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Horror and heartbreak in Croxteth – What is the cause? What is the answer?
The appalling murder of young Rhys Jones has generated outrage, disbelief, anger and a demand for a solution to the brutalisation of a section of youth.
Symbolising the massive attention this tragedy has attracted, Everton footballers and supporters at the last match had a minute's applause in sympathy with Rhys, a passionate Evertonian, and his family who attended the match. Many in the crowd were moved to tears. Everton footballers laid tributes at the murder scene.
Rhys's murder has provoked millions of words and gallons of ink: some demanding tougher laws, others calling for tougher policing, many writing off today's youth as a lost generation. The most reactionary solutions, ranging from forcing youth into a special army detachment to incarcerating those wearing hoods into special camps, have been voiced over the local airwaves.
As always, the reality demands a study of a situation that has developed over generations. While Rhys was gunned down in an opulent area of Croxteth, the largest private development in Western Europe containing a mix of semi-detached and expensive detached properties, it is surrounded by some of the most deprived districts in the city.
The adjacent Norris Green area has a history of youth belonging to gangs who have access to guns and drugs. A hard core tend to draw in other youth on the fringes into a life of criminality. They could be categorised as the children of Thatcher's children. 'There is no such thing as society' is Thatcher's legacy.
This area of Liverpool was once a much-desired area where working-class people from the slums of downtown Liverpool that couldn't cope with the exploding population were housed in the interwar and post-war period. Council housing with neat gardens and well-kept frontages was the rule. Work was found in the factories that lined the roads leading from the estate. Plesseys, CAV Lucas, English Electric, Bus manufacturers, and the Kirkby industrial estate, three miles up the East Lancs Road, provided work for tens of thousands.
In addition many continued to work as dockers, shipbuilders, merchant seaman and the plethora of trades connected to the thriving maritime industry, as well as finding trades in the construction, printing and the supply industries.
The policies of deindustrialisation started under a Labour government in the seventies and accelerated by Thatcher after her election in 1979 as a deliberate policy laid waste the bulk of industry. Between 1973 and 1983, when the Liverpool 47 took control of the council, 65% of manufacturing in Liverpool had been destroyed and, in spite of the titanic efforts of the 47 to create jobs and defend services for which they were surcharged and removed from office, the process has continued ever since.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published in the year 2000 revealed that in parts of the Croxteth area between 50% and 70% were in poverty, and unemployment has been consistently around 36% since the 1970s. Peter Stoney, Liverpool University's leading economist, argued that the figures were still relevant today. In a nutshell, the capitalist policies of neo-liberalism have destroyed a whole culture.
It would be utopian to view the past through rose-coloured spectacles; sections of youth have always formed gangs, engaging in fighting to demonstrate their macho image. This activity grew or declined in intensity over the decades depending on the social and economic situation. Today, when the gap between rich and poor grows apace; when meaningful jobs have largely disappeared, when guns and drugs are attainable, a lethal cocktail exists, which directly impacts on the lives of ordinary, decent working-class people.
To paraphrase US senator Jesse Jackson, on his tour of deprived areas of Britain: 'When jobs and a future go out the door, guns and drugs come in through the window.'
A striking feature surrounding the latest tragedy is the absence of an intervention by the labour movement. Rhys's tragic death raises in the starkest fashion the need for a fundamental change in society. It raises the need for a socialist government which would directly address the needs of deprived areas with the same alacrity as New Labour encourages the super rich to increase their already obscene wealth or allocates billions to update weapons systems.
In 1982 when Croxteth Comprehensive School was earmarked for closure, the Liverpool Labour Party joined hands with local community activists in a campaign, which included demonstrations and marches, which assisted Labour to power in the city. In 1983 the newly elected socialist council, and the magnificent efforts by the local community, ensured that the school remained open as a vital facility.
New Labour today in Liverpool has neither the policies, political will, organisation nor members to organise the necessary level of activity to meet the needs of working-class communities.
The tragedy of Rhys's death underlines again what is becoming clearer; that a new workers' party is vital in defending and advancing the requirements of working-class communities.
Tony Mulhearn was President of the district Liverpool Labour Party during the 1983-87 battle by the Liverpool 47 Councillors against the Thatcher government
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