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Now's the time to shape up, Jacqui

PUBLISHED: 09:43 25 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:31 05 July 2010

SO Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - the woman who should know more than anyone about the dangers of our streets - is too scared to walk on them after dark.

Well, welcome to our world Miss Smith.

SO Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - the woman who should know more than anyone about the dangers of our streets - is too scared to walk on them after dark.

Well, welcome to our world, Miss Smith. It's not pretty, is it?

I don't know if we should laugh or cry that the Home Secretary - paid handsomely by us, incidentally - has just woken up to the hideous reality that lurks outside Westminster.

We have to put up with it.

But she is in the privileged position, put there by us, to do something about it. At the end of a “late shift” in the Commons, she doesn't have to walk or cycle home alone, like many women, or catch a night bus, head down, clutching her bag tight praying she's not set upon by a doped-up hoody awash with 10 cans of Stella out for kicks.

She can sink back into her ministerial car. The ministerial car used by previous Home Secretaries of a party who came to Government in 1997 pledging to be “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.”

But, among under 18s alone, there has been a 37 per cent rise in the number of teenagers convicted of violent crimes; from 17,590 in 2003 to 24,102 in 2006.

No sign of “getting tough” but 24-hour drinking laws instead. Bravo.

But Ms Smith has responsibility for making every street a safer place. She - with every other MP who pays lip-service to the fearful state of our streets, wringing their hands and shaking their heads but doing nothing about it - has the power to change things. Now is that time. Enough is enough. The people's mandate couldn't be greater.

The woman at the helm of the justice system - who wouldn't even walk alone after dark in Kensington or Chelsea - - has the public screaming for her to act urgently. To shake up the justice system to stop violent criminals being bailed, make parents responsible for their tearaway children, have zero tolerance on weapons and get more police on the streets to drive the “ruling” youth gangs out, protecting people living in daily misery and their property from threats and violence.

Teenagers are getting worse. Many are decent, ambitious and focused. But many are not. From dysfunctional families, with no father or even father figure, history of employment, discipline, routine or education, they get their self-esteem and 'family' from their gangs and terrorising others.

Many have to bring themselves up, neglected and ignored. It might not be their fault but it's our problem.

A lecturer friend of mine in another area of the country said she was seriously thinking about not having children of her own because of what she would bring them into. Her students, she said, were rude, aggressive, lazy and self-opinionated and a marked difference to those even five years ago.

It's time that parents who don't care are made to stand in the dock with their children and shoulder some of the blame. These teenagers come from somewhere - someone who must take responsibility.

Police say they're under-resourced and over-worked. Magistrates bemoan their lack of powers or don't use those they do have when they should. One of the youths who kicked father-of-three Garry Newlove to death had been released by magistrates on bail for assault just hours before his drunken attack on Mr Newlove.

From years of sitting as a reporter in magistrates' courts, I wonder if many of these so-called “pillars of the community” on our benches have the qualifications to make decisions about people from a world that's alien to their life experience.

Ask the bloke in the pub for the answer - he'll say bring back National Service or Army-style boot camps to give feral youths a sense of belonging, discipline and self-worth. Ask around at a playgroup - the mothers will say the same, tougher penalties, the return of community and families.

Everyone has an answer but no one has the power to carry anything through - or do we?

You bet we do. The Government is there on our say-so and, the length and breadth of the country, people are calling for change. Ms Smith, you've started the debate. You'd better finish it if you want to keep your job.

Coffee - it's the latest killer:

SURVEYS, studies, research. In laboratories around the world, scientists beaver away for results to shock, panic and worry.

This week they're firing at pregnant women - again. Honestly, if every woman took notice of all the scare-story dos and don'ts during pregnancy, they'd all go into an old-fashioned-style confinement for nine months, drink only water, eat a restricted diet and never, ever leave the house.

“Coffee doubles miscarriage risk” screamed the headlines this week. Killer coffee now. More than two cups a day might - might, always that magic word - double the risk of miscarriage, say the scientists.

Whether it's a load of old squit or fact, life is full of hazards and pregnancy isn't an illness. It's there to be enjoyed, if only women were allowed.

Gordon's scallop scare frenzy:

THE aspirational middle classes were in orbit last Friday, texting, phoning and getting themselves into a right lather.

“There are no scallops,” one woman squealed into her mobile in the supermarket with equal distress as if she'd trudged across an arid desert for a week to a water well only to find it empty.

As the rest of the nation was still eking out its Christmas cupboards, subsisting on jacket potatoes and counting the pennies until January pay day, the affluent dinner party set were spending hours tracking down scallops for Gordon Ramsey's sad people's guide to socialising - or, as Channel Four preferred to call it, his Cookalong.

I suppose that an hour spent in front of the telly - in the kitchen - with six or more people elbowing their way to create three courses together at break-neck speed is one way to avoid the monotony of having to make small talk at a dinner party.

Pensioners will return to work:

RETIREMENT today can last more than 30 years. That's a lot of hobbies, gardening and spending time with the grandchildren.

No wonder more women want to stay at work beyond 60. Many have to go on working - to afford to live, pay the bills and keep warm as the state pension, especially for women, is so disgracefully meagre.

I bet many want to get away from 24 hours a day with their husbands. As the population ages, more women will stay at work post-retirement age or even find work again rather than face long years looking for things to do and I bet these women, who have a purpose, keep active and in touch, will outlive those who give up work because they think they should.

TV savage of M&S underwear

IT'S not the typical topic for lunch between a weighty top journalist and the chief executive of one of the nation's biggest businesses, but flaccidity around the gusset is the reason Jeremy Paxman is to dine with M & S chief Stuart Rose.

I can't be the only person tickled by the ferocious grand inquisitor's email to Rose about the quality of his underwear. That he could be bothered in the first place is amusing enough.

"Their pants no longer provide adequate support," his leaked email was reported to say. As the wife of a man who swears by M&S - for the record not Y-fronts, thankfully - I can't comment on the support front, so to speak.

But M&S socks are definitely less than satisfactory of late, wearing into holes much quicker than before and requiring replacement far more frequently, as Paxman also points out.

The eyes water to imagine the exhibits and demonstrations at this top-level lunch. His nightly savaging of victims will never feel the same again.

Time to honour our real heroes:

AFTER yet another farcical honours list of people paid a mint to exercise a God-given talent and do a job they enjoy, a campaign to reward real heroes feels more than appropriate when another soldier was killed this week in Afghanistan and others injured, making it 87 since 2001 and 174 in Iraq.

Labour MP Kevan Jones has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for medals for those killed and injured serving their country.

When service personnel sign up, they should be prepared to be sent wherever the Government decides. It's the deal with the job. The might not choose the venue, but they've chosen the life.

But, for action with such a dubious background, the least we should do in recognition of their sacrifice is a medal. Especially if Parkinson and Kylie are honoured.

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