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Date: 9 January, 2003
Steve Tomkins says that Frank Field's book about the negatives changes in society today could help turn back the tide of antisocial behaviour
"Times are bad. Children no longer obey
their parents." Cicero said that in the second-century BC.
(He went on to complain that everyone was writing a book.)
Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead since 1979,
also sees our society in crisis, entering 'a new and darker age'
thanks to 'the collapse of decent behaviour'.
Field traces the roots of this disaster and then
proposes ways to beat it. The immediate cause is in dysfunctional
families which fail to pass on social values.
How to counter 'the new barbarism'? Field offers a three-pronged strategy. First, the police should be given powers (and money) to act as surrogate parents, placing restrictions on the freedom of young people who are repeatedly found acting antisocially.
So, is Field right about the disintegration of society? It's not something you can measure easily with statistics, especially as convictions for antisocial behaviour are so hard to come by. Instead Field offers many stories form Birkenhead; but while these are truly appalling, such anecdotal evidence inevitably leaves the reader to decide how common such cases really are. Older and more pessimistic readers will I suspect find his diagnosis more compelling than younger and more optimistic ones. Being myself exactly half of threescore years and ten, I'm undecided.
The case for a general collapse of decent behaviour is inconclusive then. Nevertheless, the book makes its most important points convincingly. Antisocial behaviour is terrorising the poorest communities in Britain. Police and local authorities have proved unable to control it and need to be given new powers to do so.
Hopefully this book will make a contribution to turning back the tide. Whether that means rescuing our society from ruin, you'll have to decide for yourself.
from Hell: The politics of behaviour by Frank Field, Politico's
Publishing, pp156, RRP £8.99, £7.19 on amazon.co.uk
here to buy the book and raise money for Christian Aid