Ben Obese-Jecty: To tackle serious youth violence effectively, London needs a more robust strategy

27 Apr

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

On 19th January, Anas Mezenner was walking home when he was involved in an altercation that led to him being stabbed. He died in hospital seven hours later. Five boys were charged with his murder, all of whom were aged between 14 and 18. This is not an isolated incident within Tottenham. On 17th February, a taxi driver was found fatally stabbed in his car. Six boys were charged with his murder, all of whom were under 18 at the time of the incident, three of whom were 15 years old. On 8th March, Nikolay Pandev was stabbed to death. Two boys aged 15 and 17 were charged with his murder.

There have been four murders in Tottenham this year. Of the 14 subsequently charged, 13 were children when the murders occurred. It is ironic that the local MP, David Lammy, has been silent regarding the issue of serious youth violence within his constituency despite the fact that he is the Shadow Justice Secretary.

The figures around serious youth violence should alarm anyone and particularly those who are parents to teenage boys who are as often the victim as they are the perpetrator. Within Haringey, three-quarters of victims are aged between 15 and 19. As of last year, Haringey was the second worst London Borough for knife crime offences. On 17th March, an Opinium poll on the Mayoral election asked participants what Police should have as their main priority over the next 12 months. 56 per cent of respondents listed knife crime as the main priority.

With the forthcoming London Mayoral Election, Londoners have the opportunity to make their vote heard. Sadiq Khan has shown that he will be quick to blame any correlation between his tenure and the rise in serious youth violence upon austerity. As he showed in the BBC debate, he is keener to highlight Shaun Bailey’s role as Youth and Police Adviser nearly a decade ago, than shoulder responsibility for any of the decisions taken whilst he has been at the helm. The manifesto for his mayoral campaign is 102 pages long and yet contains only two references to knife crime; there are twice as many references to racism.

Rival candidates have done little more to address the issue. The Liberal Democrats’ replacement candidate, Luisa Porritt, and the Green Party’s repeat candidate, Sian Berry, have both avoided any serious discussion of crime, the latter obliquely referring to it as “Safety”; Porritt focussing on the rebranding of the police as a “Service” rather than a “Force”. It is not the nomenclature of the Met that young men in London are wary of.

Despite his blend of truculence and grandstanding, Sadiq Khan is still a shrewd and astute politician. He knows he cannot afford to expose his heel, Achilles-like, whilst cloaked in the armour of identity politics, and so exploits the benefits of incumbency, pointing to the establishment of the Violence Reduction Unit and the recruitment of 1,300 additional officers as successes without the need to articulate whether they have been effective. The fact remains that knife crime has risen steadily under Khan’s tenure, with offences in the prior three years up to 2020 higher than under any previous Mayor.

The topic of serious youth violence and how best to tackle it is Shaun Bailey’s area of expertise. If you have ever heard him speak about the topic it is clear that he is a man who cares deeply about the issue, the improvement of outcomes for those vulnerable to it, and the impact upon families blighted by it.

Whilst this is a topic that all candidates intend to address at some level, what more could be done beyond the measures intended to resonate across all demographics?

Investment in youth services alone is unlikely to be enough. Research has shown that the majority of knife related offences involving young people occur between 3pm-6pm in the few hours after school. Re-establishing youth services will be key to reducing the likelihood of vulnerable children finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, for young people, predominantly boys, mired in a milieu of such toxicity that they feel compelled to carry an offensive weapon in the belief that it makes them safe, access to table-tennis and DJ equipment is unlikely to provide reassurances that any potential threat has dissipated. There is a deeper-seated issue as to why such altercations continue to occur; not every child involved is a member of a gang or involved in county lines trafficking. There is a critical need for robust public discussion around how to detoxify the environment which makes carrying a knife permissible.

