Voices: Keir Starmer is about to repeat one of Blair’s biggest mistakes

I grew up in a pretty deprived area of Manchester during the late nineties and early 2000s. When I say “deprived”, for reference, that whole area was known as “Gunchester” during that period, due to an epidemic of gang activity and gun crime (which, while certainly a lot less prevalent today, never really went away).

Crime was one of those things that was always there, lurking in the background. Everybody knew somebody who had been in prison (or, at the very least, should have been). It’s an issue that plagues working-class areas all over Britain, and holds back kids like the ones I grew up with from living happy, fulfilling lives – so why is it, when Keir Starmer promises to do something about it, my blood runs cold?

In what has been described as a “Blair-style” pitch to voters, Starmer has outlined six steps to help fix the country after 14 years of Tory misrule. Alongside promises to hire 6,500 teachers, cut NHS waiting times and establish a public energy provider, he has also pledged to “tackle antisocial behaviour”.

While not as firmly fleshed out as some of the other steps, the party has provided some idea of how this will be accomplished. When in government, Labour promises to hire 13,000 new community officers, which it plans to pay for by cracking down on “wasteful police contracts and bureaucracy”. It also promises to establish a new network of youth hubs to help keep young people off the streets.

The party’s website also mentions “respect orders”, which it describes as a “tough new order with criminal sanctions for antisocial behaviour”, in language reminiscent of Blair-era antisocial behaviour orders (asbos).

I knew a few people who had asbos growing up. They became a bit of a symbol of pride for some – adults showed how tough they were by bragging about going to prison, kids showed off how many areas they’d been barred from. That’s not necessarily to say they weren’t effective – although data shows the vast majority of them are breached, and are likely to draw children further into the criminal justice system. If they ever were effective, that certainly wasn’t my experience of them.

What I did experience, though, was the discriminatory attitude towards working-class people during that period. Blair’s policies towards antisocial behaviour, created to appease the scared middle-class electorate who would never set foot in Gunchester, helped to engender a culture of fear and indifference towards kids like me.

Asbo” became a bit of a byword for young, white, working-class kids who grew up in areas like mine, regardless of whether or not they ever actually were antisocial themselves. It created an ouroboros of shunned, angry kids who might have been upstanding members of society, turning to crime because they grew up believing they were already criminals by virtue of their upbringing.

Class-based discrimination is still perfectly legal in the UK – believe me, I’ve experienced plenty of it. White, working-class children who are eligible for free school meals consistently perform significantly worse than their wealthier peers. Where are their targeted initiatives?

It’s a problem that hasn’t got better with time. When I visit home, it’s like stepping into a world that’s been held in suspended animation. The buildings are the same, the people are the same. Why wouldn’t they be? They live in an area that’s suffered through decades of underfunding, and have spent their entire lives being told that they deserve to be there by politicians and the media. Their schools are crumbling. Public transport costs an arm and a leg. There’s one job opportunity for every 50 people. Their “behaviour” isn’t the thing that needs to be “tackled”.

The best way to “tackle antisocial behaviour” is to lift people like the ones I grew up with out of poverty. The funny thing is, Keir’s other plans – to hire more teachers, fix the NHS, and make energy more affordable – probably will help to do exactly that, simply by making the country less hostile to those who are already struggling. Ironically, he might actually do more to help working-class kids if he took that step out entirely.

He shouldn’t, though. The idea of establishing more youth hubs is a good one, and could help foster a sense of purpose that young people are missing out on at the moment. Community officers might help, too, assuming they’re trained to be compassionate to the needs of their communities.

But what he must do is avoid falling into the same trap that every government – Labour or Conservative – does when it comes to working-class communities: getting “tough” on the symptoms of crime, without making any attempt to fix the root causes. If his government really wants to get rid of antisocial behaviour, perhaps first they should address their own.