Editor-At-Large: The disaffection that created Moat is what matters

Janet Street-Porter
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:39

Crime has dropped to the lowest level for more than 30 years – so why do many of us feel unsafe? Although we think crime has fallen in our neighbourhood, two-thirds of us believe it has risen across the country as a whole. Could it be that anti-social behaviour, which rarely results in arrests or convictions, contributes to our feelings of unease? And is this worse than 10 years ago? Low-grade, threatening behaviour which may not get reported often blights the lives of people living in council flats and estates and there are numerous examples of mindless intimidation, where residents say they feel besieged, and claim the police don't do enough.

Walk around some city streets and you sense low-level aggression. People are more upfront when something annoys them. They scream and they swear. As a society we seem to have forgotten our manners. I drove past a woman pushing a buggy in Enfield the other day, when she clearly thought I should have stopped. She called me the rudest thing you can call anyone. Is Gordon Ramsay responsible for turning profanity into an everyday form of communication? I don't know. Near my home in Clerkenwell there's a pedestrian area with pleasant restaurants and bars. Gangs of youths regularly storm down it, kicking over tables, stealing wine and causing havoc. Boredom? It's hardly a deprived area.

The Raoul Moat affair has focused attention on the values of a particular group of citizens who feel that they are engaged in a "war" against authority, and anyone foolhardy enough to "disrespect" them. Why are we surprised at the tacky flowers and tributes at the spot where Moat killed himself? Why did the Prime Minister dignify the asinine comments lauding Moaty on Facebook, when he should have ignored them? Moat's canonisation is the latest saga in this phoney "war" being conducted in rundown areas of the country. Places where unemployed men roam the streets with aggressive dogs, groups of Neets (not in education, employment or training) mope about getting on everyone's nerves.

These people feel left out – and they are. They've correctly deduced that the new government will be cutting their benefits and life won't be getting any easier. There's going to be less money for public transport, new houses, community centres and council services. Fewer jobs, and more surveillance now that the police have been ordered to be more conspicuous by our new political leaders. The only place where this disaffected group feels freedom and democracy and can moan about their lot is on the internet, and Facebook is their local rag.

Over the past couple of years there have been dozens of murders of young men, victims of petty squabbling between gangs establishing their territory. Each death is marked with shrines, flowers, and illiterate tributes to fallen "soldiers". We're fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to these young people there's another war happening on their doorsteps. Facebook is the place where their battle campaigns are conducted. Where the "troops" are photographed with knives and guns, striking carefully choreographed poses designed to instil fear and respect among their adversaries, or anyone who doesn't live in their postcode.

No wonder Raoul Moat rapidly became a folk hero to this crowd. On Facebook, more than 30,000 of us debated whether he was a hero or a zero, before the RIP Raoul Moat You Legend site was taken down by the rather stupid young woman who started it. Another site, RIP Raoul Moat is still thriving, with more than 15,000 "friends". Frankly, I wouldn't get too lathered about these incoherent ramblings – what we should be bothered about is the fact that a large section of our society feel like outsiders.

Just as we think crime is rising when it isn't, the Moaty people are symbols of a deep malaise. Most of Britain wants to be middle class. This lot know they've not been invited to that party. They haven't got fame, money or the stuff their working-class heroes such as footballers and pop stars flaunt. All they've got is the right to whinge and rant in cyber space. Unless politicians find a way to connect with them, the gap will only widen.

So sorry, Selina but you were just a pretty face

As an older woman who appears on television, should I be thrilled that Selina Scott has gone in to battle on my behalf? With the help of the charities Age UK and Equal Justice, she's compiled a dossier she describes as "an exhaustive account of blatant and sometimes malign ageism and sexism against women" at the BBC and sent it to Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the broadcaster's trust.

The BBC has certainly behaved shabbily on occasions; Miriam O'Reilly, the former presenter of Countryfile, claims she was dumped and replaced by a younger woman. She's taken legal action against the BBC and her case comes to court in November. Meanwhile, according to Selina, the Beeb has settled out of court with 12 other female presenters. When Selina was offered a job reading the news by Five, and later told she wasn't suitable, she sued them and accepted a settlement, the details of which she seems curiously reluctant to divulge.

Selina was a rubbish interviewer and only ever hired to read the news because she looked pleasant. She has about as much charisma as a coffee table. The BBC has just announced that Felicity Kendal and Ann Widdecombe will appear in the next series of Strictly – chosen, not because they are the wrong side of 50, but because they are instantly recognisable household names millions of people relate to.

This is not just tat... it is M&S tat

Shareholders at the Marks & Spencer annual meeting last week moaned about the clothing – one woman claimed that some of their offerings looked "like last year's Primark". What a low blow for the chairman Sir Stuart Rose, who is a considerable charmer.

Luckily he had the store's favourite model, Twiggy on hand to offer glamorous support. Unfortunately she was wearing a nasty pink ruffled dress that looked like a frilly toilet roll cover, and was topped with a brash studded jacket. Less mother of the bride than cast-off Calendar Girls. Someone else moaned about the bread – he's right. The bread is soft, slightly sugary and tasteless. You can't get a crusty loaf. They can call it organic wholemeal, but if it's got the texture of a bath sponge, I'm not interested.

Growing veg is not for the weak

Much excitement at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, in Cornwall, where they've managed to grow a pineapple using Victorian techniques that would have cost the equivalent of £10,000. A decaying glass Victorian pineapple pit was restored in 1993 and now houses 40 plants. After years of cultivation, using tonnes of decomposing hay soaked in horse urine, maintaining a temperature of around 24C, gardeners have managed to produce a single fruit. I've been on a similar journey – last year six tomato plants took hours of watering and produced six feeble little fruits, which I estimate cost about £20 each. This year my peas are doing bugger-all, producing five pods at a cost of around £2 each. Growing fruit and veg isn't about the cost, though, but the challenge. I'm just off to kill some caterpillars.

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