Cultural issues must be addressed. If the media, national newspapers amongst them, continues to cynically valorise the most detrimental aspects of black culture and celebrate criminality via musicians who are directly and indirectly involved in some of the local rivalries and fatal violence that occurs, we will continue to give impressionable youngsters the greenlight that this is acceptable behaviour. The high-profile afforded by the media to the discussion of race could be far better employed discussing serious youth violence. But nobody is making their name publishing books about knife crime.

Additionally, the viral nature of social media illustrates the ease with which children otherwise on the fringe can become immersed and embroiled within a world where simply sharing your location can make you a target in an escalating contretemps. Social media companies must be held to account and forced to take firmer action on content that could be easily overlooked by those not familiar with the argot. Perceived slights can quickly become the catalyst for fatal confrontation.

The surrounding narrative of the issue must be more closely controlled. Opposition politicians gaslight communities by suggesting that young black men are victims of institutional racism due to disproportionate representation in the youth criminal justice system, but ignore the over-representation of young black men amongst the statistics of both victims and perpetrators of violent crime. As such, we are unlikely to stop families from suffering the heartbreak of losing their sons, either to prison or worse. The recent launch of the Hard Calls Saves Lives campaign, focused on the heart-breaking phonecalls that mothers have made following the violent deaths of their sons, is an example of how the voices of those impacted by such tragic events can resonate far more than those of any politician. The influence of strong characters, be they family members, teachers or local leaders, should not be underestimated. If David Lammy is as influential in Tottenham as his election results suggest, perhaps he should use his platform as Shadow Justice Secretary to prioritise addressing the issue blighting his own constituency and beyond.

Whatever the outcome of May’s election, London’s next Mayor will need a robust plan to combat an issue which continues to needlessly claim too many young lives across the capital. Any solution proposed will need to be far bolder, far more holistic, and far better resourced, than the ineffective piecemeal strategy currently in place.

Iain Dale: The Government’s race review had some positive findings. So why are ministers avoiding the media rounds?

2 Apr

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

The report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has certainly caused a lot of comment over the last 48 hours. Much of it has been ill-informed twaddle.

The number of people who castigated and slammed it within minutes of its release can’t possibly have read all of its 258 pages. They just jerked their knees in the time-honoured fashion.

Basically, the criticism was based on the fact that Boris Johnson had commissioned it, ergo it must be biased, useless or bad, or all three.

What its critics couldn’t stand is that it actually had some positive things to say about race relations in this country. And you know what? Those positive conclusions were based on fact.

Take educational achievement, for example. The report compared GCSE achievement for the different ethnic groups and found that all of them surpassed the achievements of white kids, with the one exception of children of black Caribbean backgrounds. Black Africans achieved higher exam grades, as did kids from Indian or Bangladeshi heritage.

The pay gap between white and ethnic minority employees has shrunk to just 2.3 per cent, and for the under 30s there is no gap at all. Now can someone please tell me why these two facts shouldn’t have been pointed out?

Race relations have come along way in the last twenty years in Britain. Can other countries say the same? America? France? I don’t think so. But it doesn’t suit the victim mentality of the Left to admit this. It suits their agenda to portray a Britain at war with itself over race.

The Left tried to keep the working classes in their place, almost as a client state of the Left. Margaret Thatcher exposed that and we’re now at a point where 47 per cent of working-class Brits vote Tory, and only 35 per cent vote Labour. The challenge for the Right is to break through among British Asians and in the Black vote. The opportunity is there, but the Left will fight it tooth and nail.

On the other side of the coin – you know I liked to be balanced – there is still a long way to go before many black or brown Britons feel they will get a fair crack of the whip, and the report rightly makes this clear. Equality in educational achievement may be a positive sign, but it’s still the case that black Caribbean kids are much more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

And in the workplace there is still a long way to go. Too many people feel they have to anglicise their names to get a fair crack of the whip.

You can’t ignore the evidence that you’re more likely to get a job interview if you’re called Michael Bookham, than if your name is Ndaboningi Nwoykoye or Mohammed Abdullah. All the surveys into this phenomenon show us that there is a conscious or subconscious bias present in many of our recruitment practices.

