Give us a plan on knife crime, delegate urges Labour conference
Youth murders hardly discussed at party's annual get-together with London Mayor Sadiq Khan missing from the stage
27 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley in Brighton
A LABOUR delegate from Camden has warned the party that it has “no tangible policy” on stopping youth violence and knife crime during a passionate speech on the conference stage.
Elaine Donnellon, representing the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, was speaking in the main hall in Brighton following a series of murders and serious assaults in north London.
She said: “We have a public health crisis in this country: young people, headline after headline, teenager charged with murder, teenager charged with murder. I’m asking conference to get a grip of it.”
Despite the bloodshed, the issue did not feature prominently at the conference with some members from Camden confused as to why London Mayor Sadiq Khan had not appeared to be bursting to make an inspirational speech from the main stage or why members of the shadow front bench had not made more far-reaching comments across the conference.
Ms Donellon said: “We must get on this as a policy, please. We have nothing in the manifesto that refers to it. We need a tangible, comprehensive Labour policy on tackling serious violence. I get frustrated. I’m a Labour member, and I’m thinking: It’s got everything you want. It’s got poverty, inequality. It’s got death, it’s got murder. Why aren’t we talking about it? I’ve realised, we have no tangible policy to refer to.”
Camden saw three murders in a space of five days earlier this month and further stabbings over the weekend.
The wave of violence has been crushing for councillors, police and others who fed into a youth safety taskforce after a previous run of murders two years ago.
Ms Donnellon, appearing for the first time as a delegate to conference, said: “Children involved in knife, gun, weapon violence. This is not normal, we can’t accept this as normal… How does it happen? The indicators are here, we have the evidence: Domestic abuse, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse, poverty, abject poverty, low aspiration, low opportunity, marginalised, deprived countries. Children of migrants, refugees, making up the highest groups of victims in London.”
Ms Donnellon helped form the campaign group Operation Shutdown in response to a series of knife deaths across London, demanding the government and Mr Khan ramps the issue up the agenda and calling for more help for bereaved families. She said she would now also set up a group of Labour members who wanted the party to come up with new policies.
“There is injustice for the families,” she told the conference hall. “They can’t move. Why? Because we sold our council housing. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to move to.”
Although Labour’s front bench big hitters had a string of new policy ideas such as an end to private schooling, a four day working week, stopping prescription charges at pharmacies and new community law centres to help those in need of advice and representation, the issue of knife crime was confined to fringe meetings.
Drillminster at The World Transformed
At The World Transformed, a festival set up by the left-wing group Momentum to run alongside the main conference in Brighton, youth workers were disappointed that Diane Abbott did not arrive to speak as scheduled.
“Even the MP doesn’t care about us,” said one disenchanted contributor.
The session, which contrasted from the main conference because it had six black speakers on the panel, instead heard from a former teacher who warned that the number of exclusions in school meant struggling children were labelled as failures from an early age and that pupil referral units were more like prisons; her own experience was not related to Camden’s service.
Drillminster, a rapper, defended the sometimes violent lyrics of drill music tracks, insisting that young performers were describing the reality of trauma on the streets.
“If you took a majority from the drill scene or those from the same background and you did some scheme and put them in Cambridge and Oxford, I’m sure they wouldn’t be rapping about the same thing,” he said. “They’d be rapping about rainbows and whatever they do over there. But that’s not what it is here.”
He said young black men felt they were “not in a position to win”. Mr Khan, who is running for re-election next May, did not appear on the main stage, although supportive members said he had no control over the scheduling.
The New Journal was granted a two minute interview last week after tracking him down to a private meeting, during which he shifted the blame onto government spending cuts.
Council leader Georgia Gould agreed knife crime had not been discussed enough at the conference but said it was a chief priority for the borough’s two MPs and Camden’s Labour group.
“It’s the number one issue on my agenda,” she said. “We are doing a huge amount of work through the youth safety taskforce, but given the terrible week we’ve had. I’ve written to the home secretary [Priti Patel] asking for urgent resources. I don’t think we can police our way out of this problem. It’s about early intervention and prevention, and investment in young people.”