16.07.1995

Youth's last chance

Youth's last chance
 
LYNETTE BURROWS
 
I WONDER if Niall Ferguson was joking when he suggested in The Daily Telegraph last week that Mi­chael Portillo should bring back National Service as a means of curbing the delin­quent activities of the young men who are responsible for 45 per cent of all known offences.
 
His tone was, of course, nervously jokey, as is to be expected of anyone making outrageously commonsensi- cal suggestions in the face of a dominant liberal culture that still manages to main­tain an aura of moral author­ity, despite having had a worse effect on civic life than Attila the Hun.
 
Nevertheless, it is an idea that deserves to be taken seriously, if only because there is no other solution, even theoretically, in sight.
 
The simple truth is that we have allowed the behaviour of young men to get out of hand over the last few years, which is very much to their detriment and to the lives of everyone else.
 
No one can have failed to notice the extremes of youthful disaffection roam­ing in hordes in town cen­tres, and congregating in menacing and destructive packs in public places. As a police chief said only last week, after an ex-mayor was severely beaten for remon­strating with such a group, who were vandalising the public gardens: "Sadly, it is no different in any other town or village in the country."
 
Well, I don't know about sad: it is certainly a disgrace when the strong arm of the law ends up so limp-wristed that at that time not a single person had been arrested.
There is something decid­edly unnatural about a soci­ety that goes in fear of its own young people, and is prevented by the law from doing anything about it. One strongly suspects that those who defend so strenuously the rights of young delin­quents to continue unde­terred, are more interested in crushing the rights of law- abiding adults than of pro­tecting those of delinquents. Once they have been allowed to deteriorate beyond a cer­tain point, and are old enough, they will simply be thrown into jail and another group of professionals will make a career out of them.
 
Notwithstanding this delinquent minority, how­ever, there is a much larger
number who are, as many parents will testify, mentally and physically underdevel­oped as a result of modern life. Boredom is the word usually used to describe the reason for so much delin­quency and anti-social behaviour in the young, but it's not because they do not have diversions and facili­ties provided for them on a scale undreamed-of in past times.
 
It is the lack of challenge and excitement which bores them, and that is as much a problem for public school­boys who experiment with drugs and university stu­dents who smash things when they are drunk as it is for the so-called underclass who burn their own schools and ravage their estates. Young men need something difficult and risky to do, and if they don't get it, they make trouble for them­selves, and, inevitably, for everyone else.
We may well find that, unless we harness and train young men's aggressive power, the ability of those young men to wreak havoc on society will prove far more costly than putting them in Army.
 
CLAIRE RAYNER must have regretted her decision to pub­licly admonish the editor of the Spectator for his robust defence of the right to life of handicapped children, including his own newly born Down's Syndrome daughter. She thought him selfish not to consider the fact that handicapped chil­dren cost money which, presumably, could be better spent on causes closer to her heart. Dominic Lawson duly dumped on her from a great height, pointing out that Hit­ler had already had that thought, and (he might have added) at least some of the money saved by his pro­gramme of exterminating the handicapped, probably went on setting up concen­tration camps for the next bunch of undesirables.
 
But Mr Lawson should take heart. Despite the forces working to eradicate all those with Down's Syn­drome, for some strange reason things are not as bad as they were in 1981, when Dr Leonard Arthur was pros­ecuted for administering a fatal dose of the drug DF118 to a new-born Down's baby. Then, the jury on the case was vetted to make sure that none of them had any per­sonal knowledge of such children.
Dr Arthur was acquitted and walked from the court, in the judge's words, with­out a stain on his character. However, I like to think that he went before a higher court, one year later, when he died on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
 
IT IS jolly nice to know that, though the current editor of Cosmopolitan is retiring, it is the controlling manager, Helen Gurley- Brown, who sets the house style of the maga'zine. "Babies; who needs them? The bitchy, bossy, brave new world of work". Well, you said it! I always wondered how Aldous Huxley came to dream up the women in his "Brave New World"; so sin­cere and caring, but so com­pletely vacuous.
They lived for work, and were kept happy and occu­pied by sexual fantasies, even though they were all barren. Obsessed with their health, they remained slim and youthful until they were carted off for euthanasing, the skin stretched tight over their features like cling-film over a wooden clothes- horse, and all smiling to the bitter end. Perhaps the managing editor of Cosmo was around when Huxley was an impressionable lad — they say she's very old. Isn't that wonderful?