Posts Tagged ‘riots’

As usual, what goes on in Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland

14/07/2013, 12:15:47 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So thirty-two police officers were injured, an MP was knocked unconscious by a projectile, hundreds were rioting in the streets, water cannons and baton rounds were used against civilians in a British city and yet it didn’t make the top five news stories on Friday night’s BBC Ten O’Clock News?

Welcome to Northern Ireland; that far-away place full of violent Irish people who seem to actually enjoy fighting and causing trouble. This is at least seems to be the default view of Britain’s political and media classes, that’s of course when they’re not completely ignoring the place.

There’s more attention paid to disturbances on the other side of the world than there is to the same thing happening in our own backyard. British politics long ago became acclimatised to Northern Ireland as a ‘little local difficulty.’ Not an eyelid does it now bat.

Friday was the “Glorious Twelfth” – the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when Protestant King William III of Orange defeated Catholic King James II. It’s a big deal for Ulster’s protestants and marks the high point of the “marching season”. In the rest of Britain, the celebration of royal occasions are either marked by street parties or, better still, studiously ignored.

Not in Northern Ireland, but the historical significance is merely a footnote. It’s unlikely that the loyalists throwing golf balls at police officers are history buffs, despite waving ceremonial swords in defiance of the parades commission’s ruling that a contentious Orange march could not proceed through a nationalist enclave in north Belfast.

This is where Democratic Unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, was struck by a brick and knocked unconscious. He was booted out of the Commons chamber the other day for implying the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, was lying; so he’s not had a great week. Normally, our politicians are only used to metaphorical brickbats being hurled in their direction. In response, the police fired water cannons at the protestors. In Britain the use of kettling is enough to cause liberal apoplexy.

When blasting high-pressure water jets at civilians is insufficient, the police rely on the wonderfully euphemistic Attenuating Energy Projectile instead. These are sometimes called baton rounds, which is itself a euphemism for plastic bullets. Twenty-two were fired at protestors on Friday night alone. Many of them were children and a 14 year-old was among those eventually arrested. Throughout the Troubles, seventeen people – ten aged under 18 – were killed by plastic bullets, yet their regular tactical use merits little more than a passing remark in the British media.

Last night saw another bout of violence. As the BBC nonchalantly puts it this morning: “Officers were attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks, laser pens and stones in the Woodvale area. Police fired 10 baton rounds and deployed water cannon.”


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Villiers should learn from her ancestor in approaching Northern Ireland job

05/09/2012, 04:03:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

While the British political class pores over the cabinet reshuffle, Belfast underwent yet another night of rioting, the third in a row. Sixty police officers have been injured so far this week. Here politics is visceral. The ups and downs of Westminster village life are quite superfluous.

Territory remains at the heart of every problem in Northern Ireland. While the meta-issue of sovereignty remains an irreconcilable difference, it’s that recurrent micro-issue of parading which is fuelling this latest crisis.

The “right” of protestant loyal orders to march through predominantly Catholic communities is a long-running sore, partly relieved by the creation of the Parades Commission (one of our more idiosyncratic quangos) to adjudicate on whether the most contentions marches can go ahead.

The commission is now reviled by unionists. So much so, that a banned parade in north Belfast still went ahead last weekend, causing much of the subsequent trouble we have seen. Loyalists (less respectable unionists), without the leadership to exert influence in mainstream politics, assert their territorial claim the old fashioned way, by taking to the streets. This in turn creates a fertile climate for dissident republicans to burrow into Sinn Fein’s urban powerbase, as an emboldened Catholic population refuses to have sand kicked in its face any longer.

A little local difficulty? Hardly. There is a real risk that the rioting in north Belfast, will escalate into a wider conflict. Later this month loyalists will be back in force to the same spot, expecting to march past Catholics in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant (where half a million Ulstermen signalled their opposition to Home Rule). Dissident republicans will be looking to stop them, undermining Sinn Fein for good measure.

