Tough on yobs, tough on the causes of yobs

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The Independent Online
IN THE 1980s, the key figure in British politics was Essex man. Before that it was the trade unionist, or the family man who needed to earn a family wage. The 1990s, it seems fair to predict, will be the years of the yob. The young, unemployed, and probably unemployable, man has stolen on to the political stage as a sort of symbol of the national condition: he haunts the speeches of politicians on all sides - on crime, the family, education, race, the economy, employment, homelessness and just about anything else you care to mention.

'The most important action any government can take,' said Labour's Frank Field recently, 'is to cut off the supply routes to this burgeoning underclass of young, unemployed men.' Peter Lilley acknowledged (to the amazement of many feminists, who were saying the same thing) that low pay and unemployment have effectively made a class of men unmarriageable. And last week, a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies concluded: 'Low paid male workers did not see their earnings potential rise at all between 1975 and 1992, while median wages grew by over a fifth.'

The yob is a useful scapegoat: the urban mugger, the rural lager lout, the football hooligan, the racist. He goes round impregnating women with abandon - and then, indeed, abandoning them, creating one-parent families and social mayhem. You can blame him with impunity, because he's not listening, and he doesn't have a pressure group. Unfortunately, once you've blamed him for everything, he's still there.

The Labour Party, no doubt, will be tough on yobs and tough on the causes of yobs. Peter Lilley has stressed the role of education, although it's a bit late for the current generation, who are going to be hanging around loutishly for a good while yet. Prince Charles, in the most direct confrontation with the Yob Problem to date, has floated the idea of a form of national service. (This might be a good way of coralling the yobs, but given the number of homeless ex- soldiers, one hopes that the Prince has a strategy for returning them to the community.) Altogether, it is becoming increasingly clear that the party that can most convincingly lay claim to a Yob Policy should, and probably will, get to run things.

YOU ONLY have to give a girl a few glasses of wine and she's yours. So, at any rate, we learn from doctors in Finland and Japan, who have discovered that alcohol is an aphrodisiac for women. This, they explain, is because it stimulates the production of testosterone.

Their research, solemnly written up in Nature, seems slightly too good to be true. First, there's the suggestion that the source of sexual arousal in both sexes is testosterone, a hormone that men have in abundance and women in rather mingy little amounts. So all those old ideas about predatory men and shrinking women are true, and women don't like sex very much. Not at least, unless they're drunk. And then, there's the idea that if you give a girl a few Dubonnets she'll do anything. This, according to the researchers, cannot be said of men. 'Our results may give an explanation for discrepancies in sexual excitement reported by men and women after drinking,' said Peter Eriksson.

What a charming idea: men downing their drink like men, while women fall in lascivious heaps at their feet. The truth, of course, is that if there are such discrepancies, it's probably because men won't acknowledge that their amorousness could ever be at less than its steaming peak. And, as the porter in Macbeth jeered, alcohol has a famously ambivalent effect: 'it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance'. I don't think he was talking about women. But the most endearing aspect of this research, with its propensity to confirm everything men have ever wanted to believe about sex, is that getting a woman into bed is a mechanical business of alcohol and technique. It has nothing whatsoever to do with wit, charm, or sexiness.

WE ARE supposed to live in an atomised society, all watching different satellite channels while our children play computer games in another room and snack from the fridge in the kitchen. But it didn't feel like that as we sat in front of our televisions on Wednesday night, or ventured out on Thursday morning to be accosted by complete strangers offering their opinions on the programme. Between London and Banbury, and before 10am, I was offered unsolicited opinions by two taxi drivers, a fellow passenger on a train, a lady in a station buffet, and three school teachers. (Everyone, incidentally, said 'poor man'. A normally sane friend of mine rang up to say she and her husband had got drunk watching it and decided to write the Prince a letter of sympathy.)

The sophisticates objected that Charles doesn't understand television: he twitched, he was long- winded, and he was less than clear about the image he was trying to project. But in one way, he seemed more astute about the medium than the soundbite-perfect politicians (who still allow only the most limited television coverage of debates): he seemed to have recognised that, in the age of Oprah, the public has come to think of the private person as having a profound bearing on the public persona. The Prince confessing that he had been unfaithful was reminiscent of Bill and Hillary Clinton on the 60 Minutes sofa admitting that their marriage hadn't always been easy. It was exposure few British politians would have put up with, and it seemed remarkably modern.

HALF the World Cup matches are screened after my bedtime. I appreciate that there's not much the schedulers can do about international time zones or the fact that I need enormous amounts of sleep. But I missed Saeed Owairan's goal for Saudi Arabia, said to be brilliant by insomniacs. Why are there no regular highlights so that those of us who keep sensible hours can catch up? They could borrow some of the time currently given over to interviews with supporters in obscure Italian bars in upstate New York.