02/10/2011 The Politics Show West Midlands


02/10/2011

Jon Sopel and Patrick Burns are here with the top political stories of the week.


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Transcript


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We are in Manchester also where the summer riots continue to cast their

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shower -- shadow. In court, an MP says the law must swayed to the

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2145 seconds

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Hello again from the Midlands - except that we too are here with

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the Conservatives in Manchester, just round the corner from the

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scene of some of the worst of the summer riots along with Birmingham,

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Wolverhampton and West Bromwich in our part of the country. David

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Cameron told the perpetrators they'd face "the full force of the

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law". The Conservative MP for Stourbridge Margot James, said the

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courts "should err on the side of severity". But with the number of

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arrests in the Midlands now approaching 700, I'll be asking the

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Environment Secretary and Meriden MP, Caroline Spelman, and the

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leader of Staffordshire County Council, Philip Atkins, how far

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politicians should get involved. But let's hear first from our

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reporter Bob Hockenhull. He was joined by Margot James at a sitting

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The justice system is under pressure like never before after

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this summer's riots. Not just from the volume of defendants - in the

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West Midlands there have been 654 arrests - but also from the need to

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be seen to be tough on the rioters. On the evening of August 8th, I was

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out here in the centre of Birmingham reporting for Midlands

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Today. This area was teeming with gangs looking for shops to smash

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and loot. And within hours the police were rounding up suspects

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for the courts to deal with. Under pressure to deliver speedy justice,

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magistrates sat through the night passing sentence, their efforts

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winning praise in the Deputy Prime Minister's speech at the Liberal

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Democrat conference in the city last month. Here in Birmingham, the

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community stick together in the face of disorder and tragedy. Our

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emergency services, police and courts all rose to the challenge.

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But have some magistrates and judges gone too far by imposing

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sentences that are too harsh? As, the Royal Courts of Justice began

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hearing appeals from some of those convicted, the Chairman of the

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Magistrates Association was in Birmingham this week. I don't think

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there is evidence to suggest magistrates are coming down very

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hard but the harm caused by a single case of theft and burglary

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might be minimal -- two or �300 to the shopkeeper. But the harm caused

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to two or three single events in harmony could be quite significant.

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There are still plenty of suspects to come before the courts. Fewer

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than a quarter of those arrested in the West Midlands have been

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sentenced for crimes. Crimes that shocked us all. Certainly in my

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lifetime I don't think I've been as shocked and ashamed by something in

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this country. Days after the riots, the Conservative MP for Stourbridge,

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Margot James, called on magistrates and judges to err on the side of

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severity when dealing with offenders. Do you maintain your

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hardline stand? I was just saying in scenes of incredible, aggressive

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violence, that sentencing should have swayed towards severity.

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Birmingham Magistrates is expecting another influx of riot-related

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cases next week. The MP has kept a keen eye on how the rioters have

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been dealt with. Why should people think they can threaten without

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regard to life or limb and go as a mob to take what is not theirs.

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That is quite wrong and should result in a custodial sentence, in

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my view. She wants to ensure any pressure felt by the courts or

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prisons due to the high volume of offenders doesn't lead to leniency.

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This historic court in Stafford heard its first case in 1798.

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Justice was dispensed from here for nearly two centuries until the last

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case on Thursday July 25 in 1991. Twenty years after it closed, the

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legal system here in the Midlands is facing unprecedented demands -

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313 of those arrested after the riots in this region are still on

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bail while decisions are made over whether to charge them. The prison

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population is already reaching record highs. But with many more

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arrests anticipated, the clamour for heavy sentences is not expected

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In a moment I will be talking to some of our guests but let us begin

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with the riots. In view of what many people see as the severity of

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the sentences handed down, how comfortable are you with the

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involvement of politicians? I think people want to see the offenders

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properly punished for the damage they did to the communities. We

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need to respect the independence of the judiciary. It is very important.

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I pay tribute to the magistrates who made a Supreme effort to

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expedite the carrot -- cases quickly. But I do not think it is

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for politicians to interfere with the workings of the judiciary.

