Volume 17 Number 3
One Mp's Recipe for Recovery
01 June 2004
FRANK FIELD has been the MP for Birkenhead for 25 years. The visit of a group of pensioners to his surgery some eight years ago ‘is indelibly etched on my memory’, he writes. ‘Nothing had prepared me for the description of what they were enduring...
FRANK FIELD has been the MP for Birkenhead for 25 years. The visit of a group of pensioners to his surgery some eight years ago ‘is indelibly etched on my memory’, he writes. ‘Nothing had prepared me for the description of what they were enduring... Young lads who ran across their bungalow roofs, peed through their letterboxes, jumped out of the shadows as they returned home and, when they were watching television, tried to break their sitting-room windows.‘
The visit launched Field on a campaign, not only to find an answer to these problems but to find a new political ideology. This book is the result of his search. He ascribes the present problems of society to:
the collapse of ‘common decencies’, which is the result of the rise of dysfunctional families;
the loss of Christian morality;
and the national collectivism of the welfare state undermining local solidarity.
He looks at the factors which held society together in the past. Believing that Christianity is unlikely to play again the role it once did in our society, he considers the three most important virtues to be politeness, considerateness and thoughtfulness. ‘That simple evangelical creed, centring on how each of us should use our lives, needs recreating by secular means,’ he writes. The police, the schools and the social services should now take on this task.
Field would give the police new powers, through the courts, to take on the role of surrogate parents, for those parents ‘who cannot or will not control their children’. He states: ‘We need to move swiftly to an expectation that every crime is an act which will be followed up seriously by the police.’ This would mean increasing the police budget by 50 per cent.
He also wants to make welfare payments part of ‘a new citizenship contract’. It would spell out the duties of citizens by linking them with benefit payments. The government would be responsible for providing payments according to legally binding conditions. The claimant would be expected to behave in a way ‘not to cause a continual grievance or annoyance’ to others.
This contract would be rolled out on the registration of a birth. Other contracts for other benefits during life would be rolled out in the same way. When someone reached the state retirement pension age, ‘the community would take the opportunity of thanking the individual for a successful working life, whether paid or unpaid’.
On education, he cites a national survey about the attitude to citizenship of 15to 24-year-olds, which is an encouraging change from the disturbing statistics earlier in his book. ‘For young people respect of others is the most valued characteristic of good citizenship. The next is to be law abiding and to have respect for the environment. The third... is setting a good example to others.’
He is convinced that schools are the places to start. Again he sees contracts as a way of doing this—contracts between parents, pupils and the school, whereby all parties are stakeholders in the enterprise. Also, as more and more families become dysfunctional, schools must take responsibility for teaching values as well as knowledge.
Politics also has a role, he writes. ‘The politics of behaviour’ requires resolution and vision. Success demands the Prime Minister and his entire government being signed up to the project. Tackling the breakdown of common decencies requires an effort equal to that which is mobilized for war.’ He urges that a group of Ministers and MPs should develop a strategy to counter antisocial behaviour. ‘It is not just a matter of joined up government but of joining the government with the electorate.’
This is a book which deals head on with the problems of anti-social behaviour which abound in many urban communities today. But Frank Field does not just bemoan what is happening. In well expressed and thought-out ways he shows a road to recovery. This needs all sections of the community, including the politicians. Is there the political will to implement and finance his suggestions? As one of Field’s constituents, I certainly hope there is.
‘The politics of behaviour’ by Frank Field, Politico Publishing, London 20 ISBN: 184275078X