Thursday, 20 July 2006

Young people, respect and uniforms Early in the year I found myself wondering to what extent Tony Blair's respect agenda is partly an attempt to recover the lost influence of uniformed organisations at 'critical ages' for many young people. (Answer: hardly at all. As Will Davies noted recently, the respect agenda is more like 'the reduction of politics to pest control'). But then I recently attended a couple of conferences where the role of young neighbourhood wardens - apprenticed to grown-up neighbourhood wardens - was celebrated. Complete with uniform. I think neighbourhood wardens are a genuine success story because they fit snugly in the problematic vacuum between informal local social relations and formal services. There's a DVD about the Hull Community Warden Service which was produced last year by ODPM (available from), which articulates this extremely well. Just because I'm hugely suspicious of the mentality of uniform is no reason to disparage such initiatives, and I've no intention of doing so. A good socialist friend of mine helps run boy scouts locally and she's very clear about the benefits offered. But I do think we have to be cautious about the association of uniform with the instilling of values, discipline, respect, authority etc. For some young people there will be enormous benefits in terms of confidence and social skills; possibly at the risk of exaggerating gaps and differences within age groups. I'd like to think there will be close links with lots of non-uniformed activities going on. And I just hope no-one thinks uniforms have a place in the youth volunteering that was scheduled to be an important part, I'm not sure how, of the respect agenda.
Ways of dealing with neighbourly disputes In the Respect action plan the government insists that it will not support people whose behaviour destroys the quality of life of those around them. We will bear down uncrompomisingly on anti-social behaviour, Tony Blair writes in the foreword. You'll have noticed that relations among certain neighbours in the middle east have deteriorated and they have come to blows. One might have expected those with influence to take a mature and serious view of the breathtaking and inexcusable over-reaction that the more powerful party has taken. So what happens? The most powerful nation in the world is now, according to the BBC, 'rushing a delivery of satellite and laser-guided bombs to Israel.' No-one is surprised at the UK government's complicity. The banner pictured above at today's London rally flaps with far more moral substance. One of the internal consistencies within the new Labour government seems to be that bullying based upon the most threadbare of moral assertions (exemplified by Kim Howells on BBC R4 this morning) is acceptable. I note that the current rhetoric from the Respect Squad speaks of a shift to 'compassionate coercion,' so perhaps that will be the next stage in international diplomacy. If the Israeli tactic of advising people to adandon their homes and neighbourhoods, and then flattening them (as if warning made it excusable) comes to be echoed in the UK government's anti-social behaviour policy, will any of us be surprised? Aydin Mehmet Ali, in her chapter in our forthcoming book, writes that 'the Respect agenda is destined to be ignored or ridiculed for exposing the hollowness and desperation of the ruling elites, which have lost the plot and are out of spin.'

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