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Scarlett Nation » Child Politics » When your leaders become followers, bad things happen.

When your leaders become followers, bad things happen.

When Roy Jenkins legalised homosexuality in 1967, it wasn’t because the electorate demanded it. How can we expect the people to grow more understanding of a minority issue that we can’t discuss or educate people on, because it’s illegal? Roy Jenkins was doing the job he was elected to do. He was staying true to the principles he was voted in on, stepping outside of the mob mentality and calmly reviewing the facts, the moral arguments and the effect on both sides of the debate.

Now, in 2011, we’re discussing giving an unelected police force the powers to impose a curfew on under 16s. The mob are crying out for something to be done. But if we step out of the emotional outcry for a moment, it’s clear that this is a knee jerk reaction – unfair, ineffective and potentially damaging.

For one, this wasn’t some Bugsy Malone riot. There was no upper age limit and we’ve no idea how many masked criminals were actually under 16. Secondly, it’s needlessly punishing and stigmatising the vast majority of young people who are law abiding. To tell a hardworking, community-minded person that they’re under house arrest because someone vaguely like them committed a crime is illiberal to the point of being Orwellian.

Perhaps these prejudiced restrictions on our liberty would be reasonable if they actually worked to prevent more violence. But consider the following:
Yoof one: The older lads are smashing up McDonalds! You coming out?
Yoof two: Oh, I’d like to, but there’s a curfew – wouldn’t want to break the law.
I suspect that this will have no effect what so ever on anyone BUT the law abiding teenagers with concerned families. The ones that weren’t rioting. All of you have done is created more criminals by forcing people who were leaving reasonable lives into illegality.

But that doesn’t mean the curfew won’t have an impact – quite the opposite. It cements the fear of young people who are standing around and doing nothing, it confirms to those who’ve written off the whole generation that they were right. People can complain that a group of youths are – shock horror – standing around in a group. Now would be a good time for a party that calmly evaluated the moral arguments and the facts. The government isn’t trying to dissuade this fear, it’s confirming it. The result is a society still gripped by an unnecessary fear and a younger generation who we’ve labelled en masse as a deviant ‘other’. Is that going to make them feel less isolated, galvanise them to be more involved in their community?

The job of our elected representatives isn’t to merely facilitate the majority demands. Anyone can do that. That’s not government, that’s leading the mob. The job of government is to define the problem and come up with a workable and fair solution leading to a positive outcome. What we have here is a party that have misrepresented the problem and responded with an unfair and ineffective solution that will actually make things worse. It may not be a vote winner and I accept that it’s hard, but sometimes politicians have to lead public opinion, not follow it.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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