“The UK is the worst place to grow up in the industrialised world” screamed the headlines, following the publication of UNICEF’s damning report. Added to the coincidence of an almost simultaneous bate of shootings in South London, commentators with their own particular spin on events, and state enforcers with a peculiar grasp on reality, were each whipped into a frenzy. Not only did the Met go on a ridiculous PR offensive, flooding the streets with the boys in blue (after the fact). But the new blue eyed ‘boy’ on the block, David Cameron, revived the old blue rinse chestnut that it was family breakdown that done it.
Meanwhile, the congealing together of unflattering but often unrelated, and sometimes plain dodgy stats on what terrible lives our children lead, found a welcome ‘we told you so’ from children’s rights lobbyists. They were already convinced that abuse and neglect are rife, and that nasty adults just don’t care. But with all the talk about poor parenting that seemed to unite all sides in the debate, poverty itself didn’t get a look in – despite the fact that it was the likes of the Peckham of Damiola Taylor infamy (not Kensington or Hampstead) where the shootings actually happened.
And yet for all the left-liberal bleating about the spectre of moral collapse – well, they didn’t say as much because relativists, unlike their right-leaning fellow travellers on this issue, don’t do morals – it took one Tony Blair to put things in perspective. Recent events he said, in response to an ever-opportunistic Cameron, were ‘not a metaphor for the state of British society’ or for that matter ‘the state of British youth today’.
Of course, this was a bit rich coming from a man who claimed in the Every Child Matters Green Paper that there are children out there whose “lives are filled with risk, fear and danger … from the people closest to them” and that “they are a standing shame to us all”. Indeed, he might have claimed credit for being ahead of the game in turning the tragic and avoidable death of Victoria Climbie at the hands of her carers, into a campaign against the hidden horrors of family life. But to his credit he didn’t do that.
Admittedly he may have blown it again since the first draft of this ‘comment’, as he announced a change in the law on reducing the age for convictions for possession of a firearm. This was just another familiar episode in the gesture politics for which his government is all too well known. But for that one moment at least, the outgoing prime minister kept his head when everyone else in public life seemed to be losing theirs.