Look at the way we are policed. The same phenomenon is there in the policing and justice systems. Just examine the statistics and it becomes self-evident. To deny it is to deny that racism exists, whether it is institutional or not.

Britain as a country is not institutionally racist. Like in every other country, we have racists among us, and no doubt always will have. But the report was right to say that the UK is not institutionally rigged against ethnic minorities.

Indeed, the Commission members – all 12 of whom are from ethnic minorities, and people of stature in their own fields – were courageous to point that out, given they must have known that the Left would come for them.

I was disappointed that Lord Simon Woolley, the long-time campaigner for more black participation in the democratic system, called the report, or the authors of the report, “disingenuous”. Disagree with a report’s conclusions all you like, but it’s almost tantamount to accusing the commission’s members of being dishonest or having been bought off.

Over the last few years there have been no fewer than nine commissions or reports into different aspects of racial equality in this country. Most of them have sat on shelves gathering dust.

David Lammy complains that the 35 recommendations contained in his report into the criminal justice system have not been implemented. The Government say most of them have or are in the process of being implemented. And never the twain shall meet.

There are 24 conclusions and recommendations contained in this latest report. Admittedly most of them are fairly innocuous and minor, and to that extent I think it hasn’t been particularly brave.

But then again, Downing Street hasn’t been very brave either. It should have had ministers out on the airwaves on Wednesday, most especially Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister.

If they think they’ve got a good story to tell, for God’s sake tell it. We put in a bid for her for my evening show on Wednesday. We got a straight “no” from Number 10 (as usual) on the basis that no one was doing media on it. Why the hell not?

If you commission a report you surely ought to be able to put up a minister to comment on its conclusions, especially as they were so benign. I say again, if the Government won’t talk about or explain its position, who the hell do they is going to do it for them?

The comms approach at Number 10 could be dubbed an Ostrich strategy. Stick your head in the sand and just make it all go away.

I had thought that when Dominic Cummings departed the stage, things would change. But they haven’t. Hey ho. Not my problem.

Dean Godson: The new ethnic minority voices who are challenging left-wing orthodoxy on race and culture

20 Jul

Dean Godson is the Director of Policy Exchange.

The membership of the Government’s commission on race and ethnic disparities represents a significant evolution in the story of race in this country – and in the Conservative Party in particular.

Tories have been frightened of their own shadow on race for many decades. Modernisers feared that too many of their own members were still really Powellites at heart. Frightened that they didn’t speak the modern language of diversity and multiculturalism well enough (partly because minority voters mainly lived in Labour seats). Frightened that too few minorities voted for them, and they didn’t know how to make themselves more politically attractive to them.

One result of these fears is that the party has been unable to take the initiative on such issues, or dared to have its own views, and has allowed itself to be painted as deaf to the concerns of ethnic minorities. So as the country’s ethnic minority population has grown, and issues relating to diversity have become a more mainstream political subject, the Conservative Party has found itself, in recent years, turning for affirmation on such matters to exponents of the leftish-inclined, race relations orthodoxy.

It was Conservative ministers who appointed David Lammy to oversee a review of racial bias in the criminal justice system. It was Conservative ministers who appointed race campaigner Simon Woolley to chair the Race Disparity Unit, and also made him a peer.

This meant that Conservative policy ended up being a less strident version of Labour views on race: that Britain suffers from severe systemic racism; that things have barely improved over the past 30 years, with prejudice and discrimination merely becoming more subtle, and any departure from the proportional representation of minorities can only be explained by white discrimination.

This failure to think for itself on race meant that the Tories ended up ignoring a growing body of ethnic minority opinion that rejected large parts of the standard racism narrative.

Yet as the ethnic minority educated middle class has grown in recent decades, it has inevitably become more intellectually and politically heterogenous. The overwhelming majority of minority voters still lean left and accept the standard narrative on race but, as in America, a dissident minority has started to find its voice.

