Posts Tagged ‘riots’

Which side are you on: us, or them?

16/08/2011, 09:11:52 AM

by Dan Hodges

And now we get the fight-back. The backlash against the backlash. The reaction to the reactionaries.

As ever, the left is in the vanguard. We need to pause. Avoid a knee-jerk response. Keep things in perspective.

When the riots first exploded across our communities the political class was united in its response. Shock. Horror. A desire for the perpetrators to be caught and punished.

But now that brief, intuitive, consensus is vanishing. The political battle lines are reforming.

The response of the right is emotional and authoritarian. Use Wembley stadium to incarcerate the rioters. Block social networking sites. Throw the miscreants onto the streets.

The response of the left is logical, and measured. We must not exacerbate the social problems that underpin the disturbances. We must avoid tactical ripostes like the military and water cannon that many experts say would only inflame the situation. We must ensure that our cherished civil liberties do not vanish amid the flames of Tottenham.

Both reactions have been instinctive. Both have broadly gone with the grain of prevailing sentiment within their respective political movements. And I suspect that both have proved instructive to the broader public.


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Both left and right should look into their hearts after the riots

15/08/2011, 08:16:41 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The world has looked perplexed upon the UK this week. Not standing up for justice, but reduced to”violent consumerism“. Clapham Junction isn’t Tahrir Square. We don’t need the international media to tell us something is profoundly wrong after such a debilitating implosion.

We did it to ourselves and that’s what really hurts. Whatever we call this – a Jacquerie (Gabriel Milland), an intifada of the underclass (Andrew Neil/Danny Kruger) – it’s a self-inflicted wound that must rank as one of our country’s darkest episodes in my 31 years. We don’t need to weigh the grief against the miners’ strike (a civil war in which both sides, at least as far as they were represented by Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher, were wrong), Hillsborough (a football match where 96 people died) and 7/7 (mass murder of Britons by Britons) to know this is a bleak and pitiful watershed.

Over a longer horizon than my lifetime, however, the past week might seem less exceptional. Many times in the past, such as in 1780, 1816 and 1936, London saw riots arguably more violent and sometimes just as ostensibly inexplicable as now. The persistence and power of our capacity to descend to disorder and glory in anarchy should be taken as a lesson from this week.

This sits ill, though, with the vaguely whiggish sense of history defaulted to by much of the left. We like to think we’ve progressed since 1780. And, of course, in lots of ways we have. Many people have blackberries now, for one thing. 1780 was no less bloody for want of blackberries. The importance of the state’s capacity to uphold law and order is as fundamental now as in 1780 or in 1651 when Thomas Hobbes wrote the Leviathan.


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Sunday Review: Visions of England, by Roy Strong

14/08/2011, 12:00:19 PM

by Anthony Painter

In the aftermath of urban riots in the US in the 1960s, president Johnson set up a commission under Otto Kerner to review root causes and recommend responses. On top of recommending hundreds of billions of dollars of government expenditure and conclusively blaming poverty and inequality for the riots, the report hit the headlines with its conclusion:

“Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal”.

What is more: white institutions were to blame for this state of affairs. Not surprisingly, President Johnson ignored it. Ed Miliband should be careful what he wishes for in asking for a public inquiry into this week’s riots. What England’s riots do warn, however, is that the modern English experience is not the same for all. Roy Strong’s new elegy for England, Visions of England, presents an idealised version of the nation. What we saw across England over a few days was a terrorised England. One is England as a dream; one is England as nightmare. Neither feels real.

Sir Roy Strong’s English idyll is passionately bonkers. He asks us to choose an England of pastoral tranquility. Constructed around the iconography of artists, writers, monarchs, and religious thought, Strong would have us revelling as modern John of Gaunts of Shakepeare’s Richard II. This is a blessed plot and it should be revered. (more…)

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Hope, help and community

12/08/2011, 01:30:03 PM

by Stella Creasy

Fear is a powerful motivation for action. As I stood on Sunday night with other terrified and angry residents and watched looters turn up and trash Walthamstow I wanted it just to stop. This was our home. Our shops. Our people frightened. Nothing justifies this and ever will.

Since then I have worked with police, outreach workers, residents and the council to try to restore order and calm to our streets– to sweep up the glass, separate internet fact from fiction, account for the welfare of people and try to assess the damage. To channel this fear into something positive. To draw strength from a commitment to the capacity of collective endeavour to restore and replenish rather than demolish and destroy. Because to do otherwise is to give up hope.

Those who label these events indicative of a sickness in the areas where they happened get short shrift in Walthamstow. Only a strong community could put together a pop up canteen for all those helping to keep our community safe. Springing up overnight, with hundreds of volunteers we are providing cakes, tea, hot food and friends for our police and outreach workers. That tells you what we are capable of – not the broken glass outside our local bank.

