24th September 2010
Tony Blair (Page 274, “A Journey’): “He took out a large knife from his coat. I walked on.
I hated it. I hated the fact that he did it. I hated even more that fact that I didn’t stop him. I hated the choice I was made to make: stop him and risk ending your life because someone urinated in the street – hardly the stuff of martyrdom – or walk on.”
The journey taken on foot by the young family man and member of parliament in the opposition Labour party might well have been his last, had he reacted differently.
Sadly, a lot of us have been in similar situations, many even worse. More recently than Mr Blair’s encounter a member of my own family, a young father too, was forced to move home following an incident outside his home in another of England’s large cities. He was attacked, hit on the head with bottles and thrown to the ground and kicked by a large gang of drunken yobs.
He had had the audacity to ask them to move away from his front door because his baby was asleep. The yobs moved off, not in panic but in their own time, jeering as they went, clearly not fearing any comeuppance. The police were called and took a short statement from my injured relative, his wife and neighbours. The gang, most of whom were by then several hundred yards along the road and still clearly within sight, was pointed out to the police. The police duly got back in their car and drove off – in the opposite direction from the gang. No-one was charged or even spoken to.
The young father was taken to hospital in an ambulance for stitches to his head.
I say this not to criticise the police, but just to report what happened on this occasion. Another member of my family serves in the police force, and I still believe that our police are wonderful.
THE CHOICES BEFORE US, ALL OF US
As for the Blair incident, this would have been some time between 1986 and 1993. It was in his humble days as a lowly member of parliament in the opposition Labour party (from 1983). He would not become party leader until 1994. (See here below)
Had Tony Blair made a different choice in response to anti-social behaviour that journey could easily have ended in tragedy. He does not state when exactly it happened, only “when our home was in Stavordale Road” (location, click ‘map’). Although already an MP it is unlikely the yob he confronted knew that or even cared.
BLAIR’S FINGER WAS ALWAYS ON THE BRITISH PULSE
His critics tend to forget or ignore anything about Tony Blair which detracts from his high-powered days as PM, much of which they disapproved. But his experience with a yob points to something too many easily forget: that he was acutely aware of a disrespect agenda taking grip of many in society in Thatcher and Major’s Britain.
Anti-social behaviour was NOT invented by Blair’s government, as this incident shows. Urinating in the streets may well be considered a long-held convenience, as it were, of being male.
But carrying a knife and threatening anyone who challenges such behaviour is not a Blair decade phenomenon.
Blair touched the throbbing vein of society’s concern with his “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” call. Whether his ASBOS made any real difference is hotly debated. Like the debate on Iraq, the “what would YOU suggest” question is rarely answered satisfactorily. But that vein of concern still throbs.
Today this is all compounded and confused by the re-positioning of the main two political parties on their traditional “values” stances. For that re-positioning Tony Blair is probably responsible.
Labour is still leaderless until tomorrow afternoon, when a certain choice of Miliband may well take Labour back to its socialist past and then we will be presented with a choice of three LIBERAL parties.
Of particular interest to ALL of us should be the Conservative party.
They, more or less, are in power. Their approach to major issues highlights the complete turnaround in the main two parties’ attitudes, perhaps particularly to crime and punishment. Seeming to counter every long-held Conservative instinct the new Home Secretary Theresa May is scrapping Blair’s Asbos.
This move will undoubtedly endear her and her government to the new civil-righters within the Tories (Ken Clarke the Justice Secretary and David Davies) and of course to their partners in (no)crime, the Liberal Democrats.
(Also see this article by a Green party member at Open Democracy whooping for joy over Davis’s new-found Tory civil libertarianism. I really don’t know which country these people are living in. It isn’t mine.)
Whether it will also endear her and her party to the voters, who approve of ASBOS, CCTV, and are largely in favour of locking up criminals, will become clear in the fullness of time.
If you ask me, I think the New Liberal Conservatives are onto a loser if this is their big society. Big time.
THE EXCERPT FROM TONY BLAIR’S ‘A JOURNEY’ FOLLOWS (p 274/275):
“I was preoccupied with anti-social behaviour, and was personally completely intolerant of it. I remember when our home was in Stavordale Road, near the Arsenal Tube station in Islington, and I had to go out to dinner. I walked down to the station. As I passed the end of our street, a bloke was urinating against a wall. I stopped. ‘What are you looking at?’ he said. I said, ‘You, you shouldn’t be doing it.’ He took out a large knife from his coat. I walked on.
