Was the Rhys Jones murder just a crime, or the result of a new phenomenon? The answer splits left and right. We’ve heard strikingly little from Gordon Brown – and little wonder. The idea of there being a “broken society” undermines his credo. Has Britain not benefited from ten years of a Labour government dedicated to making things better for the worse off? What about all those child tax credits, those being (ahem) “lifted out of poverty”? Surely these people are all better off?
During the Labour years, violent crime has more than doubled. Youth unemployment is higher than under the Tories, lone parenthood is at a record high. These are the three symptoms of what Charles Murray identifies as an underclass. The state is bankrolling family break-up, and tearing at the bonds which tie the young to the old and communities to each other. The social decay we are witnessing in Britain is happening because of Labour welfare policies, not in spite of them.
Hence Brown’s silence. To acknowledge the scope of the problem is to admit that his policies are going badly wrong. His Sure Start centres aren’t working. His “new jobs” are a boon to Poland, but not Britain where one in seven is on benefits. This is a very good opportunity for the Prime Minister to maintain a sheepish silence.
It is the time for David Cameron to speak, and his words today are precisely what is required. Its title “it’s time to fight back” is precisely the message needed – we can do something about this, but first we need to recognise the problem. His “broken society” analysis has never rung more true than in the last few days. He offers hard-nosed policies like prison building, and Nick Herbert’s police reform agenda, which (to my mind) never gets the recognition it deserves. Overall, Cameron projects exactly the kind of urgency and optimism needed. This is the kind of campaign that wins elections.
I have one quibble. I wish he’d ditch all this “what do we expect from society?” stuff and his calls for a “social covenant” where we are, apparently, being asked to behave better as a society. I know Cameron means to be humble, pointing to the limitations of government action against the stronger force of wider influences. This is one of his favourite topics. But British culture is not Cameron’s to command, or criticise. The broken society issue simply means that the poorest are being segregated, paid to go away and live on edge-of-town estates dependent on the state. Government is causing this problem; government can fix it.
And it is doable. America, home of the gansta rap music, pulled itself out of this social nosedive in the 1990s by Clinton’s family-based welfare reform and Giuliani’s zero-tolerance policing. Result: America is now celebrating its lowest violent crime rates for decades with violent crime down 70% in New York. As Lord (John) Stevens put it in the News of the World this Sunday, “Don’t tell me we can’t do the same for Britain, a land where decent people cower behind their curtains, terrified to challenge the swaggering feral louts who have all but seized control”. As the chief says, Britain can pull itself out of this mess. All it takes is the right political leadership. Cameron’s best chance at the next election is to offer it.