The resurrection of English cricket can inspire us all

I don’t think this complaint makes these parents bad people. They aren’t crazed flagellants. They just feel angry (and a little bit ashamed) that adults have lost their authority, and they don’t know how to get it back. They look wistfully at their own childhoods, and seem to think that children used to respect adults. They remember an age when young people respected the police. So in their anxiety they reach for a single decisive solution – corporal punishment.

I can see why they say it, and indeed one of the many excellent things that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is doing is to make clear that parents still do have this right, within reason. And yet hardly any of us believes, surely, that the world would be a better place if we brought back the systematic flogging of young people by adults, with all its potential for abuse. In calling for these desperate expedients, these parents are telling us about their own mental state. They feel frightened of their loss of control, frightened at the aggression of young people. They want boundaries restored, and it is the job of the state to help if it can.

Yes, we need to get young people into jobs and we need to invest in apprenticeships. But it is no use upending a dumper truck of money on “regeneration” without giving young people the mental preparation to do those jobs. It used to be said that you can’t tackle the problems of education without tackling poverty. In fact, it is the other way round. You can’t tackle poverty without tackling education.

Across this country there are stories of educational transformation to rival the resurrection of English cricket. In some of the poorest parts of London there are schools that are overcoming the indices of disadvantage and producing outstanding results. Look at the number of Oxbridge entrants from Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, or the grades of the kids from Burlington Danes in Hammersmith. Yes, it is about investment in those schools, in good facilities and well-motivated teachers. But Michael Gove is right to insist it is also about a culture of discipline; of standing up when any adult walks into the room; of taking your hands out of your pockets when you are talking to an adult; of addressing your teachers with respect.

It is so much better to be demanding of these children, and to insist on high standards – even if it means being frank about failure – than to give in to the endless lazy condescension of false praise. There are all sorts of ways of teaching young people self-discipline and respect for rules, not least competitive sport – and especially cricket, where one wild swipe is usually punished with ignominy.

That is why Kate Hoey MP and London’s sports team are supporting everything from boxing and basketball to water polo, and we support grassroots cricket, too. If you want to spread the benefits of cricket to inner-city kids, can I suggest that you support the excellent charity, Chance to Shine, which for only £15 a head will give cricket lessons to young people who would otherwise never dream of even trying the game. Of course kids mainly want to play football. But doesn’t it make sense to induct them into a game at which England has shown it can triumph, as well as one where we are a chronic disappointment?

Cricket may be a small part of the answer. But it is not to be despised: you are more likely to give young people boundaries if you teach them to score them. And unless we expand inner-city cricket, the gulf will widen between two nations – the one that has the chance to play cricket, and one that doesn’t even know England is winning.

London riots: this is no time to be squeamish

Some commentators of both Left and Right have said that the rioters were somehow impelled by a sense of moral equivalence with expense-diddling MPs and bonus-toting bankers. I am not sure that will quite do, either. Yes, it was wrong of MPs to cheat the spirit (if usually not the letter) of the system, and yes, bankers’ bonuses are often nauseating. But I simply cannot agree that Gerald Kaufman’s expense-claim for a Bang and Olufsen television has somehow triggered or legitimated the torching of property in outer London. I am afraid the explanations will turn out to be more complex and more various. Some — quite a few – were acting out of greed. Some seem to have been actuated by a feeling of power, a desire to be “noticed”. Some, especially members of gangs, were perhaps doing it because other people were doing it in other parts of London, and they did not want to be left out. Some of them were doing it for “fun”, or excitement, or because they wanted to get one over on the “feds”. Some of them were certainly relatively affluent, and the media have rightly lingered on the millionaire’s daughter and the schoolteachers who have been accused of looting.

The overwhelming majority, of course, came from the lower socio-economic groups, from the ranks of those who have been left the furthest behind; and the most recent figures I have seen suggest that 69 per cent of those charged have previous convictions. It has been said of these young people — and they say it themselves — that the world holds nothing for them, that they have no jobs, no hope and no future. In so far as that is true, it is something we can try to tackle. We can invest, we can “create” jobs, we can boost our apprenticeship programme, already standing at 30,000. But it is just not true to say that there are no jobs available. The London service economy is substantially dependent on migrant labour, much of it from eastern Europe, and employers confirm that these migrants have skillsets and a work ethic they cannot find in many native- born Londoners. Yes, these young people have been betrayed; but they have been betrayed by an educational system and family background that failed to give them discipline, or hope, or ambition, or a simple ability to tell right from wrong. We still have one in four London 11-year-olds functionally illiterate. No wonder they are angry and alienated. They need more tough love; they need mentors; they need to be taught to read, and to see the point of it; they need their gangs broken up and replaced with better alternatives — and we in City Hall will back the next Met Commissioner to help us achieve just that; and if they so much as dream of doing this again, they need to know that they will be caught and punished.

Of all the explanations for the riots, the simplest is that the police lost control in the first few hours. I am sure that with 20-20 hindsight Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner, and his colleagues would agree that some things might have been done differently. But at the moment we politicians speak with forked tongue to the police. They are servants of the law, and the law provides very little protection for any police officer who may — in the heat of the moment — cause injury to a member of the public. Take the officer who allegedly pushed poor Ian Tomlinson during the G20 riots, a motion which may have been far less violent than some that have been recommended to the police over the past few days. He is facing a charge of manslaughter. That could mean life imprisonment. We need to decide at which end of the chain of events we want to be less squeamish.

We can give the police water cannon, or else we can reassure parents that they indeed have the right to discipline their children, and we can declare that teachers are to be unambiguous figures of authority in the classroom. We can issue the police with baton rounds, or we can insist that young people will be prosecuted for swearing at an officer. We can change the law to allow the police to administer sjambok drubbings, or we adults can collectively take charge and recognise that it is up to us to give young people hope, boundaries and a moral framework. We can be less squeamish about police violence, or we can be less squeamish about the realities of young people’s needs. Of course, we could do both — and I certainly believe that robust policing is essential — but I know which is the best long-term answer.