Bobby Dean, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for Lewisham Deptford, spoke in yesterday’s conference debate on knife crime. Here’s what he said:
‘Jordan Wright. 19 years old. Lived in Catford. And went to school in Forest Hill. In April this year, he was stabbed to death in Blackheath.
‘Jordan is one of 26 children and teenagers that have been killed in knife attacks this year. I note the motion says 21, so perhaps that’s indicative how just how quickly this problem is rising.
‘My borough of Lewisham was recently named the least peaceful in England and Wales, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, with a murder rate that’s twice the national average. I personally have the privilege of feeling safe when I walk around my borough. But for many of our school children, they’re living in fear.
‘It’s been well-noted that fear is a primary driver to carrying a knife. But our response can’t be to simply scare them back out of carrying. We must understand it is deeper and more complex than that.
‘We must understand the offer of gangs. The offer of security, opportunity, respect and, as somebody put it yesterday, family amongst friends.
‘We must understand our state failures. The cuts to mental health services. The cuts to youth services. General deprivation. And, yes, cuts to local community policing.
‘We must also wake up to the role that the drug industry plays. If we had a sensible, evidence-driven, liberal policy on drugs, then we may be able to undermine a crucial element that allows gangs to thrive.
‘I also come with a specific plea. When we’re looking for solutions, don’t just target them at young people, but involve them. Don’t just listen, but work with them and allow them to lead. Because their lived experiences will inform better outcomes.
‘Conference, there’s sometimes a tendency to underestimate the importance of arguments when we’re making them to a room full of other liberals. But let me remind you there are plenty of useless Conservative ideas out there. The lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach is something that we must stand up against.
‘This motion acknowledges that holistic, evidence-driven, liberal solutions are the only way out of this. I urge you to support the motion.’