Leading article: The problem with our wanton boys

Share
Related Topics
SHAKESPEARE set the text for New Labour's social policy 400 years ago: "I wish there were no age between 10 and 23, because young men get wenches with child, upset the ancientry, stealing and fighting." That, precisely, is the problem identified by the Home Secretary last weekend. Boys and men of all classes are acting like the loutish heroes of the television comedy Men Behaving Badly, he said. "There's certainly something quite worrying about what is happening to a generation of men."

Many of the modern ills which so exercise Jack Straw and Tony Blair touch on the behaviour of males. Crime, petty vandalism, public disorder, lone parenthood, family breakdown, educational standards. In each case it is boys and men who are the focus of public policy. They are falling behind girls at school, more likely to play truant, lose interest, experiment with drugs and behave anti-socially. They are overwhelmingly responsible for the small acts of aggression which too often build up into a pattern of crime. They get wenches with child and disappear into a nether zone where the Child Support Agency cannot reach them. Or they stick around for a bit and then push off, losing contact with their children and depriving them of role models. It was ever thus, but it seems to be getting worse.

On cue, as if on a mission to prove Mr Straw right, Liam Gallagher was arrested and released on bail in Brisbane for allegedly breaking a fan's nose. For the benefit of any judges who might be reading, Mr Gallagher is the lead singer in a rock band, Oasis, renowned for their infantile and disrespectful behaviour - as well as their music. This week a Sydney woman claimed he had harassed her. He is deemed unsuitable when it comes to drawing up lists of invitations to Downing Street functions, but his marginally more respectable older brother Noel has shared champagne with Mr Blair.

(Mind you, it was Noel who last week offered reporters, trailing the band like seagulls following a ship, some tasteless words on the subject of the People's Princess.)

Mr Straw may be gratified to have his thesis vindicated in full Technicolor, like an X-rated soap opera entitled "The Problem With Boys", but the question is what he intends to do about it.

Shakespeare's shepherd in The Winter's Tale suggests the Government should simply abolish men between the ages of 10 and 23. This is the policy currently being enacted in the United States, where a large proportion of this age group are locked up in prison. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have worked there, and Mr Straw would no doubt want to extend the scope of the policy in both directions. Liam Gallagher is 25. And Mr Straw has already proposed a curfew on under-10s, combined with national homework norms and state-sponsored bedtime guidelines.

Perhaps the Government should consider other approaches. In his interview, the Home Secretary said: "Some men find it really very difficult to cope with the fact that women are now increasingly on an equal footing ... They try to cope with that by acting the goat, by being the fool." The implication of that is that the blame for Liam's antics lies with Patsy Kensit (notes for judges: she is Mrs Liam Gallagher). Well, perhaps on reflection and after a thorough and wide-ranging review Mr Straw will conclude that the Women (Second Class Citizens) (Restoration) Act would not be the ideal answer.

Equally, ministers should hesitate before blaming television. Mr Straw himself admitted he found Men Behaving Badly "entertaining". And cartoons, after decades of a very bad press, were exonerated by a study published this week. It concluded that boys tend to watch different kinds, preferring action dramas such as Street Sharks and Batman. But as anyone who had actually watched these morally didactic tales would know, they are pretty harmless.

No, when it comes to tackling the tangled undergrowth of causation linking anti-social male behaviour, poverty and exclusion, there is no alternative to the Home Secretary's patient and rather boring list of detailed initiatives. From the moment he inherited the home affairs brief from his fellow social moralist Mr Blair in 1994, Mr Straw has worked on the nitty gritty of what really matters on the ground. Problem families on problem estates; co-operation between police, courts, councils, schools, social workers, charities, churches; and a shift in the focus of public debate to how families work - boys, bedtimes and parenting, rights and responsibilities.

Much of this is earnest and unglamorous politics, but his grasp of these difficult issues explains why the Home Secretary has been one of the unexpected stars of the new Labour administration.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future