Friday, 19 August 2011

The Tory Taliban Are Coming...

As the rioters pass from the streets to the courts and jails (and the Premier Inn in one bizarre case), the Government's crackdown continues apace with the absence of a written Constitution and the elasticity of British "justice" increasingly apparent. Excessively heavy sentences have been passed out, not only to those involved in violence, but two men have been jailed for 4 years for posting supposed encouragement to riot on a joke Facebook page, while a young mother who slept through the riots was sent away for 5 months. Her crime? Receipt of stolen goods, when a friend gave her a pair of knickers stolen from a shop.
But it is not just in the courts we see the authoritarian kickback - egged on by Housing Minister Grant Shapps, one council has begun proceedings to evict a woman her jailed son was involved: she and her daughter, who had nothing to do with the trouble, now face homelessness. Quite aside from the rank injustice of it, how on earth can anyone think for a moment that anything will be achieved by putting people convicted of rioting in the streets out on the streets?

But of course it is vengeance rather than justice that the Coalition appear hellbent on - including Nick Clegg's wheeze to have work gangs of convicts in orange jackets visibly undertaking community service. Creating a a magnet for the same crowds of thugs who used to go on News of the World "nonce-hunts", what impact will it have on those dressed like that, paraded and humiliated in public? Will it make them suddenly want to embrace society? Or will it simply alienate them further? What happens when the first Orange Riot occurs between one of these chain-less groups and the local vigilantes?

As with 9/11, the State is using this opportunity to bring forward ever new powers of control over all of us. Social network bans are to be introduced for those deemed to be a threat to public order (a heading the police increasingly place the most innocuously peaceful environmental protests under) - watch out for surprise "Friend" invites from people with the names Nick, George or Dave: they might be going to report you for more than spam. But at least the Con Dems have been praised by the Chinese Government.

Swept up in part of this, slightly un-noticed last weekend, two young men who were organising a summer "water fight" were arrested and their gathering banned under the Serious Crimes Act. Although these have happened before without being licensed, they have never led to any significant trouble or damage and have provided an ideal way for young people to have some fun and maybe even let off some steam on hot days. They are very popular in Iran - the authorities there have tended to tolerate them; not so here.

Mr Cameron is starting to show his true colours. He spent years trying to claim that the Tory Party was no longer the nasty party of the 1980s, that it wanted to embrace a new social agreement, to seek to mend what he and Mr Duncan-Smith patronisingly refer to as "Broken Britain". They have estimated that about 5% of the population - part of the underclass so skillfully created by Thatcher and Major in return for people buying into the prosperity myth of the last 20 years - are completely detached from society. Marginalised, poor, with no prospects and no stake in society. So what is to be done for this dangerous untermensch? Well, Cameron is going to appoint some sort of Moral Mentor, to come round and tell off the worst families in the country. These people will supposedly give assistance while goading them into turning off all that loud music, cutting the grass and getting one of the thousands of vacant jobs going for the asking in Tory Britain.

That is, of course, as long as the Moral Mentor can reach the door having queued behind the officials that Ian Duncan-Smith plans send round to knock on the doors of convicted people each day, in order, it would seem, pretty much just to annoy them. I do hope this most odiously sanctimonious of Ministers includes himself in the line of people harassing these people - the "Quiet man" clearly hasn't ever had to work in such an environment and his ideas betray the total, crass ignorance of this self-appointed social guru.

However, some of the most worrying moments for the longer term have not been heard from Government members lips - but in the media. One BBC News journalist took the cameras round Tottenham as people were clearing up. He talked about how greed among bankers and politicians had infused society, and then bracketed the rioters with them - so far, so good, until he declared that this showed the appalling levels of greed among the richest and poorest in society ("middle Britain" was conveniently exempted). People, he declared, wanted this immoral lack of respect sorted out.

As well as clearly confusing reportage with editorial, this presented a rather chilling piece of disinformation.. As has been pointed out, the cost of the riots, unjustifiable and awful as they undoubtedly were for the innocent victims of the trouble, is tiny by comparison to the tens of billions effectively stolen by the richest in society. With the wealth of the richest 1% continuing to grow very substantially throughout the recession, who is committing the real violence?

What a bunch of bankers...
By virtue of their favoured position, our elite don't need to break shop windows to get anything; but by their thieving our common wealth in the shape of our planet and the labour of our people, it is quite frankly staggering to draw any comparison between the rich and the poor. There is a huge difference between the chronic grasping of the rich and the desperate attempts of some among the poorest in society to steal things which either provide them with the very basics of life or, on another level, allow them to momentarily possess some item which our consumer society says represents success and makes them someone worthwhile.

But of course, the BBC will never provide such a challenging analysis as suggesting the new morality needs to be one that changes the value base of our economic and social systems. Rather, the morality that is being harped on about here is of the "doff-your-cap-and-know-your-place" variety. Duncan Smith has threateningly promised that the response to the riots will be "the making" of David Cameron and already the objective is clearly to contain the disaffected rather to tackle the root causes of disaffection. Repression will be the true watchword - as was plainly evidenced one morning on Radio 4 as a vicar intoned his horror about the riots before saying mournfully that punishment was important, and for now all he could think about was the phrase "I am my brother's keeper..." 

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE - after an appeal, the woman sentenced to jail for 5 months for receiving stolen knickers has been released to undertake community service.

    Criticism of excessive sentences has however continued - a person charged with stealing a bottle of water was jailed for six months - and the Prison Service has warned that many jails, already overcrowded, are now over-capacity and that there will shortly no longer be anywhere to put convicted people - including those found guilty of genuinely serious crimes.