Cotton on to cameras

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Closed-circuit television is being seen as the only answer to mollycoddled children's antisocial behaviour , says Stuart Waiton.

At a recent meeting in London, Frank Field, the well-known Labour MP who lives and breathes the issue of antisocial behaviour, explained to a friend of mine that adults should not intervene to prevent antisocial behaviour because this would put them "at risk".

Gone are the days of the "have a go hero". Today it appears we not only have "cotton wool kids" who are over-protected by their parents, but cotton wool communities made up of adults being mollycoddled by politicians.

In my own area, we are about to have CCTV cameras introduced, not because of a rise in crime, but because of the fears of some local adults and the reaction to them from Mohammed Sarwar, the local MP.

At a recent meeting in my son's primary school, Mr Sarwar dismissed questions about the rate of crime in the area. For him the crime statistics were irrelevant. What mattered was that "people are living in fear".

Relating to people's fears has become a new basis for politicians to re-engage the public. In my own area, for example, there have been three meetings in the past five years organised by the local MP, all about crime and the antisocial behaviour of young people in particular.

The young people on this estate in the south side of Glasgow are no angels but, by relating to the fears of some local adults, the distinction between an area riddled with crime and one, like many others, that has a number of annoying young people hanging around, has been lost. By engaging with people's fears, the objective nature of the problem at hand has disappeared and the annoying child who creates fear in adults is now understood by politicians to be as much of a social problem as drug dealers and criminal gangs.

Last year the Government promoted the politics of fear in relation to the issues of illegal immigration and terrorism and was attacked by a number of political commentators for exaggerating these problems and encouraging fear across society.

However, a similar politicisation of the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour by young people has gone largely unchallenged, partly because of the real difficulties that face adults who intervene in disputes with young people today.

In this respect the fear of antisocial youth has less to do with the behaviour of young people than with a sense of impotence among the public, who feel unable to do anything about it.

When the Government has turned disciplining your own child into an issue of abuse with the possibility of five years' imprisonment, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that people are even more defensive about dealing with other people's children, even when they are misbehaving.

Difficult issues such as those of children's rights and of adults'

authority over children have been made worse by these developments. But, when dealing with the issue of antisocial behaviour, this is ignored by politicians who instead look to increased policing as an easy answer to these wider social problems.

The result is that the police, and the new forms of community wardens being introduced across the United Kingdom, are coming to resemble a glorified baby-sitting service for communities whose members are being discouraged from going outside their front doors and telling the kids to "shut up".

A few years ago, introducing CCTV cameras into a residential area would have been seen as an unnecessary and extreme measure; now it is seen as just another safety measure provided by the local authority for a passive community. This in part reflects the changing relationship between the public and the Labour Party itself.

Not so long ago, a public meeting called by a Labour MP would have been packed with Labour supporters who had an active relationship with the Labour Party. At the recent meeting organised by Mohammed Sarwar, there was one Labour Party member defending his somewhat isolated MP.

The idea of a public that actively does something to resolve local disputes is today beyond the comprehension of politicians, who are instead relating to both adults and children as passive victims and potential abusers, at risk from one another and ultimately best kept apart.

Stuart Waiton is director of

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