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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.