, arbitrary and erratic discipline, and love without its concomitant need for boundaries and good behaviour.

Meanwhile the wider culture - that is us - has abandoned virtue and adopted the ethics of indifference, dressed as liberalism. We have substituted welfare payments for relationships, rights for love, and the sterile processes of the public sector for the warm morality of living communities.

We can afford no longer to remain indifferent to the culture of gangs and rap music than we can to the twisted relationship between society and state. Or should that be societies and state? It is the condition of our Two Societies, and solutions to their problems, that Egremont will be focusing on in the coming days in a special series of features. I encourage you to watch this space.

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