I received this comment on Tuesday’s post about the Government’s plans to send seventy-seven supernannies down the chimneys of the nation’s naughtiest families. Ben Page is the Director of opinion pollsters MORI and has been named by The Guardian as one of the 100 most influential people in the country,
‘Hi - Just wanted to respond to your comments about our survey for the Home Office. I am not Blair's "mate", and other research we have done highlights how the press clearly vilifies young people. At the same time, most people in this country do genuinely blame parenting - and a whole range of other things - as a key factor behind crime and anti-social behaviour, and are supportive of sensible measures that do something about it. You can reach your own conclusions about what the government is doing, but public attitudes are fairly clear - they want more facilities for young people, but also tough measures for repeat offenders, including, yes, parenting classes (they might not be their top priority but they are keen on anything that might help - it's the same with ASBOs. Most people in this country support ASBOs, even Guardian readers, not necessarily because they think they are great, or even that they are particularly effective, but because it is a sign that "something is being done". If you email me I'll send you more details of the research etc.
Nice blog (sorry – vanity made me reproduce that bit)
I feel a bit bad because I’ve obviously hit a raw nerve with the Blair thing. I know what it’s like to fall out with a friend, especially if it wasn’t anything you did but them just being a prat and it sounds like that’s what happened here. Anyway, it was nice of Ben (we’re on first name terms now), to offer to provide further information which I have now had the opportunity to peruse and will get onto in a minute. But first here’s a summary from Ben himself, sent in the accompanying email,
'Highlights massive difference between public perceptions of youth crime and what is actually happening, but also how worried most people are about it - partly because of the media - but also real "fear", even though actual levels of youth crime are pretty static.'
Well, yes. That is sort of my point. Most people may be terribly worried about widespread youth disorder but it's not real. So why this highly publicised initiative to tackle a problem that doesn't actually exist? You see this is what makes me so cross. It rather sounds like we're being patronised doesn't it, or conned even? Try this scenario for size - Whizzbang but ultimately shallow initiative is launched followed by regular blazes of publicity. The public perceives that 'something is being done.' MORI reports public perception to this effect back to Government who crow loudly about it but no one believes them anyway because they can't see any change.
My question would be who, apart from Government ministers and opinion pollsters, thinks that this artificial cycle of activity has any point whatever?
I have worked in local government and on regeneration projects all over London - I know they are pants. I have seen the insides of dozens of poxy youth clubs containing only a couple of lethargic boys playing pool and trying their best to ignore the ex-junky youth worker who is haranguing them about drugs. I have talked to hundreds of kids who don't want to use the youth facilities provided because there's nothing to do in there but play pool or football and be harangued about drugs. I should say that I've also seen one or two great youth clubs and they do make a difference to the quality of a young person's social life, but they are in the minority. There is a huge problem with competency, consistency and quality in youth service provision but not actually the quantity.
It doesn't matter if most of the population think we need more youth facilities because they're wrong about that and they've arrived at that opinion because they've been fed false premises by constant repetition. It is condescending in the extreme, not to mention irresponsible and dishonest, to use ill-informed opinion to direct Government policy. Ben - if you're there - someone needs to tell ministers where and why the mismatch between opinion and reality is occurring and what should be done about it. I'm thinking a person who is considered one of the hundred most influential people in the country might be in pole position. Can you take Tone out for a pint or something?
The information that my new friend Ben so kindly sent was a lovely slide show entitled Latest Findings - what do the public want from 'Respect?' I had some trouble concentrating on it as there was a sudden burst of striped sunlight through the venetians which made me pine for the tropics because I would normally be there by now. The only thing keeping me going is that it's my friend Derek Adams's book launch tonight and I might get a glass of wine and a cube of cheese. Focus, focus.
People surveyed think that 'teenagers hanging around in the street' is a bigger problem in their local area than 'people being attacked because of their skin colour, ethnicity, religion.' It would be easy to draw the conclusion here that our fellow citizens are such swine that they are more worried about a bunch of kids doing nothing but looking untidy than they are about hate crime. But the people surveyed were not being asked to state a moral position. Would anyone in full command of their senses seriously argue that loitering is more threatening than racism or grievous bodily harm? I don't think so. That 'in your local area' is divisive. Ben says in his email 'most people in this country support ASBOs' yet the survey results show only 8% of people 'know a great deal about them'. Says it all really.
As the will to live is rapidly being sapped from me I will close with one enjoyable piece of information. There are eleven types of 'disrespectful behaviour' that people find 'very irritating'. The top pisser-offer is 'urinating/vomiting/spitting in public'. It doesn't say you have to be doing all three at once although if you are vomiting you are probably also spitting quite a bit too. The last person I saw urinating in public was a toddler. The last person I saw vomiting in public was a man in a pin-striped suit. The last person I saw spitting in public was an elderly Asian man. ASBOs all round then? Other irritants on the list include queue-jumping and people barking their exact whereabouts into their mobile phones.
Sneaking in at number eleven as a surprise entry is 'people keeping something they find'. Although it doesn't say anything about putting it in a box and entering it in the Turner Prize, I think an ASBO is due to Rebecca Warren for being so fiendishly talented, if nothing else. Chris Madden, whose cartoons I love without reservation, shall have an ASBO also, on artistic grounds. I will not stand for such audacious talent - it is positively anti-social...