Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Summer of discontent...

Wow.  What can one say about the riots in London and other cities in the UK?

I'm on holiday at the moment, in rural Suffolk, and sitting here on the deck outside the apartment listening to birdsong, the cockerel with a speech impediment (and a lousy sense of timing), and the horse in the paddock next door, the situation in the big cities seems like a world away.  I've been glued to the electrical interweb and BBC News 24 for the past day or so, and I'm finding it surreal.  I'm amazed by the some of the comments from the UK's news media, and by the politicians.  I'm also getting quite angry with some of the commentators who seem to think that they have all the answers.

So, from a position of precisely no real knowledge, no direct experience of what's going on, but with deep concern for all of those bound up in it, I offer you the following:

This does not seem to be like the riots of the 1980s - I remember travelling on the train through Brixton the weekend it all kicked off then.  The anger of the black community was palpable, and reading the reports about that situation (including Scarman), gives the very real impression that they were justified in their anger.

The death of Mark Duggan, which is said to have ignited this particular spark, was regrettable and tragic for his family and for those who loved him.  But, the police officers concerned are about to be investigated to within an inch of their professional lives.  I would be amazed if they wilfully killed a man who they believed to be innocent, I'm far more likely to believe that they truly thought that they themselves, or someone else, was in imminent danger.  Reports lead one to believe that this was a man whose death in this manner could have been foretold.

There seem to be two schools of thought in the media about the riots - the first that water cannon and baton rounds should be immediately available to the police in order that they can quell the violence.  Blimey.  Serious stuff.  I'm really not sure what I think about this - I know that the days of Dixon of Dock Green are over (if they were ever really here, and let's remember the original character of George Dixon was shot in the Blue Lamp)  but I'm not sure that I'm emotionally ready to see what are effectively firearms used in the streets.  Having said that, how are the cops supposed to cope with what is going on?  I think it's going to take more than a stick, a shield, and shedloads of bravery to combat this situation quickly.  I don't know what the answer is - but I sure as hell support those who do.  And, by that I mean those who are actually skilled in delivering public order solutions, not chuffing politicians or armchair generals.

The second school of thought attempts to explain the causes and points at the ways in which the burgeoning underclass feel dissociated from society, and that the young people concerned feel dispossessed.  I'm sure that they do.  I suspect that they also feel a sense of 'entitlement' to be given whatever it is that their hearts desire.  As a woolly left wing liberal I'm becoming increasingly tired of hearing certain elements of society complaining that there are no jobs for them, and that 'immigrants' are taking their opportunities away.  Living as I do in Seasidetown, we don't have a lot of unemployment, but the towns on either side have significant pockets of deprivation.  And, I hate to say it, significant numbers of people who turn jobs down because they don't fancy them - it is, they appear to believe, their God given right to be given work that is interesting and pays a lot.  Well, I've got news for them.  It's not their right, they have to do what the rest of us have always done, and work for what it is for which we aim.

I'd also like to make it clear that I also know many people from Seasidetown and its environs who work their arses off in any job available because they're not prepared to take handouts.  The building next door to us was converted by a platoon of Polish builders who worked like stink, were pleasant and courteous, and never gave us any trouble.  Apart from when they put a ladder through our shed roof - but that's another story.

What the social policies of the last 30 years of so appear to have done is to create this class of people who feel that they are entitled to money, to jobs, to housing, to an easy life.  I don't think that this is the fault of one political side or another, it's just the way that it's developed over time and  I'm not sure that we can put this particular genie back in his/her bottle.  If benefits were to be cut, as JustcallmeDave suggests, that will lead to extreme and immediate hardship and while it may address those whose claims are questionable, how many other people will suffer?

So, what am I rambling about?  My distress of seeing what is happening on the streets of this country.  My frustration that I can't see any real answer as to the best way of dealing with it, and my anger that what seems to be a significant part of society may find a way to blame their criminal actions on others.  Oh, and to the apologists who will facilitate this for them.  Not to mention the chattering glasses who are convinced that they know best (by the way, I made it clear that I don't know best).

But more than that, I send waves of support to those dealing with all the fallout.  To the police on the streets, naturally, who are doing what they do everyday - putting their safety and own interests second to that of society.  To their commanding officers who are going to come under fire from several directions - their own officers, the press, the media, the 'community leaders', the legal profession.  I send support to those whose businesses have been destroyed, or are likely to be.  To the residents of the communities that are now under siege, and who have already suffered loss.  To the families of those taking part who must (one would hope) feel shame at the actions of their children.

I am slightly heartened by the appearance of the clean up movement that is growing out of all this - maybe, just maybe, this could start to galvanise ordinary people into working together to face up to the ills around them and to do something about it.


  1. There were some sickening acts of callousness during the riots – there was an injured man who was bleeding and a gang of thugs opened his rucksack, helped themselves to its contents and left him there. I was shocked by the lack of compassion and morals shown by this gang. It is frightening that certain factions of society have no moral values or concern for others. I don’t know what the problem is – whether it is drugs, feckless parenting, or what – but I agree a lot of these ‘kids’ think that they are entitled and should not be ‘disrespected’ where ‘respect’ seems to mean being violent and intimidating.

  2. Indeed. I am haunted by the photographs in the Daily Mail of a young man being forced to undress and hand over his clothes, and a woman - completely naked - talking to a Police Officer.

    That seems, to me, to be a demonstration of the use of a perverted power - a denigration of human dignity. To take someone's clothes away from them is to strip them of their dignity. In my opinion only one step removed from rape. The act can have been for no reason other than to demonstrate that the perpetrators had power.

  3. I have no idea what is the mindset of those rioting and looting. However, I live fairly near to Enfield, indeed grew up there and the scenes of my home town sickened me. My mother and sister still live there and frantic phone calls ensured their safety. I also could smell on the wind the smoke from the massive fire at the Sony warehouse in Enfield. It has left us all with a vague sense of unease, a realisation that we are not happy to go out to our local shopping centre, that was cordoned off in case of damage on Monday night. My friends 13 yr old had to wait with police after she came out of the Enfield cinema on Sat afternoon, because the 'hoodies' had gathered. How scary that must have been. Then we read that it's school aged kids that are looting! It's affecting all our lives and that is very sad. Goodness knows how the people who actually live in the hight streets feel. Bad times and no easy answer as to why or how to stop it, and politicians need to look hard at policies & cutbacks. Not least in the police.

  4. In the meantime, I continue to be irritated by the rantings of those who should know better. Including one of my colleagues, who teaches criminal law, and really should have some grasp of the constituent parts of public/private defence as it applies to homicide. In spite of this, she felt it appropriate to make a big deal on Facebook of the 'fact' that both of the bullets found in the IPCC investigation of the death of Mark Duggan were of police issue.

    Sometimes, I just wish that those of us who aspire to teach law should think about what it is that we teach before expressing such a statement.

    Some ruthless editing of my 'friends' list made me feel better and lowered my blood pressure somewhat.