Enter Theresa Villiers as the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Hers is a unique in-tray. There’s not really any policy in the Northern Ireland Office, it’s all raw politics; navigating a pathway through brittle egos, vested interests and implacable enmities. It’s a role where you are always going to upset someone. Northern Ireland is, after all, a small place with too many politicians.

Unlike Tony Blair, David Cameron lets his secretary of state do the talking. All parties complain that they no longer get face time with the British prime minister, which makes Villiers’ appointment all the more important. The buck really does stop with her.


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Labour can punish the government’s complacency on crime

19/01/2012, 01:24:23 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The latest quarterly crime figures were published today. They include figures for recorded crime, and for the British Crime Survey (BCS), covering the 12 months to September 2011.

Recorded crime showed an overall fall, and a fall in most crime types – apart from robbery and theft, which rose by 4%. Robbery with a knife rose by 10%.

However, it is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which gives a more accurate picture of crime levels and trends, because it includes crimes not reported to the police, and has used the same methodology for thirty years. (The UK Statistics Authority impressed this point on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted it.) Today’s BCS figures estimate that overall crime rose by 4%, but this is not found to be statistically significant. The figures also show increases in all BCS categories, except vandalism and bicycle theft – but again, these are not found to be statistically significant.

The most important BCS finding, and the most important in today’s figures as a whole, is for the sub-set of “personal crime” – which includes violence, robbery and theft, and other “personal acquisitive crime”. This rose by 11% – a finding which is statistically significant.

Another notable point is the continuing trend of increasing public confidence that “the police and local council are dealing with the anti-social behaviour and crime issues that matter in the local area”. The trend in public confidence was rising for several years before the election, on the back of Neighbourhood Policing and other initiatives, and confidence is now at 57%. This directly refutes ministers’ repeated assertion that confidence in the police is falling – an assertion which has formed a large part of their justification for introducing elected Policing and Crime Commissioners.

Today’s statistics also include more detail on last summer’s riots, and on knife crime. They confirm that despite the high visibility of the riots, there is little effect on overall crime levels. Even in the areas concerned, looking only at the month of August, the share of total recorded crimes was relatively small: highest in Croydon and Haringey, at 14% of total crime, and between 5% and 10% in other affected areas. This equates to 1.5% of total crime in England and Wales in August, or around one tenth of one per cent of crime for the year. (more…)

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The government’s complacency about rising crime will hurt them in the end

22/10/2011, 04:00:55 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The government must have been grateful for the news of Gaddafi’s death this week, not just for the symbolic ‘closure’ of the Libya campaign, but also for distracting the media pack from a troubling set of quarterly crime figures, and from their own clumsy response to them.

When the previous set of quarterly figures came out, ministers tried to spin them as a ‘vindication of their reforms’, despite those reforms having hardly started – and despite the figures themselves being mixed at best. This time, ministers are trying to spin the figures as mixed, when in fact the bad news clearly outweighs the good.

The figures cover the year ending in June – so not including the riots – and show overall recorded crime down, though there were rises in recorded instances of serious sexual crimes, in some categories of theft, and in knife crime (though provisional figures for knife homicides are stable, at just over 200 per year). But – as the UK Statistics Authority impressed on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted – a far better guide to crime trends is provided by the British Crime Survey, which has used the same methodology for thirty years. The latest BCS results, published at the same time, estimate a 10% rise in burglary, a 7% rise in household acquisitive crime, a 7% rise in theft from the person, a 3% rise in robbery, and a 3% rise in violent crime. They also estimate an overall rise in crime of 2%, with the proviso that this overall rise, along with the apparent rises in several of the individual categories, is ‘not statistically significant’ – the phrase which a Downing Street spokesperson rather unfortunately seized on in trying to play down the figures.

It remains true, as I wrote after the last quarter’s results, that it is too early to be sure about the nature of the trend. This might be a blip, of the kind we saw in 2008-09 when the recession began, and when Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by predicting a ‘recession crime wave’ – which actually turned out to be a rise of 1%, followed by a resumption of the falling trend. Or it might be a sign that the long downward trend since 1995 is flattening out, to be replaced by annual fluctuations. Or, the bad scenario, this might be the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy, of the kind we saw in the early 1990s. (more…)

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It was the Tories that broke Britain

31/08/2011, 03:43:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

What was Labour’s problem with the concept of “broken Britain”?