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it has been said that there have been tragic offenders also. It is

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hard on someone who, one moment in their lives which they can regret

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for the rest of their Dave's, has a serious criminal record? Many of

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them are repeat offenders and it tells all of us that we need to

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look at precisely how we deal with offenders and how we prevent

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reoffending. That is a challenge to all of us in society because many

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of them were children with parents and families. It is for all of us

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to see what we can do to stop this happening again. Are you

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comfortable with the role politicians have played? We are not

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a police state in this country and we have great communities across

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the West Midlands. To do policing by consent, we have to respect

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other people's property and if people break the law, they should

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expect the full hand of the law. Some senior Tories have compared

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the political leadership outside London, including colleagues of

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yours who chaired areas of the local authorities, and they have

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compared favourably with other areas. I think we have the lead on

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certain projects across the West Midlands. Locally, we are what the

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public elect. High-speed rail now. We spoke about this and there was a

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great consensus, we thought, that a string of your party colleagues and

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local authorities agreed but people are now coming out against it.

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is based on consensus between the main parties about the need for

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investment in the infrastructure. When it comes down to the detail,

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often there Rob problems. It is important to point out that high-

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speed rail is needed to address capacity problems as there is no

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spare capacity on the West Coast Main Line and that holds the West

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Midlands back. It would bring 40,000 jobs to our economy. As a

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constituency MP through whose constituency it goes, I am there to

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help my constituents mitigate the impact when it goes ahead. What do

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you say, as one of the leaders of the authority who came out against

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it? From Staffordshire's point of view, because we looked at the

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effect of Staffordshire also, at the key thing is... But can you

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look at it in isolation? There is certainly an issue about capacity

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on the west coast main line and getting people around the country

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but we have to capture the maximum economic advantage for the West

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Midlands, minimise the environmental dire -- damage and

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make sure that local residents voices are heard because it will

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affect some people quite dramatically. We hear all the

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voices from the opposition. Your side of the argument is being lost,

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isn't it? The government had to remain neutral to the consul --

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during the consultation... Birmingham and Solihull Chambers of

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Commerce have come out and supported this because they know

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the capacity constraints on our rail network adversely affect

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business. People are struggling to pay petrol costs so the question

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for the government is, we have to create more capacity and a Jenny

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time of 31 minutes to Birmingham from London would have an important

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impact. -- Eid journey. Moving on to the keynote speech this

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afternoon. You have a particular message about economic growth for

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rural areas. What will you say? want to support growth in the rural

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economy because part of the reach - - reason we were more severely

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affected during the recession was the imbalance in our economy. So,

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in my department we are looking hard to invest in rural areas.

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there been lots of new buildings going up? You campaign for the

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Meriden gap and now there is a suspicion your party will open the

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floodgates. The most important thing is to make sure rural areas

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are not disadvantaged by a lack of access to the internet or mobile

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phone use so the government is making millions of pounds available

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for rural broad band and change the use of existing buildings. You are

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a farmer in your spare time. What do you make of that? There are

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great opportunities coming out. Super-fast broadband is key to

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opening up the countryside to business is able to work from home

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and the like. The countryside can offer a lot to the economy and the

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economy is our number one priority. If the private sector grows and

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makes profit, they can be taxed and provide services we all wish to see

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for our elderly, children etc. have the ear of the Environment

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Secretary, what would you like to see in the speech? Any opportunity

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to help grow the rural economy is very welcome. Well that is a

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priority. We need to support British farming and sustainability.

