Does the left have an adequate answer to violent crime?

The death of a pensioner I knew has shaken me

The Daily Mail reports:

A devout Muslim pensioner attacked by a race-hate gang of schoolboys has died.

Ekram Haque, 67, lost his fight for life a week after he was battered to the ground in front of his three-year-old granddaughter, Marian.

As revealed in today's Daily Mail, he suffered horrific head injuries in the assault outside a mosque in Tooting, south-west London, where he had just prayed.

As he and Marian waited for a lift, the gang ran up behind him and clubbed him around the head.

Two other worshippers chased the thugs away but Mr Haque -- described by friends as a 'gentle giant' -- had suffered horrific head injuries.

His granddaughter has been left "very shaken and disturbed", said her father, Mr Haque's son Arfan. Graphic images of the attack were caught on CCTV.

Scotland Yard formally launched a murder inquiry after Mr Haque passed away at St George's Hospital, Tooting, where he had been on a life-support machine since the attack.

Police are linking the assault on the retired care worker to a series of other attacks on elderly Asian people near the mosque.

I'm an occasional worshipper at that mosque in Tooting and I had heard on the grapevine, before it hit the newspapers, that an elderly man had been attacked outside it by a gang of youths on bank holiday Monday, after a Ramadan event. Yet until I saw his picture in the papers over the weekend, I didn't even think that I might know who Mr Haque was -- but I do. I knew him. Not personally. We weren't friends. But I'd seen him around the place and we'd exchanged pleasantries in the past. Now he's dead, killed in a mindless act of violence; killed while minding his own business on a south London street corner, with his three-year-old granddaughter watching. Unbelievable.

And even more unbelievable is this, from the BBC:

Four boys, aged 12, 15 and two 14-year-olds, have been charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm (GBH).

All four are also accused of attacking two other men before the attack on Mr Haque. The four boys will appear at Sutton Youth Court on Tuesday.

Police are now treating the death of Mr Haque as murder.

All four boys face two counts of actual bodily harm (ABH) in connection with the attack on the two men, one in his forties and the other in his seventies, on 31 August.

How on earth can a 12-year-old allegedly carry out such a brutal attack? How are kids across Britain becoming killers? I hate to sound like Melanie Phillips or Chris Grayling, but isn't there something wrong with a society that produces such disturbed children?

Crime makes right-wingers of us of all. Whenever you hear stories like this, you feel a mixture of emotions: sadness, pity, depression, despair but, above all else, anger -- especially when the victim is someone you know. I can't tell you how angry I am right now. So are friends of mine who are regulars at that mosque in Tooting. They, like me, are filled with rage. One of them emailed me to say he wished a pack of Rottweilers could be unleashed upon the four youths who have been arrested so far (and who, incidentally, have not yet been found guilty of any crime).

It is an understandable reaction. But while we all, in our calmer and rational moments, acknowledge that state-sponsored violence against child criminals is immoral and pointless -- it doesn't bring the dead back to life, nor does it teach young offenders the difference between right and wrong -- there is a huge problem here for the left to address. It is the "Broken Britain" theme, on which the Tories have so successfully capitalised. It is worth revisiting a New Statesman leader from a fortnight ago:

There is . . . a profound and genuine sense, across economic classes and geographic regions in Britain, of a public dissatisfaction, even anger, at the coarsening of our public culture and the slow degradation of our urban spaces. Britain is not a "broken" society as the Tories would have it in their resonant slogan, but there is civic disengagement and a widespread perception that something is not quite right in society at large.

. . . Labour ministers, so adept at robotically rehearsing national statistics on crime, unemployment, income and the rest even as they help to create the most unequal society since the Second World War, ignore at their peril . . .public anxiety about social disorder.

The left, I believe, needs a strong, wide-ranging but balanced narrative on violent crime, and youth offending, that goes beyond the obvious socio-economic factors to explore the growing moral and cultural void at the heart of modern British society. Indeed, the left needs to reclaim the language of morality.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era