I hated it. I hated the fact that he did it. I hated even more that fact that I didn’t stop him. I hated the choice I was made to make: stop him and risk ending your life because someone urinated in the street – hardly the stuff of martyrdom – or walk on.
Day in, day out, across our cities, towns, suburbs, villages and hamlets, such vignettes are played out. It’s the same in most European cities and in the US it can be worse. Absolutely rightly, people resent it powerfully. It offends their most cherished sensibilities. Out and about around the country, that was what people talked about; and I listened with a genuine desire to act.
I felt we had gone really badly wrong as a society and had to correct it. I didn’t feel it as some fragment of nostalgia; I felt it was a classic challenge of the modern world and our system had to be modernised to meet it. I wrote several personal, private notes about reform in the criminal justice system. Jack Straw got it. I’m afraid Derry didn’t. He half pretended he did to humour me, but he took the de haut en bas view that it was all populist gimmickry, as did most lawyers, judges and assorted bigwigs.
We had an additional problem, too, arising out of the fact of being a Labour government. The Mail had turned pretty poisonous. Worst of all, for those people like its editor Paul Dacre who are essentially tribal Tories, the gravitational pull of opposition meant that even if they agreed with what was being said, they disagreed with it because of who was saying it.
A whole section of the right went into a completely nonsensical civil liberties mode, at the same time as complaining of how we had to be tougher on crime. I don’t mean the whole civil liberties critique was nonsense – I didn’t concur with it, but I respected it – I mean right-wing law and order types who suddenly discovered that preserving the liberty of suspects was what they had really been about all along.
It was the beginning of the unholy coalition that after Iraq proved such a force, a sort of Daily Mail/Guardian alliance, whose only real point of unity was dislike of me, but who found in the reforms plenty to dislike if they were minded to; and they were. So over time, the coalition of support New Labour had built got weakened by a coalition of opposition that on the one side was born of conviction and on the other of expedience. But its existence meant getting heard was a challenge.”
The Chief Inspector: “more Police on the beat”, BBC report –
‘Police have given up on the street and are failing to take problems caused by anti-social behaviour as seriously as victims do, a police chief says.
About 45% (3.5m) of police calls relate to anti-social behaviour, but the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor said officers did not regard it as real crime and were slow to act.
He warned cutting spending on the issue would be “a very significant mistake”.
Police chiefs say they are deeply aware of the impact of anti-social behaviour.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the report was a “damning indictment of Labour’s failure to tackle anti-social behaviour” and the government was reviewing the tools the police needed to deal with anti-social behaviour because Asbos were “clearly not working”.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the report was tremendously important but defended the last government, saying it was the first government to introduce a whole range of powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.’
RELATED & ETCETERA
- Government, Conservative: Margaret Thatcher 1979 – 1990, John Major, 1990-1997.
- Government, Labour: Tony Blair 1997-2007, Gordon Brown 2007-2010.
- Labour party leadership: Nel Kinnock 1983-1992. He resigned when Labour failed to win, again, for a fourth time, in 1992.
- John Smith led Labour from 1992 until he died suddenly two years later, when Blair took over.
‘Asbos were the flagship innovation of Tony Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” approach to law and order. They were introduced in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act as a way of tackling low-level antisocial behaviour on inner-city estates that the police had not bothered with. The original idea was that banning orders – from being out at night or going to certain places – would be coupled with conditions such as parenting programmes designed to tackle the roots of offending behaviour.’
5. Home Secretary blames yob rise on Labour. How easily she forgets. As with growing immigration concerns the Tories’ hand is all over the yobs issue. They got there first. And ignored it.
Thanks to a tweet from Number10gov I understand that somebody called Clegg will be talking here at the UN (live video site). That’ll be that guy of the “illegal war” nonsense. I expect he’s chewing the cud right now with Amanutjob after the latter told the world that 9/11 was an inside job and that western capitalism is now dead. All ready for sharia, clearly.
I’m just about to put some capitalist money on how long it will take his Cleggieness to work out who’s on our side and just why he was wrong about Iraq. Three years? Three months? Three hours?
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the priviledge of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – “I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is a honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”
Tags: a journey, Alan Johnson, Anti-social behaviour, Anti-Social Behaviour Order, ASBOS, Chief Inspector, Conservative, David Davies, england, forces of conservatism, Home Secretary, Iraq, Islington, Justice Secretary, labour, liberal democrats, Parties, police, Political party, politics, pulling a knife on Blair, reclaim streets, Sir Denis O'Connor, Stavordale Road, Tony Blair, tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, urinating in the street