David Cameron said that the music and media industry had to take responsibility for their output and its effects on society. Parents had to know where their children were, and needed help to "do their job properly" - if not they should be "shamed" into doing so. He attacked magazines that glorified "getting wasted" and music firms which "grew fat on the profits of exploiting black youth". Video games were pushing the boundaries of acceptable violence, he argued. Social responsibility meant there needed to be a "national recognition" that individuals had to play their part in creating a better society. Strengthening families and communities and changing culture was the most important part of a three-dimensional approach to changing society, he
The Government had failed in creating a culture of respect and responsibility where poor behaviour was matched with rewards, schools were undermined and the tax and benefits system sent out signals that "undermined families, penalises commitment and reinforces family and social breakdown". Speaking to a military audience in Oxfordshire, Mr Cameron said there was
"nothing inevitable" about social decline in Britain. But until the nation thought about its responsibilities in a different way, "we will not serve the interests of those who suffer so much today." He called on people to ask themselves how many more parents would have to "bury their children before we decide to choose a different path for our society."
He said: "This is not about politics, it's not about elections, it's about the kind of society we want to be and the choice is entirely in our own hands. The brutal and callous murder of Rhys Jones has shocked us all." He paid tribute to the parents of Rhys: "Their bravery - and their sense of social responsibility - in doing their broadcast after everything they had been through was awe inspiring. "It must not be allowed to become just another testimony of despair that shocks a nation one night and is then forgotten."
Mr Cameron asked why such a "remorseless increase" in gang culture had taken place in Britain and why the availability of guns had become "seemingly endless". "What has become of our society when we have this spate of children killing children?" But politicians must not "resolve not to fall back just into the usual response," he argued. "A summit is held. A package of measures is announced. Some form of 'crack down' is rapidly briefed to the media. He went on: "But in putting forward what I've called the three dimensional approach - measures on criminal justice, measures on policing and measures to strengthen society - let us recognise once and for all that it is the last of these three - changing our society and, frankly, changing our culture - that matters the most and where change is so desperately needed.
"Yes, strengthening families, strengthening communities, changing culture is the hardest, the most long-term and sometimes the most intangible of the three, but it is so much the most important. So today I say that we should ask not just what we expect from our Government in response to these dreadful crimes - but what do we expect from ourselves and from society?
Just as the Military Covenant sets out what we - society - must do for our military, so today we should consider our obligations in tackling crime and building a stronger society. We need a Social Covenant."
The social covenant was "more powerful than words". It was a "national recognition that it is not just up to the Government to take responsibility for the state of our nation, it is up to all of us.
"To me this is what social responsibility is all about. Not just sitting back and saying that the
Government must act, but all of us saying: this is my country, my society, my responsibility - and I must play my part. It means parents taking responsibility for bringing up children properly. It means schools playing their part in instilling discipline and good values. It means all of us recognising our obligations not just as parents but as neighbours, as members of a community and understanding that those obligations are as important as simply paying our taxes and obeying the law. It means understanding and acting on that age-old maxim that it takes a village to raise a child. It means retailers stopping the sale of alcohol to young teenagers. It means music companies, media companies, games manufacturers, not just thinking 'what is my social responsibility as a company in terms of the projects I support and the charities I back, good and important as they are', but asking: 'what is the effect of the music I produce, the games
I market and the programmes I broadcast?' "That is true social responsibility."
Mr Cameron said questions had to be asked not about how Government was responding to the latest shooting but how it was responding in the long term. He went on: "All too often good behaviour is matched with punishment, poor behaviour with rewards. "Institutions - like schools - whose independence should be championed, and whose role in nurturing values of service and discipline is so essential - are too often undermined. A system of rights that seems to fly in
the face of common sense is introduced and repeatedly sanctioned. Most important of all a tax and benefit system is built up over time that sends signals, and helps to create a culture that undermines families, penalises commitment and reinforces family and social breakdown.
It is time for us to recognise that we cannot go on as we are. Just as there was nothing inevitable about economic decline at the end of the 1970s, so there is nothing inevitable about social
decline in our current decade. What is required is simply asking how many more parents have to bury their children before we decide to choose a different path for our society?"
The reason I have quoted this at length is not to parrot what the Tory Party is saying but because I think this is a very important speech which says some very important things. It's a wake up call, which if we don't heed it we will, as a society, regret it. On 18 Doughty Street last night I discussed this with Patrick Mercer. We both reckoned this was one of the most difficult issues facing national politicians, yet it is actually people at local level who have far more influence and power to put things right. Part of the reason we have the levels of gun and knife crime that we do among our youth is that local politicians and public service departments in inner cities have failed their communities. That's at least a large part of the reason why parts of Manchester, Liverpool, South London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol and Leeds are experiencing these terrible killings and assaults.
It hasn't just happened over the last ten years, it goes back decades. Local Labour politicians have been more interested in protecting their local inner city fiefdoms than tackling the terrible social deprivation that exists within them. When Iain Duncan Smith first went to the Gallowgate estate in Glasgow one of the residents said that they didn't vote Tory round there and just look at the state of the place. "Yes, and who's been running the council for the last 50 years," replied IDS. Obviously that is only one part of the problem. The glorification of violence and guns in video games, in newspapers and on TV surely has to have played its part too, as well as the rising trend of single parenthood.
All the evidence points to the lack of a male role model being a key part in a child's descent into dark places. That's not criticising single mothers, it is just a statement of fact. Chances are that a child with two parents will emerge into adulthood as a more rounded individual that if it doesn't have two parents. This is especially true in inner city areas. This cannot be turned around within a few years, but if we do not do something in our education system to explain the benefits of duo-parenthood then if the current trend continues I fear not only for the future of our inner cities but wider areas too.
As someone who in the past has aspired to hold political office, I don't mind admitting that issues like this leave me reeling. I admire those who are thinking about the answers because I suspect very few of us can point to individual measures which we could take immediately to make a difference. Should we be adopting zero tolerance policies in inner cities, or would that push the crimes out into the suburbs? Should we seek to understand less and punish more, or would that entrench criminality for life?
Whatever we do, we must learn from other countries. It's clear that parts of our major cities are experiencing the kind of violent crime which used to afflict many major US cities. We need to learn from from them how they have tackled it and reduced it. New York is not the only example to look at. But we need to do it quickly.
Apologies for the length of this post, but it's a subject we all need to think about perhaps more than we have in the past.