The weekend before last, Tony Blair became the latest Labour voice to scoff at the “high-faluting wail” about a country that has “lost its way”.

Granted, the offending phrase is the offspring of David Cameron, and his erstwhile chums at News International, so comes preloaded to cause disdain to some on the left.

But we, too, used to believe Britain was broken. We used to endlessly criticise the “divided society” of “haves and have-nots” created in the 80s and 90s.

We were right to do so. This Britain was definitely broken when we took over in 1997. No question. We made a good start in fixing it: the minimum wage, tax credits, child benefit rises and investment in public services. Things, to coin a phrase, could only get better.

By 2001 our election slogan was “a lot done, a lot to do”. We recognised that there was still a mountain to climb in piecing our broken society back together. The legacy of 18 years of Conservative rule, was that whole communities and parts of the country had been reduced to a tightly-wound ball of social and economic problems that did not unpick easily. (more…)

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Sunday Review: There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, by Paul Gilroy

28/08/2011, 12:00:45 PM

by Anthony Painter

If the riots hadn’t spread beyond Tottenham, there is little doubt that we would now be having a far more heated discussion about “race” and British urban culture, rather than a generalised moral moan. The book that many would turn to would be Paul Gilroy’s 1987 classic: “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”. In it, Gilroy outlines “race” as an agent of historical change alongside “class” or “gender” (note the inverted commas). And after riots in the early and mid-1980s that were more political in their nature than those we have just seen – in the sense that there was a deliberate political point being made – Gilroy’s theory of “race” as historical agent of mobilisation was forceful. But then things went a different way.

What marks out the latest edition of the book, is its introduction. Gilroy has substantially revised his approach. In fact, he declares that race is now “ordinary”. It has blended with poverty, material deprivation and inequality as a complex interplay of power, injustice and exclusion. Like other motivating social forces such as class, race has been shattered.

The “rise of identity politics, corporate multi-culture, and an imploded, narcissistic obsession with the minutiae of ethnicity” have fragmented “political blackness”. Bonds of solidarity have weakened. Rather than huddling together, the oppressed and excluded are wandering alone, facing the cold and the rain without protection. Where “blackness” was a motivating political force a quarter of a century ago, it no longer fulfils that role. (more…)

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Labour should back a co-operative rebuilding of finance

23/08/2011, 02:46:18 PM

by Peter Jefferys

Behind the noise of this summer’s events – the riots; phone hacking; Gadhafi’s fall – the great economic issues facing Britain have been largely muted. Of course had this not been a summer of scandal, war and looting, the huge losses and gains on the stock market and the dearth of growth worldwide would be much firmer in the public consciousness. People are already feeling this deep crisis through its ramifications: the rising costs of living and terrible jobs market. We are in a highly precarious position, with many comparisons made to the scale of the crisis in 2007/08 and we must pay close attention to the solutions being offered by the Government and our shadow team.

It is equally vital, though, for Labour to look beyond the day-to-day fluctuations of markets and even quarterly growth figures in order to form a vision for the future of the economy. The Shadow Chancellor has offered a sharp critique of the Government’s economic strategy, but Labour must also have a positive alternative for fairer financial services. A vision that would appeal to voters and reduce the risk of future crises – after all, financial services are at the heart of the current problems.

This is much more than simply advocating ‘banker bashing’ – short term measures of retribution on the city of London. We would do well to remember that financial services are integral to our economy and to the lives of citizens, access to credit and banking services are import right across the economy and our society. Rather, we need to think about long-term, sophisticated changes of emphasis in what sort of financial services we support.

