15 Aug 2011

Boris Johnson calls for action on gangs and illiteracy

London Mayor Boris Johnson tells Channel 4 News that last week’s riots are an opportunity to look at gangs, economic regeneration in deprived areas, and the education of young people.

“It reveals there are problems in society…there are particular issues around gang crime, so let’s use this opportunity to deal with it.

“A big flat rock has been flipped up and we’ve seen all sorts of creepy crawlies come out,” Mr Johnson said.

Although he believed that gangs had played a significant role in last week’s disorder, he said it was one element among many.

“I think there’s a range of things: There’s pure criminality – 86 per cent of those arrested have previous convictions – a lust for excitement, greed, copycat stuff, me-tooism.

Boris vows to clean the streets of London whilst in Clapham last week

“But what it gives us is the opportunity to deal with some of the real problems with gangs, because there’s no doubt about it, it was gangs leading off assaults on the shops,” Mr Johnson argued.

The Mayor said he believed economic deprivation and education were also major underlying factors in the unrest.

“You have to look at causes of poverty, why people are not getting the jobs, getting the employment that they need, and often it is not just a question of pumping money but of educational aspirations.

“You have to restore respect but you also have to look at the environment in which these kids are growing up – without boundaries, without discipline, and without proper educational opportunities.

“And not being given the tools they need to develop their own life. How can these kids expect to progress when one in four 11-year-olds in London is functionally illiterate?

The single biggest and best thing we can do to tackle this problem long term is to teach people reading. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

“No wonder they are angry, no wonder they are more likely to be drawn into gangs. The single biggest and best thing we can do to tackle this problem long term is to teach people reading and to teach people the importance of reading,” Mr Johnson said.

He also advocated the return of national service, saying “it’d be a wonderful thing”, although the cost of it “may be an issue.”

Cameron and Miliband

The Mayor’s comments came after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to tackle the “moral collapse” of the nation to stop further disturbances.

He said the Government would review every aspect of its policy with this in mind – applying a “family test” to all domestic policy – but dismissed suggestions that the Coalition’s austerity measures were linked to the violence.

He said that in large parts of the country the rioting “was just pure criminality” but added: “The broken society is back at the top of my agenda.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband took a different approach, criticising “knee-jerk” responses and calling for an inquiry to be established to look into the causes of the disorder and the “values crisis” in society.

He said that if the Government failed to launch an official investigation, he would.

“The people leading this inquiry must include young people, those with experience of being in gangs, people from across the community. It is right for the victims, it is right for the country. It is right to build the society we need,” he said.

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