Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fuel to the Fire

Listening to David Cameron answer questions for over two hours in the Commons this afternoon was a sadly repetitive, turgid and wholly predictable affair. "Criminals", "No excuses", "Water cannon", "full force of the law", "baton rounds" (notably not called by their more common name of plastic bullets), all the cliches were there. He huffed and puffed his way through the usual rightwing knee-jerk stuff about discipline, bad parents and lack of respect - an entirely partial agenda. He paused only momentarily to reject the more outlandish suggestions, such as the one that Wembley stadium should be used as an internment camp for tens of thousands of suspected rioters who should be "rounded up" by the military - though who knows how tempted he was by the prospect?

Lib Dems, Tories and Labour were frequently indistinguishable in seeking solely an authoritarian response, ignoring the fact that if anything has proven this does not work, the riots and looting of the last week show it: where there are too many rioters in too many places at the same time, the police cannot cope. Sure, you can deploy or employ more and maybe you could bring in soldiers - a tactic pioneered in mainland Britain by Winston Churchill in Llanelli in Wales when troops machine-gunned strikers - but such a step would not be a sign of strength , but rather the last refuge of the truly desperate. All it would do would delay the start of the next round of riots, and crank up the level of dissonance and violence when they finally erupt.

A few saner voices urged some calm reflection rather than diving into the raft of new laws and harsh actions welcomed by Cameron today. Caroline Lucas called for an examination of the impact of inequality and a tempering of Government policy in the light of all the evidence that this significantly contributes to crime and violence; Labour's John McDonnell had earlier argued similarly in the Guardian; and a number of other Labour MPs called for a wide ranging public enquiry.

But Cameron has already decided on the authoritarian option, and new laws are to be rushed in, notably somewhat after the event. It is to be strongly suspected that they will be both a huge over-reaction to the events of this week and that before long they will be being used to stifle dissent rather than riots. Once the police can demand that people remove face masks, how long will it be before costumed protester posing in Cameron or Clegg masks are being arrested for intent to riot? If Twitter can lead to people being arrested for false rumours of riots, how long before the interpretation of messages leads to legitimate demonstrators being seized ahead of perfectly lawful protest?

And how long before the police - or army - are indeed deployed to shoot at British citizens rather than anyone in authority taking a serious look at why so many people so willingly engaged in criminal activity this week? It is not a question of excusing people - it is a matter of understanding why something so awful has happened in order to reduce the chances of it happening again.

Criminologists, people who have spent years investigating the motives and behaviour of people who take part in criminal activity and so somewhat more acquainted with these matters than your average Shire Squire Tory MP, have repeatedly explained that most of those looting this week are people who feel they have nothing to lose, that, for whatever reason, they feel they have no stake in society and consequently feel utter contempt for society. The comfort of gangs can be a cold substitute, but many do not even enjoy such camaraderie.

In such a context, the common sense response would be certainly to contain the current round of trouble - although a good dose of British Summer rain appears to have done so for free tonight - but to then work hard to understand and remove the causes of such behaviour. Yet what is the Government's plan? Grant Shapps, Housing Minister, declared today that it would be to empower councils and housing associations to evict tenants found to be involved in the riots. The definition of anti-social behaviour is to be extended from the immediate vicinity of their houses to almost anywhere.

What vituperative petty, small-minded, short-sighted brain, for want of a better word, comes up with such a solution?

You have nothing and feel no connection with society and have been rioting on the streets. What are we going to do? Well, we are going to take away your home and put you out...on the streets! Nursing an even greater set of grievances...

Such are the men who run our country in the Cabinet of Millionaires, 
including the one who claimed £7,000 of our money for soft furnishings. Who is looting who?

Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Matthew 13:12)

Faces Off!: How soon before genuine protest like this is banned for potentially fomenting potential riot?

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