Hope and opportunity are the keys to solving problems of unrest and gang culture in Bristol, according to Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
The MP visited St Paul’s on Tuesday as he continued his tour of cities affected by disorder and rioting last week.
In the Brunswick Room at the Coach House on Upper York Street, Mr Miliband spoke with a mix of community members, including youth workers, councillors, businessmen, church leaders, parents and teenagers.
Chaired by Bristol East’s Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, discussions touched upon recent troubles in the centre, youth culture, social values, poverty and parenting as those assembled offered their solutions.
Mr Miliband said: “We’ve got to use this moment as a country to address some of these underlying issues and I think they’re about responsibility, including parental responsibility,” he said.
After more than an hour of passionate discussion, he said: “Thank you Bristol. This is some of the best conversation I’ve had and there have been some fantastic contributions from people.”
When asked by the Evening Post how the Labour Party would tackle gang culture as has been seen in tensions between The Blood Gang in St Paul’s and the High Street gang in Easton in recent years, he suggested one tactic should be for criminals to be forced to be confronted by their victims.
“I think we’ve got to look at innovative solutions to the gang problems,” he said.
“But you’ve got to combine a tough message with a clear message of hope to young people that there is an alternative to the gang. We’ve got to find better, legal ways of saying you can have income, protection and status in other ways.
“Punishment on its own is not going to be the answer.”
He urged the Government to preserve as many youth services as possible and disagreed with the hike in university tuition fees.
Mr Miliband added: “Governments can always make choices and I’ve been very careful not to say simplistically, all the riots are about the cuts, but what I say is, as we move forward, and as we now have this judicial inquiry, we’ve got to look at the priorities we have as a country. Yes we have to reduce the deficit, but we’ve also got to give our young people a stake in the future.”
During the meeting, Delroy Hibbert, a volunteer youth worker, said there were not enough community centres open in the evenings, aside from Bristol Riverside Youth Project, run by Dennis Stinchcombe who was also present. Looking back at the trouble last week, Mr Hibbert said: “They were bored and it was very exciting for them.”
Levi Leopard, 16, who lives in St Paul’s, said young people were punished like adults yet talked to like children and he would like to see more respect for them.
Anti-knife crime campaigner Narraser Gordon said: “I don’t think there are enough people out there inspiring people to do positive things in their community.”
Marvin Rees warned: “This is not simply an expression of some marginal subculture or some deviant individuals who have nothing to do with the rest of us. I don’t want to hear the language allowed to flourish that says these people are foreign to us, they’re some kind of alien invaders, they are not part of us. They are us.”
Jackie Davis, of the Elim Church, said consumerist society had a lot to answer for. “Without dreams, where are their (children’s) aspirations,” she said.