Opinion: Third Voice - Respect is not created by punitive measures alone

Hester Brown is parliamentary officer for Living Streets, which champions public places for people on foot.

Once again, Tony Blair has been happy to play the hard man. Although he rightly points out that the respect action plan has two elements - to deter bad behaviour and invest in good behaviour - it is the deterrence aspect that is getting attention.

You can see why he is being accused of presenting policy that is more about message than substance, because however much he wants to put in the structures "to rebuild the bonds of community for a modern age", there are at least three fundamental problems with his proposals.

First, people need hope as well as the confidence that they can stop other people behaving badly. Imagine leadership that could give us the exciting sense of society turning a corner, say "go out on the streets and rebuild your community" and give us the tools to take control of our neighbourhoods. Sure enough, David Cameron is there saying: "The real respect agenda has to be positive and optimistic, trusting the people in communities."

The second problem is that the punitive measures being offered can bring only temporary relief. Any parent knows there are times when you would like to thrash the bad behaviour out of your child, but they also know it doesn't work. Focusing too much on it distorts the picture and leads the child to identify himself or herself as bad, increasing the likelihood of more bad behaviour. Yes, clear guidelines that define unacceptable behaviour need to be there, and so do the penalties, but they must be accompanied by a greater emphasis on encouraging and celebrating good behaviour.

The third problem is the Government's own economic and transport policies.

The strongest forces in the land, both market and government, are centralising - from little local shops to big retail centres, from local hospitals to central ones.

The evidence for this is on the street. Most either have too much traffic or are full of parked cars but otherwise deserted. Parents are scared of traffic and won't let their children play in the street. Then they don't get to know each other. With local pubs and shops shut down, there's nowhere to walk to. The Rt Revd James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, said the reason young people have become a threat on the streets "is that we have abandoned them". People need to meet each other to know each other.

There is no respect without knowledge.

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