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Thank you both for being here with So, a summer that will live long in

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the memory in the Midlands for the worst of reasons - riots, looting,

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and the deaths of three young men. And yet, paradoxically, these

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terrible events may have taken David Cameron onto surprisingly

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comfortable political ground by strengthening his arguments in

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support of the Big Society to repair "broken Britain". One of his

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formative experiences came during a visit to Balsall Heath in

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Birmingham four years ago, when he stayed overnight with a local

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family. Susana Mendonca has revisited the area to see what

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difference the idea of a Big Meet Abdullah, his wife Shahida,

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mother Safia, and his kids. Four years ago, they had an unusual

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house guest. Hello. How are you? David Cameron came here to find out

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how Balsall Heath's community has been helping itself. There was a

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problem with drugs and prostitution. The streets were controlled by drug

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dealers. That is what the neighbourhood used to be like until

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residents started patrolling the streets. When David Cameron came

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here he helped clear the car-park up and he found a needle. We were

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trying to encourage him to think about the broken society we are

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living in, we feel, and how it can be mended. Does the idea of the Big

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Society come in? The forum's work got to mention that his party

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speech in -- last year. Local residents were fed up with pimps

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and gangs so they set up street patrols to clear them out and

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turned what was a no-go zone into a desirable place to live. It has

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become a better neighbourhood for one pensioner who gets help after

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having an eye operation. They look after us old people, help us out.

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They not at our door to see if we are all right. But building this

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Big Society idea costs money. The Balshall Heath Forum needs as much

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as �300,000 the year. The forum used to get �60,000 of that from

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Birmingham City Council. Funding has dried up so it's challenge is

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to survive without government cash. It is getting advice from big

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business. The push is to recognise that businesses cannot shy away

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from it. They are a massive part of this community and they have to

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work with the forum. But some volunteers, welcoming the deputy

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leader of the city council this week, worry that businesses won't

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be wiling to give. Shabana who's youth team checked on elderly

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residents during the summer riots, says the Big Society won't work

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without government funding. Communities need to be more active

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and help each other do community work. The community always needs

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that support. There is only so much we can do. Society has never been

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able to exist without the voluntary sector and the face sector making a

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contribution. Statutory authorities cannot deliver everything that

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makes society tick. Back in the House where David Cammie spent his

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first night, I hear how the biz Society is working. He needs to see

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the Big Society in action. Who does his daughter want to see? We would

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like him to bring Florence. They may only have to wait until next

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spring when the Tory conference heads back to Brighton. And BBC WM

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listeners can keep up-to-date with political developments in

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Birmingham and the Black Country with Susana throughout the week.

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Now, it's a safe bet looting and rioting would have no place in the

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local communities envisaged by the MP who has written the book on the

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"Big Society". During the week, I caught up with its author, Jesse

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Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire,

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on the stage of Hereford's Courtyard Theatre, during a break

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in a business conference that was If I were to challenge you to write

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another chapter in this book to take account of the summer riots,

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what do you think would be the main principles we could expect to see?

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It was the tremendous sense of lack of purpose and youth unemployment,

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as well as a kind of gang culture. All of those aspects have to be

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brought into play. It would take the same principles we have already

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in play and play them out in the context of the riots with all their

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causes and effects. You say that much of this thinking has its

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origin with people like Edmund Burke and the aftermath of the

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French Revolution. Some of the language after that riots was

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apocalyptic. Do you see a connection with the origins of that

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idea and social difficulties today? Yes, we have the highest level of

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drug abuse in almost every area of Europe. We have high levels of

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teenage pregnancy, high levels of social deprivation in key parts of

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our cities. We have to engage in this. We have to think outside the

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political box and not turn to the state as the only source of support

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for these people. We have to look at ways they can help themselves

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and which government can engage with those institutions that can do

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the best job of people -- putting people back on their feet. Some

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commentators say that There are new people being appointed into jobs in

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lope -- local authorities to come walk the -- co-ordinate the

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activities of the voluntary sector so it is having the opposite

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effect? Yours have people pushing more power down to local

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authorities and institutions. Out of the diversity comes innovation

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and energy. The real question for the Big Society is whether it can

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change the political terms of debate over the next two or three

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elections. What the Labour Party has been saying over the last year

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is moving from hostility to a high degree of embracing the conclusions.

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Part of the debate about the Big Society is that it is not a Big

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Society but a big excuse for cutting public spending.

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Conservative Party has been thinking about these issues and

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talking about them for at least five years. It wasn't a secret that,

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with the level of economic crisis we have been in, measures to curb

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public spending would have to happen. The real question is

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whether it can trigger local energy and release these institutions

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