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Liberal Democrat News 26th August 2011

August 26, 2011 9:37 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Learning the lessons

In the immediate aftermath of the riots across England, Nick Clegg visited the main areas affected by the outburst of criminal behaviour earlier this month. The Deputy Prime Minister went to Tottenham straight away to meet victims and local police and to talk to residents that had been caught up in the mayhem. He has done the same in Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

"As a liberal, I see violence and disorder of this kind as an attack on liberty, on the freedom for individuals to live and trade in peace in their own communities," he said in a speech recently. "We need to know who did what, and why they did it. We need to understand. I don't mean 'understand' in the sense of being understanding, or offering even the hint of an excuse. I mean understand what happened, to get as much evidence as we can."

With that in mind, the government is to establish the Communities and Victims Panel, which will be chaired by an independent figure. It will not be a public inquiry, but will serve as a way in which victims and communities can make their views known to enhance future policies. The panel will produce a report within six to nine months to be presented to the leaders of all three main political parties.

Nick also confirmed plans for a 'community payback scheme', with offenders helping to clean up areas hit by the disturbances. Victims will also be given the right to confront those who damaged their neighbourhoods to reinforce the fact that the actions of rioters had consequences.

As part of the measures to end the "cycle of repeat crime", those released from jail from March next year would be "met at the prison gates" by providers in the Work Programme. Offenders will, said Nick, be put through a "tough process so that they find work and they stay on the straight and narrow.

"I think the best defence against this kind of nihilistic behaviour is to ensure that everyone has a stake in society, and everyone feels a sense of responsibility towards their own community. That, in turn, means giving people the opportunities to get ahead so they feel they have a stake in their own future.

"That is why this government has decided to focus our social policies on social mobility, because having opportunity - real opportunity - gives people the drive, discipline and responsibility to do the right thing.

"Putting more money into schools with disadvantaged youngsters, expanding apprenticeships, increasing the provision of early years education. None of these will be quick fixes. There are no quick fixes. But these are the kind of investments that we need to make now, to spread opportunity in the future.

"While I passionately believe that it is the responsibility of government and broader society to ensure that every individual has real opportunities, I am equally clear that it is the responsibility of the individual themselves to take those opportunities up, and to play by the rules.

"Too often, it looks as if people who break the rules can prosper. Tax evaders and benefit cheats; bankers who break the bank but feather their own nests; MPs who rob from the public purse ….. rule-breaking spreads through society like a virus. The 'broken rule' effect means that we have to take a zero tolerance approach to all rule-breaking, all of the time. Rules are for all of us.

"Politicians usually say at times like these, 'let's learn the lessons'. But they rarely do. This time it can be different. The burning shame we feel at the disorder on our streets has to be combined with a thoughtful determination to understand it, and an unbending commitment to stop it from ever happening again."