Speeches from debate on riots (3)

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): When I saw the flames on the streets of Tottenham on Saturday night, I had a deep sense of foreboding because I knew that it was only a matter of time before the same problems came to the streets of Hackney, not just because we have many of the same underlying social conditions but because the same gangs run backwards and forwards across the border between the two communities.

I want to stress that the pictures that people have seen on their television screens of looters in Hackney do not represent my community. What represents my community is the hundreds of people who turned out the following morning to clean up Hackney and to make good their community. I want to thank my council officers and my chief executive, Tim Shields. It is easy for Westminster politicians to denigrate council officers, but when people arrived to clean up Hackney at 10 am, council staff had been there before them and had swept Mare street and the surrounding streets, and everything was clean and orderly before 8 am. Council officers in Hackney had also been up all night monitoring CCTV, monitoring buildings in the high street for arson, and making sure the police got there to stop arson so that we did not see buildings in flames, as we saw in other parts of London. I would like to thank the emergency services and my borough commander, Steve Bending, who did the very best with the resources that were available to them.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): When my hon. Friend describes the response of the police in Hackney, does she share my concern that there was a poor and slow police response to what happened in the Tottenham Hale shopping centre? Does she agree that any inquiry into the policing activities must examine why there was so little police availability for that incident?

Ms Abbott: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but one has to admire people’s willingness to stand up for their community and defend their community. We saw on the streets of Hackney members of my Turkish community, wanting to defend their restaurants. However, we must be careful about vigilantism. It is one thing to defend one’s business, but it is for the police to be on the street defending communities. We have seen what happened in Birmingham. I worry about vigilantism tipping over into ethnic conflict in some of our big cities.

Some Members of the House are talking as if disaffected, violent, criminal urban youth, with no stake in society, are overnight phenomena. I put it to the House that in London, to my knowledge, we are looking at the third generation of black boys who have been failed by the education system. I do not say this today because I have read about it in the paper. Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament this is an issue I have worked on. For 15 years I have had conferences about London schools and the black child, trying to bring the community together, trying to bring mothers together, trying to encourage them not to blame the system, or the schools, or politicians, but to take responsibility for their own children’s education. I have held workshops in Hackney for the black community, for the Turkish community, and I have had six years of running an award scheme for London’s top achieving black children. And I tell the House this: it has been impossible to get publicity for much of this activity, just as many ordinary people in our communities who are working hard with young people and people on estates cannot get publicity. But when people riot, the media is all over our communities, and the next weekend they will be gone, leaving us with these issues.

Let me say, in the very short time available, that one of the things that I have learned from years of work, in particular around urban youth and the black family, is that most families want to do the best by their children. Members are getting up and talking about bad parents. Some of these mothers want to do the best, but they struggle. I gave an award a few years ago to a young man who came here from war-torn Somalia at the age of eight and he got a first from London university. He lived on a grim estate in Brent. His brother was in a gang. It is not just about toxic areas, toxic estates, toxic families; these are individuals. Let us hope that what is happening to boys and families in urban communities is not just this week’s issue, but is something to which the House will return and give the attention it deserves.

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