Saturday, May 12, 2007

Interview: Francis Gilbert

A conversation with the author of Yob Nation

Q: What do you reply to those people who claim that 'crime's always been there' and that the idea that it's spiralling out of control is a 'misconception'?

A: Firstly, I'd say look carefully at the crime statistics. The government's own figures show that violent crime has risen tenfold since 1979, with violent crime rising sharply in the last few years.

Secondly, I'd say speak to the people in the know: the police. They all say that it's getting worse, except the policemen who are required to be "on message" by the government.

Thirdly, I'd say take a look around you: the alcohol-related violence that you can see in any city or town centre on any Friday or Saturday night simply didn't exist on the same level as it did a few decades ago, when public binge drinking was confined to a small minority of men. Furthermore, it was the problem of "teenage gangs" while always an issue since the Second World War, wasn't on the scale that it is now: there were seven teenage murders in eleven weeks recently, a statistic unheard of even a decade ago.

Fourthly, look at the way our system of law and order is breaking down: the Home Secretary himself said recently that his department is "not fit for purpose".

Fifthly, look at the wider culture: the internet, the rise of violent video games, the increasing yobbishness of TV etc is immeasurably different from 1960s and 70s, when if if someone swore on TV it was debated in parliament.

Q:You carried out a thorough and extensive research as you wrote 'Yob Nation'. If you were to think of one factor, what was the most shocking episode or aspect, that you saw or came in contact with?

A: Obviously, the thing that had the biggest impact on me was being attacked myself on a bus, an episode which prompted me to write the book. Witnessing people being glassed in Cardiff was shocking, as was the fights between girls I saw in Ayia Napa. But by then I'd become hardened, having spoken to so many victims and perpetrators before then.

Q: What's your opinion of the comments Tony Blair made last month in Cardiff when he said that the black community "need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids"?

A: As with so much of what Blair says, it sounds great but what exactly does it mean? I think it's just hot air. The most important thing the government can do is impose some firm law and order on the streets, in our schools and in our public places. The government's greatest failure has been its education policies which have given no hope to young children from poor backgrounds.

Q: The topic is obviously incredibly complex. But why do we drink as much as we do in Britain? If you were to think of a particular factor that would explain it, what would you say?

A: We've always had a culture of binge drinking, something which the city banks exploited when they took over the breweries in the early 1990s: they saw a chance for a massive expansion of the industry -- it's been expanding by 10% every year ever since, and amounted to 3% of our GDP. The government also felt that it could regenerate our cities and towns by encouraging bars and clubs to open in their centres. This has led to a big upsurge in drinking amongst all ages and classes, and to, as I have mentioned, a big increase in alcohol-related violence.

Francis Gilbert is the author of several successful books such as "I'm A Teacher Get Me Out of Here", "Teacher On The Run" and "Yob Nation". Find out more about him here.