Nowhere is this clearer than with the future of Northern Rock. Labour advocated an approach in the 2010 manifesto that would have seen Northern Rock depositors take back ownership within a new ‘Co-operative Building Society’. Re-mutualisation would reverse the failed Tory policy of allowing Building Societies to become risky shareholder owned banks and create a much safer organisation, unlikely to require a future taxpayer bailout. The Chancellor, however, has decided to flog-off the Rock with no consideration of its future business model. We have a petition to stop the sale here.

Beyond Northern Rock, we are campaigning for a greater emphasis on the role of financial mutuals – such as building societies and credit unions. Financial mutuals are member owned, rather than shareholder owned, meaning that business decisions are taken in the long-term interests of customers, rather than the short-term interests of capital. Labour did much in power to support financial mutuals, but more is needed to increase the diversity of financial services provides. Labour should support the creation of a ‘diversity index’ and corresponding diversity threshold for UK financial services, in order to ensure that such services are not dominated by a few, pseudo-monopolistic plcs.

We are also advocating a new international approach for the rating and regulation of financial products and services. Labour should support much needed reform to Credit Ratings Agencies (CRAs), the bodies which severely mis-rated financial products in the run up to the banking crisis and recently caused unnecessary woes through a downgrade of American sovereign debt, initially based on a $2 trillion miscalculation. The current business model of ratings agencies is a classic conflict of interest – CRAs rate the quality of financial products but are paid for by the same institutions that create and sell those products.

Just yesterday, the former head of Moody’s launched a stinging attack on CRAs, suggesting that there is a longstanding culture of intimidation and harassment within the companies from management to analysts, ensuring that ratings match the needs of clients (large financial institutions).

Given the failure of CRAs to adequately rate debt in the run up to the crisis and the current unnecessary pain caused to the American economy, the time is rife for reform of CRAs. The Co-operative Party advocates the creation of a UN backed mutual Credit Ratings Agency, to be funded by contributions from investors, member countries and debt issuing organisations. The mutual structure would ensure that no one funder has undue influence, giving far greater credibility to ratings issued. This is a great ambition for Labour to get behind, as it puts democracy at the heart of the international financial system.

These policies offer the basis of a co-operative vision for the future of financial services that Labour could get behind. Injecting democracy and other co-operative values into financial services would provide a positive Labour Co-operative alternative to the Coalition’s inaction and de-facto endorsement of the status quo.

Peter Jefferys is the policy and campaigns officer of the Co-operative party

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Riots: you need police officers for a police surge

21/08/2011, 11:02:26 AM

by Dan McCurry

Cameron’s contradictions continue to baffle. Crowing before a packed parliament for the riot recall, he hailed the police “surge” as if it was all his own idea. No wonder the police are furious, he wasn’t even in the country when they formed their strategy. Not only did he not invent the police surge, he doesn’t even understand it, judging by the contractions he made.

David Cameron is at his most passionate when making sweeping statements about the waste that comes from officers engaged in back-office tasks. It is true, that having a police officer responsible for neighbourhood watch is more expensive than hiring a civilian to do the task. But the civilian is unlikely to understand the role, as well as being unable to don a uniform, at a moment’s notice, to face down a riot. If you lose the officer, you lose the ability to surge.

As for the neighbourhood forums; are the police wasting their time, speaking to the public, when they should be out there nicking people? This is arguable, but the job of being a police officer is not simply to enforce the law, but also to reassure the public that there is a system in place protecting them.

When serious allegations of child abuse in a dysfunctional family emerge, it is normal practice for social workers to meet with police officers and the CPS in order to decide the best way forward. If the police are to be removed from this back-office task, can a civilian worker fulfil their role, and what would be the training and qualification for this civilian worker. If a former social worker was qualified, what’s the point of the meeting without the input of an experienced officer?

Would it be possible for the civilian worker to be trained in public order policing, in order that she can assist when a terrorist incident creates the need for a surge? If so then the savings made by employing a civilian worker, would be lost by the expense of having to provide extensive training.

There are situations where expensive police officers should not be deployed. Having one hundred officers slowly walk across a field in search of clues to a nearby murder, probably isn’t the best use of resources, when civilians could do the same task equally well. But to claim that officers are only doing their job if they are actively engaged in answering 999 calls, is failing to recognise the wide range of duties that they undertake.