Following the weekend, young people have played cat and mouse with the authorities in Walthamstow. They are setting fires, taunting officers, frightening residents and damaging local businesses. My community, like many others in the UK, is now dealing the fact that the looters have unravelled the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour.

Changing this isn’t about shutting down twitter, or handwringing about liberal elites. It is about restoring those boundaries and showing those testing them there are consequences to their behaviour.  That’s why speedy justice and strong sentences are important as a means to illustrate to those rioting and looting- and those who help them- that it isn’t worth it.

It is also about our increased police presence. Our Borough Commander Steve Wisbey and his team have had less sleep than anyone, working round the clock. Only when the calm has held for several days will the emotion of this time dissipate- and so too the rumours driving the tweets, bbms and texts which are fuelling disorder and fear.

Yet it is too easy to see this as solely about criminal acts and mindless thugs. On Sunday night there were agitators who instigated events, exploiting tension and technology to organise criminal activity in a way not seen before. But a strategy that only deals with these people is one which only sees half the story. (more…)

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Memo from Croydon to Westminster

12/08/2011, 11:08:21 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Walking down, past Reeves Corner in Croydon on Thursday evening, one thing was crystal clear.

The government doesn’t get it.

Cameron’s proposals in the parliamentary statement didn’t come near addressing the reality of what has happened.

And while Labour did slightly better, particularly on police numbers, the response didn’t give a clear sense of an alternative.

When David Cameron talks of a sick section of society and the need for a moral fightback, he sounds like an opposition politician.

‘Broken Britain’ was a decent routine two years ago, but he’s in power now. Government’s job in this situation is to identify what failed and fix it – not opine impotently on social morality.

Instead, the prime minister’s parliamentary statement gave us some irrelevant commentary, a pointless inquiry on gang culture and a re-heat of existing plans.

There’s nothing new in the police being able to force people to remove facemasks or in social landlords evicting tenants found guilty of looting. Councils across the country are already pushing ahead on this front.

Ed Miliband was cautious in his response. He asked pertinent questions, but didn’t frame a narrative for how Labour would make a difference. The net result is a political vacuum from our leaders.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. All our leaders need do is to listen to their constituents. (more…)

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Cameron must rethink police cuts

11/08/2011, 02:14:05 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Two weeks ago, I highlighted the embarrassing gulf between David Cameron’s pre-election promise that cuts would not affect the front line, and the reality of the planned police cuts, as set out in the recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

There is undoubtedly scope for efficiency savings in the police, but as HMIC set out, with 81% of police funding going on staff costs, and another 10% going on areas like transport and premises, cuts of 20% were always going to cut deep into police numbers. HMIC’s report is the most systematic and rigorous attempt so far, to estimate not just the likely effect on total police numbers – a cut of 16,000 by 2015, ironically the exact number the Met have deployed on London’s streets in recent nights – but also the likely effect on the front line for different forces around the country.

This is relevant to Cameron’s defence of the policing cuts today, when he was confronted in the Commons by former Home Secretary Jack Straw. To justify his assertion that the cuts will not affect the front line, or visible patrolling, Cameron chose to discuss his own local force, Thames Valley. This choice was either ignorant, or disingenuous. A glance at the graph on page 22 of the HMIC report shows the difference in the scale of the challenge faced by Thames Valley Police, in trying to protect the front line from spending cuts, compared to those forces who have been dealing with the riots, including the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside. Thames Valley Police would have to reduce their non-front-line officers by just under 50%, in order to avoid cutting into the front line. That is challenging, but arguably possible. By contrast, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside forces would have to cut their non-front-line officers by 100%. Even those who hold the simplistic view that almost all ‘back office’ jobs are unnecessary would have to admit that to cut at this level without affecting front line police numbers is simply impossible.

As public concern about crime and policing soars, the government seems to be trapped in defending two increasingly indefensible claims: first, that the cuts won’t reduce front line police numbers, and second, that anyway police numbers don’t affect crime. This position was already starting to look naïve or complacent before the riots, especially with the signs that the long downward trend in crime may be on the turn. Now it looks reckless and hopelessly out of touch, as even Conservative MPs and ‘ministerial sources’ admit.

It has been amusing, if also a bit depressing, to watch Tory cheerleaders like Tim Montgomerie suggest that the way out of this problem is for Theresa May to introduce a new target for how much time police officers actually spend doing visible work. In fact, May inherited such a target from Labour. Admittedly, it was applied only to Neighbourhood Policing Teams, but she could have chosen to extend it; instead, in those heady days of last summer when ministers were falling over themselves to mock Labour’s ‘top-down targets’, she scrapped it.

Even more ridiculous is the spectacle of Conservative MPs and Conservative-leaning think-tankers trying to use the riots to back up the case for elected police commissioners – just like they did with the scandal over the Met’s links to News International – without realising that the Met is precisely the one police force which is already very close to the elected commissioner model.

