All year I’ve had a funny feeling of déjà vu. I’ll admit that the political chaos of 2022 is unrivalled in any other time in my life, but the first half of the 1990s felt similar to me; changing leadership of the Conservative Party, story after story about corrupt or sleazy cabinet ministers, and awkward resignations.
When I was in my teens, the cost of petrol was a raging debate, people were struggling to pay their bills, waiting lists for healthcare meant you were likely to die before you were cured, we went to classes in portacabins and nurses were begging for higher wages.
When I was a teen, war was waged in parts of Europe, Salman Rushdie was under attack for his writing, gang violence raged the streets where I lived and random killings in nightclubs and pubs dominated headlines. My 14-year-old son, it turns out, is living my 14-year-old life – less than 30 years on.
I remember what it was like to grow up in a time of gang violence. I remember being tear gassed in nightclubs in Birmingham; to feel that the atmosphere of a place was not right from the moment you walked in. I remember the feeling of danger.
I went on later in my life to work as a youth worker, working with young men and women exposed to drugs, exploitation and gang violence. I remember the police officers I worked with who were part of the neighbourhood teams who were allocated to various schools in the local area, to work with young people at risk, and to build better relations between the police and the community.
By the time I was in my early twenties and having children of my own, I remember the feeling that things were improving. They were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but there was progress. Real efforts were made in places like Birmingham to tackle youth violence, and I thought my sons would grow up in a safer city than the one I’d known.
It all feels so painfully familiar. Knife crime and youth violence is nothing new. It has been a growing concern for the past decade. What it has not been met with is the same determination to change it.
There is no real youth service left to fall back on. The idea of a police force having enough community officers to allocate one or two to schools today seems as likely as a unicorn charging down the street to save us.
The infrastructure that we built activities from and started new projects in, like youth centres, community centres and even police stations simply don’t exist anymore. Police stations across the country are more likely today to have been sold to become HMOs than they are to be able to offer community spaces for activities. Tory Britain in a nutshell.
The Conservatives will, of course, try to blame local councils and police and crime commissioners (which they invented in order to it seems delegate blame) for these failings as they always do, never looking at the country they governed, or the decisions that they made that led to this. Where are the cabinet ministers dedicated to ending youth violence, or to ending serious rising rates of violence? I cannot think of a single one who has really tried.
This week, figures have emerged which reveal that police have failed to solve a million thefts and burglaries over the past year, costing individuals an average of £1,400. Detection rates across pretty much all crime types are down, and conviction similarly seems basically non-existent.
Violent crime is rising, with this year’s figures being 18 per cent higher than they were in 2021. Where the hell is the home secretary on this? Probably dreaming about Rwanda, and leaking government emails to random backbenchers and their wives.
She shouldn’t rest until this trajectory of violence and acquisitive crime is falling. She probably knows as well as anyone else that she cannot do this without even more police officers. She needs more than the ones the Tories have promised they will get to replace the thousands that they cut. She can’t do it without having proper plans for community hubs and youth work.
The Labour Party has been laying out plans for extra officers and community safety hubs for months now. Where exactly is the government on this?
Think of all that could have been done with the billions squandered this year thanks to Conservative recklessness and fecklessness with the economy. My heart bleeds with the thought of the waste that could have been used to stop hearts literally bleeding.
The feeling of déjà vu is met with a new fear; not the slightly edgy feeling of a cocksure teenager on a night out, but the fear of a mother to teenage sons. Christmas was heartbreaking for the families of those beautiful, bright young people killed this week.
We owe it to every family in the country to feel that on New Year’s Eve, their sons and daughters can go out and dance, sing and be merry, and to wake up with a brighter future in front of them. I can just about remember the feeling of a brighter future, it would be nice if my sons felt that too.