The 2011 Riots - after tragedy comes the farce

Posted on: 12 August 2011 by Alexander Hay

The state has revealed itself to be incompetent, self-serving and hypocritical

Image courtesy of GeorgeRexTA [at] gmail [dot] com

It is a truism that politicians are only really good at politics. This may not have been the case in the past (what with Margaret Thatcher's time spent in the exciting field of ice cream chemistry), but is certainly the case now, as shown by Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement at yesterday’s emergency parliamentary session.

Take, for example, his get-tough vow to make would-be masked rioters take off their disguises. Aside from the fact that the police may actually end up inciting riots by trying to do this, they already have such powers since 1994, care of the Criminal Justice Act.

Or Cameron's declared intention to shut off access to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook in order to stop them being used by rioters to coordinate their attacks. Beyond making him sound like a Middle Eastern dictator living in denial, he did not in fact explain quite how the state would be able to do this, and, even if it were possible, whether disrupting the free flow of information would harm the economy more than a hundred riots ever could. 

In other words, Cameron's response was a rushed, ill-thought out set of heavy handed excuses made by someone who didn't bother coming back to the country until after the riots had entered their second night. Hoody hugging was no longer on the agenda. Nor was good sense. No one was there to explain what would happen to the council tenants Cameron would evict if they were found guilty of rioting, after all.

His Conservative party, long keen to paint itself as the party of law and order, was left looking inept and confused, not helped by Home Secretary Theresa May and London mayor Boris Johnson only belatedly returning from their holidays in turn, even as the riots spread.

One might expect a better performance from the opposition. After all, Labour is apparently the party of social justice. Its Tottenham MP, David Lammy, performed well and responded to the events with a dignified indignation.

Yet party leader Ed Miliband himself took too long to get back from his own holiday, and rather than proposing any real solutions at yesterday's session, he simply tried to compete against Cameron with ever more draconian pandering to a shocked, angry nation, down to demanding even more CCTV despite evidence that it is no deterrent for crime in the first place

Cameron won't, of course, halt his government's plans to cut funding the police or public services. Beyond the gesturing, in truth even more harm will be done to poor, vulnerable communities after the riots have been forgotten. As Cameron demonstrates, the purity of ideology comes before the need to treat situations as they truly are.

Naturally, talk of cuts at a time of civil unrest has galvanised senior police to make very public calls for the government to reconsider. ACPO head Sir Hugh Orde may have a point in saying that it was the police who stopped the riots while the politicians lurked in the background, but not too much of a point, of course. For by Wednesday night the rioters had in any case worn themselves out and ran out of places and things to break or steal.

Nor does ACPO seem interested in cuts that don't effect police officers, even though the other public services being de-funded have their own part to play in crime prevention. Self-interest and buck passing have instead taken hold, as evidenced by the IPCC's clumsily handled investigation of Mark Duggan's shooting and the aloof, high handed manner of the Metropolitan Police, both of which helped lead to this week's riots.

The police have helped make matters worse by their actions before and during the riots. They stood by and let looting and property destruction take place for 'procedural reasons' and have done little to deter the anti-social behaviour that plagues poorer areas and which took root to such a degree that this week's unrest became inevitable. The police only succeeded in ending the riots having failed utterly to prevent them

Instead, we have a squalid mess of incompetent, semi-competent and hapless government departments, politicians, media and police squabbling after events that have lead to the deaths of five men and ruined the lives of many more.

What has become clear is that we are ruled by paper tigers able only to appear in charge or to harass those who appear to be 'easy collars'. When faced with a determined threat, these powerful bodies retreat or simply don't know what to do. Britain has briefly revealed itself as a shop-worn facade run by men with great power, and little ability.

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Alexander Hay

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