Home Secretary Theresa May will announce today that a new policy of confiscating iPods, mobile phones and other gadgets from anti-social young people will be supplemented by the last-resort deterrent of a "short sharp detention" on naughty steps, likely to be situated in town squares and other public spaces. "This will be a cost-effective solution to the problem of public disorder," she said, "because in most cases we will be able to utilise the pre-existing infrastructure of steps at the entrances to town halls and churches, and even in some cases at the base of plinths bearing public statues."
She admitted that in some localities new steps would have to be purpose-built but claimed that public costs would be kept down by partnership arrangements with local enterprises "probably involving the sale of adverstising space on the steps as a revenue source".
Young people who refuse to co-operate with the detention will be firmly replaced on the steps by specially trained community support officers every time they get up. If that does not prove to be an adequately vigorous enforcement, the government is believed to be looking into the possibility of attaching boards at chest level in front of the steps with holes into which young offenders wrists would be secured. "We aren't calling on bystanders to throw fruit and other indicators of community disapproval," the home secretary emphasised. "But if ordinary citizens choose to mobilise pro-social sentiment in this way, we would regard this as a perfect example of the Big Society in action."
At the end of their designated detention period, offenders will leave the step and give the enforcing officer a hug to say sorry.
The new measures are said to have been devised following a "wide-ranging government consultation" on a late-night chat thread on Mumsnet. "We have been amazed by the response the consultation received," said a Coalition policy adviser. "There were well over eleven replies, at least half of which seemed to come from Mumsnetters who were sober. Several posters commented that seasonal disorder accompanying the pre-Christmas period might be effectively contained if officers were authorised to warn perpetrators that Father Christmas might not give them any presents. We are currently looking into streamlining the red tape involved in a suspension of Santa-related benefits."
Other Mumsnet suggestions were more controversial. One contributor said that the government could follow her example by staying really really calm and rational for an arbitrary period and then getting all red in the face and screaming "I've had it with you! Why can't you be more respectful like North Korea's youth, or show a bit of ambition for yourself like Egypt's youth - at least they are DOING something with their lives!"
For the Labour Party, Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Office spokeswoman, said that it was "ridiculous" for decades of high-quality government research to be overturned on the strength of a single thread on Mumsnet. "That's why we started our own thread there," she went on. "But unfortunately we made a few typos in our post and so far we have only received six responses, all saying that UK young people are bound to turn out crap when their leaders have that sort of attitude to apostrophes."
A brief statement issued on behalf of several major youth organisations commented "FFS."