A man stabbed at Notting Hill Carnival in 2011. Photo: Getty.
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Teens fleeing warzones are fuelling violent crime in London, youth crime summit warned

The risk posed by traumatised asylum seekers was one of many themes identified at Labour's Youth Crime Summit in London today. 

Teenage refugees and asylum seekers fleeing warzones are fuelling violent crime across London, a youth crime summit hosted by Labour was warned today.

Gary Kelly, Detective Superintendent in Southwark, said: “The trauma of youngsters fleeing war-torn countries and coming here – I can’t overestimate the challenges that Syria and Libya will cause us across London.”

He identified youths aged between 13 and 16 as being at risk of adopting violent gang culture and falling into criminal activity. While they tend not to be affiliated with formal gangs – “they are much more chaotic” – Kelly explained “they are responsible for a wide range of violent crime, including robbery and burglary”.

He advised participants, including co-ordinators of gang diversion schemes, NGO workers and councillors, that the key to tackling gangs in the capital is disrupting their drug supply chains, which span as far afield as the south and south west coasts of the UK. “We need cross-border working, good governance and oversight to reduce that threat,” he said.

He added that he was concerned “young females are becoming involved in the supply chain and are at increased risk of sexual exploitation.”

Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North and shadow Home Office Minister, called for strong partnerships between local councils, police, probation services, but with “the community in the driving seat”. Gang violence and culture is “one of the most difficult problems” facing urban society, he said.

He harked back to his experience as head of Lambeth Council, which devolved control of youth crime services to a youth-steered trust, into which £3m was invested: “It was much more effective."

Reed said Labour wants to communicate with and reach out to frontline workers tackling youth and gang crime, in order to inform policy proposals that will be included in the party’s manifesto.

He told the assembled participants: “We need to turn politics on its head. Labour understands that. We want to share power if elected.”

The party will host up to five summits around the country over the summer as part of a “new, iterative process” of policy formation, before unveiling proposals for dealing with youth crime in the autumn.

Better job opportunities and training for young people was identified as integral to dissuading young men from dealing drugs and choosing a life of crime.

Eighteen-year-old Temi Mwale, founder of gang culture diversion scheme Get Outta The Gang, demanded more resources and effort be invested in long-term diversion workshop programmes to help angry young men break free from violent mindsets.

She summed up her motivation for establishing her youth group in a single sentence: “One of my childhood friends was shot", but continued: “Everybody has tragedies. It’s about moving forward.” 

Mwale later explained to Reed that the young people with whom she works feel disaffected by politics and mistrustful of politicians: “There’s this whole resentment. They have this blanket approach: ‘They [politicians] are all against us’.”

London is a tale of two cities, she told the Labour MP, making clear that there is a vast chasm between life for middle-class professionals and and life on an estate. “If you went out and got stabbed, that would be something very out of the ordinary for you. But there are young people going out of the house every day who expect to die.”

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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