These rather desperate moves are not surprising, since other than elected commissioners, and some useful development of Labour’s introduction of online crime maps, the government doesn’t really have any crime policies – and yet they need to talk about something other than police cuts. But these moves aren’t working. As John McTernan noted this morning, Cameron’s reluctance to break off his holiday to grip the riots ignored the “basic political law, that if you’re going to have to do something, you should do it of your own free will, rather than being forced to.” He needs to realise that rethinking the police cuts falls in the same category.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government.

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People are rioting and politicians are revolting

11/08/2011, 08:00:46 AM

by Peter Watt

Politics has never had such a bad name. Well, that is one of those slight exaggerations that help to colour opinionated blog posts like this one. But there is surely no doubt that politics and politicians are pretty unpopular at the moment. A succession of scandals, and a sense that they are in it for themselves, has meant that most people look on politicians with disdain. The ongoing hacking furore has just added to a sense that those inside of the elite bubble don’t live in the same space as the rest of the country. This isn’t just a UK problem, but that hardly matters to those who live here and are disdainful of UK politicians.

A large part of the problem is that people just don’t think that politicians get their lives. That the language used, and the solutions offered, just don’t resonate with their own experiences. For instance, for years people have felt that some young people have been out of control. Not many, certainly nothing like a majority, but some. No one seems to be in charge of them and they don’t seem to listen to anyone or respect or fear authority. They put their feet upon the seats of trains and tell the guard to “fuck off” if they are asked to move them, with no apparent sense of embarrassment. They mouth off at anyone who looks at them in the wrong way and are never at school, college or work. Normal deterrents, like parental sanction, fear of arrest, fines, public shame or worse, don’t seem to work.

Over the years, politicians’ responses have included more education, boot camp style discipline, national service, more youth clubs or more benefits. Most people knew that there were elements of a solution in all of these, that some would benefit from each. But they also knew that it wouldn’t help those who were really out of control, because the problem for them was something else. It was a problem with parenting or rather the lack of parenting.

Politicians from the right would demand tough love, and those from the left more understanding. But people out there knew that the real problem was that for some family life was not providing the support, discipline and example that we all need to become responsible adults. In fact, for some family life was providing exactly the opposite. It was nurturing irresponsibility and lessons in how to operate outside of the mainstream. (more…)

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Not today

09/08/2011, 10:00:04 AM

by Dan Hodges

Not today. Please, just not today. Laurie Penny, I think you are a beautiful and gifted writer. But don’t tell me violence cannot be mindless. Or that it is all about catharsis. Not today.

Sunny Hundal, your real and passionate desire to break politics free from its straight jacket of committees and speeches and selection meetings does you credit. But please, don’t circulate any more time lapse photography of people’s homes burning and tell me it’s “brilliant” or that it’s “art’. Not today.

Owen Jones, the working class need a voice, and you are an articulate spokesman. But please, no more hand wringing about the dangers of an “authoritarian backlash” against those who tried to loot and burn our city to the ground. Not today.

Ken Livingstone, you were once a great and radical figure. But no one needs to hear your cheap politicking about your statesmanlike dash from the Olympic awards ceremony. Or your back of the envelope theories about how 14 and 15 year old rioters trashed JD sports because they are not able to provide for their wives and children. Not today.

Boris Johnson, I’d actually liked to have heard something from you. But instead I had to put up with your spokesman Kit Milhouse explaining why it was fit and proper for the Mayor of the world’s greatest capital city to watch from afar as his charge exploded in an orgy of destruction. We’ll no doubt hear the same excuses trotted out often this election year. If we must. But not today.

Theresa May, I understand being the only senior member of the government, (Nick Clegg hardly counts in these circumstances), is tough. But I don’t want to hear any more rubbish about “policing with consent” when that consent has been brutally withdrawn by a small but violent minority. And I’d park the protestations that cutting thousands of police officers won’t have had any operational impact. For today.

David Cameron, I don’t actually blame you for taking a much needed break in Tuscany. And it was nice you made friends with your waitress. But as you sit savouring the taste of your Tuscan Dream please, do one thing for me. For all of us. Don’t tell us we’re all in this together. We are, of course. But we don’t need to hear it from you. Not today.

There is lot we do need to hear.  And lots that needs to be said. About the dislocation of inner-city youth. About the link between crime and poverty. About race and resentment. About lack of employment and educational opportunities. The widening gap between the rich and poor. The politics and the sociology and the criminology. All deserve, indeed require, an airing.

We must debate, and examine, and interrogate. We must argue and enquire and report. We must ask ourselves what sort of society we really want to be, and take a deep look within our own communities, and souls.

We must do all of these things. Just not today.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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