A reserve list, and better incentives for specials, would help with wide fluctuations in ebb and flow. But the ability to rapidly take officers from office activities and deploy them quickly in the field would be seriously undermined by the determination to seriously reduce their overall numbers.

Mr Cameron believes that he can cut police numbers and guarantee future police surges. Many Labour MPs, and much of the British public, cannot reconcile these two opposing statements. The prime minister must rethink this short-sighted policy.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist whose photographic and film blog is here.

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Labour should recover its patrician socialist streak

18/08/2011, 01:00:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

At one time we would have known who and what to blame. Last week’s rioting and looting would be been parked at Mrs Thatcher’s door and the social and economic forces she unleashed three decades ago. We would have talked about the rioters being “Thatcher’s children”, throwing back at Tory ministers their heroine’s invocation that “there is no such thing as society” as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hardly anyone in Labour is making that case today. Labour politicians have, in the main, kept their own counsel this past week, content to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the government and rattle their sabres when required. The violence has been “mindless” and the police should do whatever is “necessary” to restore order.

By raising the spectre of spending cuts and unemployment as a trigger to the disturbances, Ken Livingstone found himself a pretty lone voice. On Monday, Ed Miliband carefully tied the disturbances to his broader riffs about a lack of responsibility in society affecting those from top to bottom. Sure, he had a swipe at the government’s “gimmicks” in response to the disturbances, but his criticisms were narrowly scoped.

In contrast, David Cameron is letting it all hang out. He tells us we are witnessing a “slow-motion moral collapse”. In this analysis poverty, unemployment and spending cuts have little effect on the choices people make. This is a familiar retreat into the right’s simplistic comfort zone: bad people do bad things.

We should not be surprised. Many Tory politicians simply have no idea about the lives of those at the bottom of the pile. Why would they? In the main, they neither represent them nor socialise with them. This is when having a cabinet of millionaires begins to tell.

Given that it is Labour, in the main, which speaks for these communities, the onus is on us to articulate why what happened, and propose what can be done to avert it in the future.

But the problem is that we hardly know these rampaging young people any better than do the Tories. Truth to tell, we don’t know their parents much either. We have to go back two generations, to a time when the British working class was a recognisable and largely homogeneous bloc. As it has eroded, so, too, has our instinctive understanding of it.

First the traditional jobs went. Then social solidarity and identity crumbled. Now their offspring eschew the respectability that was once so much a part of the working class experience. As the working class broke apart to form a broader lower middle class and a group of “others”, we ended up understanding neither. It took us until 1997, before we managed to reconnect with the first: the Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman of focus group lore.

But the others? We don’t even have a proper name for them. To call them an underclass – shapeless, amorphous – does little to further our understanding. However we badge them, they do not, in the main, make sympathetic “victims”. The parade of surly, track-suited wastrels swaggering in and out of magistrates’ courts, covering their faces while flicking the finger, do little to instil a charitable concern for their circumstances. (more…)

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Labour’s riot response: wrong on tactics, wrong on strategy

16/08/2011, 02:00:27 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a mere few days ago that we were praising the willingness of a reinvigorated Ed Miliband to make hard decisions. The dumping of the shadow cabinet elections. The explicit non-backing of an unpopular strike. And most striking of all, two occasions on which he had gone out on a limb against powerful interests, his sure-footed handling of the parliamentary debate on phone-hacking, which finally had Cameron on the back foot, and his determination to adjust the representation of unions in party decision-making. Though the endgame of both is still uncertain.

It seemed like Labour had things all sewn up for the summer recess. We could look forward to a renewing summer break and a gentle trot into conference season, enjoying the first truly glad, confident morning of the Miliband leadership. How quickly events can intervene.

Labour’s political response to the riots has shifted from a neutral position of non-partisan solidarity, to one which is tactically wrong. And, worse, it is strategically wrong. (more…)

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