Neil Wilson: Truant youths are as visible as ever
The Bow Group's report claiming the Government had lost track of thousands of youths who should be at school came as no surprise to me. Chris Skidmore says some persistent truants have: "fallen so far below the radar that politicians are not aware they exist". They haven't fallen below the radar at all. Uneducated and unemployed youths are as visible as ever, here on Merseyside where the papers have been dominated by talk of gang war for the last 18 months.
Outbursts of drug-related violence are nothing new in Liverpool but the nature of the beast is changing. Two sprawling housing estates, Norris Green and Croxteth, have become the battle ground in a war in which the 'soldiers' are drawn from the ranks of truants and are frighteningly young.
A video on YouTube of vicious looking dogs sinking their teeth into someone reveals that some kids involved are as young as 11. Some of those arrested after gun attacks have been as young as 14. The videos reveal a sinister subculture. Kids pull wheelies along busy roads, stolen cars are spun in circles and guns are paraded, all to a gangster rap soundtrack.
To say that the gang wars have torn North Liverpool apart would be a lie. In fact, it is probably the most half-arsed gang war in history. Only one person has been killed so far. The guns in the videos are rusty and old-looking and the gunmen are young and nervous, which explains why shooting victims are able to discharge themselves from hospital within hours. The potential for further deaths is clear however.
Most people use their income, quality of life and home as barometers of their success. The young lads of Norris Green and Croxteth consider themselves successful if they have a pit bull, access to a gun and a motorbike. Their role models are older gang members like Liam 'Smigger' Smith. He was shot dead last August after visiting a friend in Altcourse prison. It's probably fair to say, that in his 19 years, this was the only thing of any significance that happened to Smith. Shops were ordered to close for his funeral. Most, fearing reprisals, did just that. A wake for Smith turned into a riot, with youths of 14 and 15 arrested for public order offences.
This is the society created by New Labour and one which we will inherit. A decade of the provider state has left a generation which has no responsibility, let alone the compulsion to attend school. Communities feel they no longer have any input in their areas. This combination has led to the rise of the teenage gangster, destined for a life of drug dealing and welfare dependency, who most people are scared to confront, even if he is just a child who should be doing homework.
Mini-gangsters are Blair's real legacy and one which the next Conservative government will have to deal with. Drinkers in a local Conservative club told me they call the black-clad youths "two-legged rats" and their contempt is justified.
The priority of Cameron's Conservatism should be to place power in the hands of the people in areas like North Liverpool, enabling them to take the streets back from the yobs and solve what is the biggest problem in our inner cities today.