Riots jail sentences 'punish the poor the hardest', says Tottenham MP

David Lammy, speaking at the international book festival in Edinburgh, also backs 'compulsory civic service'

David Lammy, the Tottenham MP whose constituency was the scene of the beginning of the 2011 summer riots has backed "compulsory civic service" for young people, "not necessarily military".

He also criticised the long prison sentences that had been handed down to some of the rioters, saying: "There is a sense that we punish the poorest the hardest." He said: "Have we opened up our courts and have them running through the night for bankers? For MPs? And, though we have the Leveson inquiry, for journalists? Let's see if we open them up for Rebekah Brooks and others but I don't expect we will."

Lammy, speaking at the Edinburgh International Book festival, said he was also concerned about images of masculinity and male role models for boys. It was time to get "really serious about mentoring", he said. "The same liberals who stood up for single mothers in the 1970s have little to say about the importance of fathers and men in our communities. They have little to say about primary schools being almost entirely female environments."

There is "a conspiracy to turn grown men into boys," he added. "I am concerned that we have a group of young people who get into Oxford or Cambridge or Edinburgh universities, and they are called graduates. And then there are others called youths. It's infantilising, and it doesn't help them or anybody else. It's become part of the lexicon of the metropolitan liberal left."

Asked why rioting had not broken out in Scotland last year, Lammy said: "There were some parts of Britain – Wales, Scotland, Sheffield – that didn't see riots. And there has been a group of people who have said 'We are so great at this stuff; people are happy'.

"Some of the worst poverty I have ever seen is in inner-city Glasgow, Swansea, parts of Yorkshire – Hull, Scunthorpe, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool. The nature of that can mean that people are so hard pressed that the activity of riots is beyond them.

A culture of entitlement and consumerism were partly to blame for the riots, he said. Talking about the success of the London Olympics, he said: "For two weeks we have all been bound into a universal story and the battles of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Ben Ainslie and the others, and our sense of this has been heightened by the way it has been covered on the BBC – uninterrupted by rank commercialism."


Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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