I watched today’s Politics Show on BBC1 with interest. First there was the losing battle which Tony McNulty MP Employment and Welfare Minister, vainly fought with Michael Howard about the slide into recession which the UK is now experiencing.
But of more interest was the next package, filmed on the Moorside Estate – where Shannon Matthews and her family lived, and where Conservative Leader David Cameron says “decency fights a losing battle with degradation and despair”. The Dewsbury estate, equidistant between Bradford and Leeds in North Yorkshire, was cited by Cameron as having “pillars which are crime, unemployment and addiction”.
He described the Shannon Matthews case as “a verdict on our broken society”. That may well be true – for some elements, constantly bombarded by a ‘them and us’ world where celebrity and hard cash are everything and where values and morals take second place.
Surely there are a couple of lessons here. Firstly, just because a local resident commits a crime, don’t tarnish the entire community. Where does he think the hundreds of volunteers who searched tirelessly for little Shannon Matthews came from? And if we did tar entire communities with the failings of their residents, we may well be writing similar sweeping statements about the likes of Hampstead and Chelsea…
Secondly, it isn’t about branding communities as failing. It’s about getting in there in person, forging your opinion by getting to know those residents, working for your successes together, and giving people confidence that they haven’t been forgotten and passed over.
I well remember, during the 2005 County election campaign, David Cameron visiting Sherwood Estate where I was the Conservative candidate (click the link to see a piece I did for the BBC’s Politics Show in October 2004). And yes, there was a murder at the end of last year of a baby by his young father. But does that mean we brand all the residents by this tragedy? Of course not.
It’ll probably never happen, but how I wish he could come back today and see how, working with the residents, we’ve created a more vibrant, confident area, with a new Children’s Centre, a new Community Centre, its exemplar Primary School, the atrocious Greggs Wood Road now resurfaced, brand new buses giving local residents a service every fifteen minutes, and the prospect of a state of the art new £20,000,000 Academy available to young people across the Borough, to replace Tunbridge Wells High School.
Put the broad brush away, Mr Cameron and come and see what’s being achieved by local councillors up and down the country.