A band of brothers

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men under 35. This must change.

When you look at the data about the lives of men in comparision with women, the statistics paint a clear picture. Starting at the most extreme end, of the 6,045 people in the UK that took their own life in 2011, 4,552 of them were men. This works out at over 12 men per day. More men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined.

In education, there is a well-documented gap between boys and girls; both in performance and aspiration. In 2011 the gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades at GCSE and that of boys hit a record 6.7 per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent in 1989. Just 30 per cent of male school-leavers applied to university in 2012, compared with 40 per cent of their female counterparts. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls.

As for crime, men are perpetrators of over 90 per cent of violent crime in the UK. If you believe, as abandofbrothers do, that "hurt people, hurt people" and that violence is a manifestation of prior psychological woundings on the part of the perpetrator rather than the expression of an inherent evil, then this too points to the disadvantage of men and boys.

As a society, can we ignore these statistics? We face huge challenges in the world on almost every level – economic, ecological and social. If male and female are indeed the two wings of humanity, can we afford to keep flying round in circles? Can we continue to ignore the cost of damaged men? This cost is felt in economic terms (if men were to commit crime at the same levels as women we would save £42bn a year based on Home Office figures) and also in a unmeasured and immensurable social cost.

"If the young men are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel a little heat." – Ancient African Proverb.

Arguably, where masculinity is most in crisis is amongst young men at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. Abandofbrothers would argue that this is a failing on the part of society. The "job" of giving young men a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel connected to (rather than resentful of) those around them is crucial, and one that cannot be done solely by employees of the state.

At abandofbrothers, our mission is to offer young men a rites of passage experience and mentoring to help them make the difficult transition into healthy adulthood. We give them a place to heal, to explore and be encouraged not just to "become a man" but to become their own man. We do this by creating empathic communities of older men who will give themselves in service to mentoring and supporting young men who need it.

To create these communities, we connect potential mentors to their hearts, enable them to find a resolution to their own emotional traumas so that they can better attend to the needs of their communities, and especially, the young.  It is time consuming and emotionally difficult. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

My own first son is due to make an appearance in the world in the next few weeks. When he asks me what I was doing in the early part of the 21st century, when it became apparent that we faced huge challenges in creating a sustainable future, I will be proud to say I was one of the few, the lucky few, who were engaged in trying to create connected, resilient and joyful communities that were better equipped to weather the storms ahead.

For more information on abandofbrothers, please see www.abandofbrothers.org.uk

A man alone on a backstreet in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nathan Roberts is the Chief Executive of abandofbrothers.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.