Some of the leading dissidents wrote for a special “rethinking race” issue of Prospect magazine in 2010 including Munira Mirza, an academic who worked in the arts, and who served as a Deputy Mayor of London; Tony Sewell, Managing Director at Generating Genius; and Swaran Singh, Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at the University of Warwick, and a former Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Several, including Mirza, Sewell and Trevor Phillips, have worked for the Policy Exchange think tank.

It has often been noted that many ethnic minority voters have small-c conservative values: hard work and aspiration (symbolised by the shopkeepers from a variety of Asian backgrounds whose children go to university and become medical consultants); a belief in the centrality of family; parental authority; and, often, a rejection of liberal secularism.

Yet negative associations with the Conservative Party’s past ambivalence about multi-ethnic Britain and Labour’s happy embrace of it meant that those small-c values did not translate into voting Tory. There was a small upward blip in the minority Tory vote in 2015, though much of that progress was wiped out in 2017.

Nevertheless, in recent months, thanks in part to the new Government elected last December, the Conservative Party has evidently started to think for itself on these matters, and those dissident minority voices have been invited in from the cold.

The fact that the Cabinet has more non-white figures in senior positions than any before in British history, that Kemi Badenoch is an effective Equalities Minister, and that Number Ten has minorities in several key positions – above all, Munira Mirza as Head of the Policy Unit – has given this Government a confidence and moral authority on these issues lacking by previous Tory governments.

There was an interesting skirmish between the different strands of minority opinion over how to respond to the fact that Covid-19 was disproportionately hitting minorities. Munira Mirza and Phillips were on to the Covid-19 trend as soon as it emerged and were keen to monitor it closely and to set up an official investigation. Sayeeda Warsi and Simon Woolley, representing more conventional thinking, wrote a piece in the Guardian essentially blaming poverty and discrimination for the Covid deaths.

Sewell, an educational reformer, has now been appointed to chair the commission on race and ethnic disparities. Moreover, the ten person commission is full of independent-minded people of minority background including some, such as Samir Shah and Mercy Muroki, who have actively spoken out against the dominant anti-racist left narrative. It is not an accident that Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist, is also on the commission. The intent is to put evidence before emotion.

After the anger, and often sectarian politics, stirred up by the Black Lives Matter moment, the appointments to this commission constitute a notable step change. The mainstream “structural racism” left will try to discredit it and the Guardian has already dug up some embarrassing quotes by Sewell from 30 years ago.

But the race dissidents are now too entrenched and too powerful to be easily scared. And they are themselves an interestingly mixed bunch both socially and ideologically. Many, such as Rishi Sunak or Kwasi Kwarteng or Kemi Badenoch, are capital-C Conservatives.  Others such as Mirza and Phillips come from the left. There are younger voices emerging such as Remi Adekoya, Inaya Folarin Iman and Muroki.

What is perhaps most striking is that none of them owes their prominence purely to being race campaigners. Some like Sunak have prospered in the private sector, though he subsequently did write an influential portrait of modern Britain when working for Policy Exchange, focusing heavily on these issues. Mirza was a long time writer and analyst of these issues. Badenoch was a systems engineer, then a banker

None of them believe we live in a post-racist society. But they reject the critical race theory assumption that everything about a majority white society is racist unless proved otherwise. And most are sceptical of the notion of systemic or institutional racism and think Britain is more open than the standard narrative gives it credit for.

I think all would sign up to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous attack on the “soft bigotry of low expectations” towards minorities, and the way that the standard narrative removes responsibility and agency from ethnic minority individuals themselves – a consistent theme of Britain’s “strictest headmistress” Katharine Birbalsingh. Along with that goes a certain suspicion of white “saviour” liberalism.

This group is now being heard in the media and in government, and is becoming organised and self-aware, learning from the Left on how to make their presence felt. These ethnic minority free thinkers will help to counter some of the excesses of BLM subjectivism and guide the country to a more mature debate about race and discrimination. The Government’s new commission might be seen in the future as signifying their formal arrival on the political scene.