Plaster on a Stab Wound | Sarah Stook

In the latest brainwave from across the pond, San Francisco has decided to ban e-cigarettes. A city constantly on the airwaves for a huge homeless population and a public sanitation problem including faecal matter and dirty needles, it’s no surprise that it became an immediate media hit. Similar policies in London, such as banning certain adverts, have received similar press attention.

The main point of this is rather simple. Both cities have huge socioeconomic problems that affect the lives of many and put a shame upon otherwise safe and wealthy societies. In San Francisco, there is a huge problem with the homeless. Whilst numbers can never be truly documented, it is believed to easily be in the thousands. Many of these homeless suffer from serious issues such as severe mental health conditions and HIV/AIDS, similarly to how many homeless throughout the country do. The city spends $30 million a year on cleaning up contaminated waste such as faeces and syringes. An NBC report indicates it is dirtier than some places in India.

London isn’t faring better. Similarly to its American cousin, a large amount of people are homeless in the city. The main issue, however, is knife crime. Every day there are reports of people being stabbed, usually as a result of gang activity. The main victims are often young black males in the inner city areas, a demographic ignored even though they are the ones living in fear. It is a sad day when the shooting of a teenager outside the school gates or the stabbing of a young man over living in the wrong postcode is no longer a surprise, but nobody is shocked anymore.

In short, we’re facing a major moral and socioeconomic crisis. A common link in leadership, however, lies in something simple- both cities have a very left wing authority.

Like many cities, San Francisco tends to swing to the left, therefore returning a Democratic leadership. The Board of Supervisors is entirely Democrat, with all eleven being blue- though the elections are officially non partisan. The last Republican to win in a presidential election was Eisenhower in 1956, with the GOP only winning four times in the past century, against the Dems at 21. It has not had a Republican mayor since 1965 and its entire elected board of leaders are Democrats. This is not a city with a left wing majority, but a left wing monopoly.

If we skip across the pond to our native London, we’ll find somewhat of a similar pattern. It is not as left wing as San Francisco, with five Conservative London Assembly Members to Labour’s slightly larger nine. Labour hold the majority of the 73 Parliamentary seats in London at 46, with the fellow left Lib Dems on four and the Independent Group- whose name will probably have changed by publication- at two. At the next general election, it won’t be surprising if the Conservatives lose more London seats- after all, they even lost Kensington in 2017.

So what policies are the leadership of San Francisco and London suggesting to prevent such tragedies?

Well in San Francisco, they banned plastic straws as well as the aforementioned e-cigarettes. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has banned ‘body shaming’ adverts from the London Tube, after a pearl clutching furore at the infamous ‘are you beach body ready?’ campaign by Protein World. Recently, Khan decided to promote a car free day, in which miles of road in the city will be closed up to vehicles. Oh, and he wasn’t thrilled with Trump coming to town.

Ok, so the question that remains is: why are the policies provided by the leadership not directly related to the problems we face?

One answer is media coverage. When San Francisco banned plastic straws, they received immediate press attention, from people calling it out to environmentalists praising it. Similarly, Khan received praise from many on the left (and a few on the right) when he made it clear that Donald Trump wasn’t welcome in the city. They were splashed over headlines across the world, angering their critics and exciting supporters. The policies raised weren’t ones that people would vote about, as they appealed to voters who would go for the current political party- it was hardly a game changer. Nothing about the policies were super sinister, apart from being obviously draconian in a way.  They’re cutesie if you like government intervention, simple and quaint. The media will lap it up and it will gain a profile boost for those involved. As the saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’

Secondly, it’s because they’re seemingly easy answers. Banning plastic straws will reduce pressures on the environment. E-Cigarettes will stop children from being nicotine zombies. Banning body shaming adverts will cure dysmorphia, anorexia and bulimia. A car free day will make London clean and pretty for a little while.

Well that was clearly sarcasm, but that’s what the policy makers are trying to do. The City Attorney of San Francisco said this about the e-cigarette ban:

‘This is a decisive step to help prevent another generation of San Francisco children from becoming addicted to nicotine. This temporary moratorium wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had done its job. E-cigarettes are a product that, by law, are not allowed on the market without FDA review. For some reason, the FDA has so far refused to follow the law. If the federal government is not going to act, San Francisco will.’

In a similar vein, Khan banned the ‘body shaming’ adverts on London transport to prevent unrealistic body expectations and the demeaning of women. Yes, that is serious.

The real answer to the question of stupid policy is that it would require the leaders to go against what they believe and *actually* doing something.

San Francisco has one of the most restrictive building laws in the country- buildings over forty feet tall are often not permitted and it is very easy for neighbourhoods to block new builds. The building permits given are nowhere enough to meet demand. Silicon Valley has created a massive demand for housing that cannot be matched, with rents rocketing and house building restricted. A fair amount of homeless people in San Francisco were already owning or renting before they lost their accommodation, it isn’t just drifters, drug addicts or people kicked out of the family home.

Similarly in London, there is a lack of building, though that is something that is happening across the country. Even though London gets more houses built in a year than the entire Northern Powerhouse cities do in a year, there is still a shortage. Rents remain extremely high in the city, with people even paying several thousand for a parking space. Cost of living is high, though that is the same in many cities so is not a unique problem in the capital.

Knife crime is another issue that has been ignored. Khan blames Conservative cuts to policing, which is honestly a fair enough issue to press on. He conveniently forgets he is in charge of policing in the city and he has created a dedicated force to prevent hate speech. Oh, and he’s also recently put several million into fighting far right extremism. The issue of knife crime is not an easy one to solve, nobody writing on a keyboard can fix it easily. One solution is stop and search, something that Khan is adamantly opposed to on grounds of racial profiling. When it is in force, however, it is shown to work. Stricter sentences, harsher justice and a focus on the family/community are something that also could help, though again it will not work in a day.

Doing that is against Khan’s beliefs. Building more houses in San Francisco is something their leadership don’t want, even if it will give people a home and prevent public nuisance. Though the Democrats talk about helping the mentally ill, often a majority of those who are homeless, they do not seem to be opening up the market to make it easier for patients to access the right care. The homeless, especially the mentally ill, are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, despite the media image of the crazy hobo.

It’s like having a stab wound. You should go to the hospital to have it surgically stitched together, cleaned up and be monitored afterwards. A stab wound needs major care. What it doesn’t need is a tiny plaster over the wound. That is what it’s like with these problems- they need major care. Kids are dying in droves in London. Homeless people are dying of exposure, illness and even through murder attempts. You cannot put a plaster on them, they need care.

The suggestions are limitless, but the cares of the politicians are limited. Media pretty solutions will not work, only real change can. Unfortunately, we’ve seen here that a liberal majority with no opposition cannot function properly. Our only hope is for the people to wake up and to demand action at the ballot box. Only then will the homeless be safely indoors and teenagers able to walk home without fear of death.

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