MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
It’s the sort of phone call I dread: four stabbings and between sixty and eighty youths rampaging up and down Lordship Lane. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last. Mercifully this time the ‘stabbings’ are not lethal. But a couple of weeks ago there were three high profile stabbings. These produced the usual bursts of indignation and headlines following each spate of incidents. Much hand-wringing. Number 10 holds a summit. And then what?
Gang culture is not something society in general really understands. And the carrying of knives and guns is not something that is fully understood either. It is said that young people carry knives because they are scared not to – because other kids are carrying and they don’t feel safe. It is often said that it is about ‘status’ (who’s going to dis you now – if you carry a knife?). It’s said that the lyrics of rap songs encourage violence, degrade women and so on. It is said that when a kid can get £20,000 per year taking packages here and there versus £12,000 per year stacking shelves at a supermarket… It is said that it is easy to get a gun. It is said that a being part of a gang delivers loyalty stronger than family. It is said that kids have nothing else to do. It is said that it is family breakdown. It is said that the male role model has disappeared from families and primary school classrooms. It is said that there is a group of extremely alienated youths outside all society. It is said that when at home, gang members are as sweet as pie.
So – there’s a lot of saying going on – but – I don’t think we really know. I don’t think we have the empirical back-up. We are rightly lengthening prison sentences for carrying a bladed instrument in a public place or carrying a gun – but as with so much other crime, changing jail sentence lengths is only at best a very small part of the solution.
I raised the Lordship Lane rampage in Parliament with Jack Straw, the Leader of the House, asking him to arrange time for a proper and detailed debate of these issues in Parliament. Credit where credit is due – he said he would try and make time for a debate on the wider issue.
I’ve drawn the parallel with drink driving before (see here). That too was an issue of needing massive cultural change – making being drunk whilst hurtling around at high speed in a lump of metal no longer acceptable. Laws were needed, but so to was a long run investment of time and effort to change people’s habits and attitudes. What we’ve done for drink driving we need to go for the knife touting culture too. They are different problems – but the solution is not about the punishment alone – it’s about changing so much more. And hand-wringing and headlines definitely aren’t the answer.
(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007