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Cameron’s war on gangs short on details

British Prime Minster David Cameron's "all out war" on gangs is a far-reaching strategy to tackle mob mentality by helping to improve parenting while creating a police force freed from paperwork to pound the beat.

Exactly how Mr. Cameron's "Broken Society Agenda" will change Britain's "yob" culture isn't clear, however. Few details were released Monday about the plan, which will unfold as Mr. Cameron also pushes ahead with unpopular plans to shave £2-billion from British police budgets by 2015 in a stagnant economy in which one in four London 11-year-olds is functionally illiterate and one in five 16 to 24 year-olds is unemployed. It also remains unclear how the prime minister will reconcile the new initiatives with the central idea on which is campaigned for election, which was to shift more power from the government to the people.

Relations between politicians and the police, frosty since the arrest of MPs of all political stripes in 2010 for expense fraud, turned to ice after Mr. Cameron blamed police for the slow response to last week's riots, then suggested bringing in American police chief and gang expert Bill Bratton to show the British police how to do their job.

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"The continuous stream of Tory criticism from the Prime Minister downwards should stop. The police should be able to focus upon their operational responsibilities without political distractions," Charles Clarke, a former police commissioner and Home Secretary, wrote in the Evening Standard after Mr. Cameron announced his "war" on Britain's gang culture.

Last week's five-day mob siege on London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool has so far resulted the arrest of more than 1,500 people – with one-third them under age 18 – forcing courts to operate overnight to clear jails bursting with children. One 11-year-old girl smirked and refused when a judge told her to apologize, while a 12-year-old boy who stole a £7.49 bottle of wine left a Manchester court with his mother – both of them swearing loudly at reporters and flashing obscene hand signs.

"If we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we've got to start," Mr. Cameron said. "Within the lifetime of this parliament, we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country."

Mr. Cameron's critics and supporters want to know how. Home Secretary Theresa May is to reveal changes Tuesday to the way police operate, making them more visible on the streets. Mr. Cameron said he also wants to have elected police and crime commissioners to provide direct accountability to communities, an idea promptly criticized.

"The Tories should drop their proposals for directly elected commissioners who will bring partisan politics into the heart of operational policing and diminish police confidence," Mr. Clarke said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, sparring with Mr. Cameron over plans to cut police budgets at a time of rioting and public fear, wants the government to consider bringing back National Service, a peacetime conscription for teens who would do three to six-months community service.

"Without boundaries, without discipline, without proper education … how can these kids expect to progress?" Mr. Johnson said. "No wonder they feel anger."

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Shops in Manchester city centre, where 2,000 people rampaged last week, aren't waiting for government solutions. Four hundred shops, including Marks & Spencer, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges say they'll practice "civil exclusion," which means they'll circulate photos of convicted rioters and ban them from entering for two years.

The London borough of Wandsworth, meanwhile, was the first to serve an eviction notice on a woman whose son was charged, but not yet convicted, in south London's riots. The family live in government-subsidized housing and are accused of breaching the tenancy agreement, which forbids criminal and anti-social behaviour.

"This kind of violence will not be tolerated," Wandsworth council leader Ravi Govindia said. "There is no room on our estates for people who commit violent crimes."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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