London riots: this is no time to be squeamish

Some commentators of both Left and Right have said that the rioters were somehow impelled by a sense of moral equivalence with expense-diddling MPs and bonus-toting bankers. I am not sure that will quite do, either. Yes, it was wrong of MPs to cheat the spirit (if usually not the letter) of the system, and yes, bankers’ bonuses are often nauseating. But I simply cannot agree that Gerald Kaufman’s expense-claim for a Bang and Olufsen television has somehow triggered or legitimated the torching of property in outer London. I am afraid the explanations will turn out to be more complex and more various. Some — quite a few – were acting out of greed. Some seem to have been actuated by a feeling of power, a desire to be “noticed”. Some, especially members of gangs, were perhaps doing it because other people were doing it in other parts of London, and they did not want to be left out. Some of them were doing it for “fun”, or excitement, or because they wanted to get one over on the “feds”. Some of them were certainly relatively affluent, and the media have rightly lingered on the millionaire’s daughter and the schoolteachers who have been accused of looting.

The overwhelming majority, of course, came from the lower socio-economic groups, from the ranks of those who have been left the furthest behind; and the most recent figures I have seen suggest that 69 per cent of those charged have previous convictions. It has been said of these young people — and they say it themselves — that the world holds nothing for them, that they have no jobs, no hope and no future. In so far as that is true, it is something we can try to tackle. We can invest, we can “create” jobs, we can boost our apprenticeship programme, already standing at 30,000. But it is just not true to say that there are no jobs available. The London service economy is substantially dependent on migrant labour, much of it from eastern Europe, and employers confirm that these migrants have skillsets and a work ethic they cannot find in many native- born Londoners. Yes, these young people have been betrayed; but they have been betrayed by an educational system and family background that failed to give them discipline, or hope, or ambition, or a simple ability to tell right from wrong. We still have one in four London 11-year-olds functionally illiterate. No wonder they are angry and alienated. They need more tough love; they need mentors; they need to be taught to read, and to see the point of it; they need their gangs broken up and replaced with better alternatives — and we in City Hall will back the next Met Commissioner to help us achieve just that; and if they so much as dream of doing this again, they need to know that they will be caught and punished.

Of all the explanations for the riots, the simplest is that the police lost control in the first few hours. I am sure that with 20-20 hindsight Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner, and his colleagues would agree that some things might have been done differently. But at the moment we politicians speak with forked tongue to the police. They are servants of the law, and the law provides very little protection for any police officer who may — in the heat of the moment — cause injury to a member of the public. Take the officer who allegedly pushed poor Ian Tomlinson during the G20 riots, a motion which may have been far less violent than some that have been recommended to the police over the past few days. He is facing a charge of manslaughter. That could mean life imprisonment. We need to decide at which end of the chain of events we want to be less squeamish.

We can give the police water cannon, or else we can reassure parents that they indeed have the right to discipline their children, and we can declare that teachers are to be unambiguous figures of authority in the classroom. We can issue the police with baton rounds, or we can insist that young people will be prosecuted for swearing at an officer. We can change the law to allow the police to administer sjambok drubbings, or we adults can collectively take charge and recognise that it is up to us to give young people hope, boundaries and a moral framework. We can be less squeamish about police violence, or we can be less squeamish about the realities of young people’s needs. Of course, we could do both — and I certainly believe that robust policing is essential — but I know which is the best long-term answer.

14 thoughts on “London riots: this is no time to be squeamish”

  1. I agree with you that parents,teachers and police officers should have right to chastise children when the stray from what is consider good behaviour.
    When I was young you cheeked a policeman or teacher you either got a clip around the ear and marched back to you father who duplicted it or were sent to the headmaster and if the crime was deemed serious enough you were thrashed in front of th entire school.
    I have to say that governments have failed the youth of today with regard to education.The old fashioned way was best IMPO You faced the front and only one voice was heard in the classroom.”The teacher”
    I am totally dismayed that kids today are able to use calculators and have I pods etc on whilst in class.
    How can a child learn if they can’t hear what is being said?
    I left school in 1969 with a better education than children of today.
    The fundimental problem stems with todays lifestyle. Grandads are to busy working to send time teaching kids the old values. How many parents of these troubled teens have sat down and read a book to their child? How many children know that if you get stung by stinging nettles the remady is within 10 feet? How many know where milk and cheese come from?
    Try asking your kids in inner London and I think you will be amazed at the answers.
    Still enough of my ranting.
    I came from a broken home and started working at age 8.I have raised 10 children in my lifetime and everyone of them has a work ethic and are all in fulltime employment.
    I passed onto them the rules instilled in me by my step father ” you get nowt for nowt if you want anything them work to achive it and always follow your dreams if you are true to yourself and are true to your dream it is attainable!
    The most important thing in life is RESPECT for yourself ,your family and the environment. If they do not respect thereselves then they have no respect for society!

  2. A small black child carried a sign during the L.A. riots and it read, “No Justice No Peace”.

    The child’s sign holds true in gaza, L.A. and the world. No justice triggers revolutions.

    My belief, justice will come sooner or later. And, late justice comes with a high price.

    London’s rioters are the products of a crumbling nation, and an indifferent political class that has turned its back on them. The meaninglessness of the riots speak of problems with deeper roots than just material need: an underlying lostness in our culture around issues of identity and relationships. Alienated young men and women, some of them barely more than children, have taken this as an opportunity to steal, riot, burn and to generally kick against authority.

    British Muslims, estimated at nearly two million, have repeatedly complained of maltreatment by police and discrimination by the British Establishment and society for no apparent reason other than being Muslim. Just a few days ago Norway suffered the wrath of a right-wing extremist. We have been told that this was ‘unexpected”.

    Whether it is a group of people blowing up the twin towers in NY, a group bombing the London underground, an individual murdering children in Norway, or rioters and looters in London; these and other groups have a single objective in mind, to protest – not lawfully, but through any means possible, irrespective of the consequences of their actions, be it the loss of life or the destruction of property. The problem is, every time society suffers in this way, it is so much easier to blame someone else than to reflect on whether we were part of the problem in the first place; e.g. spending billions on wars which many of us did not believe we needed in the first place all the while basic services are being cut.

  3. Iftikhar, if you dislike Britain and your fellow British citizens so much, why don’t you go somewhere else? Moving around the EU is quite easy.

  4. “…London’s rioters are the product of a crumbling nation…” No they’re not, Iftikhar. London’s rioters are entirely responsible for their own actions, in the same way that the massive majority of people who don’t riot are responsible for their own actions, too.

    This nation isn’t crumbling. Most people work hard and care about their families and make the best they can of their resources and abilities. A few idiots behave stupidly, and the media presents this as though the rest of us should wring our hands and despair. Nonsense. Perhaps this time we will punish the enemy within our society, rather than making excuses (“…public services being cut”…even Labour have stopped that line of whingeing.).

  5. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village, because he/she is well versed in Standard English, Arabic, Urdu and other community languages. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit.

    The events of the past week have shown the enormous value of a living religious faith. Not only was Tariq Jahan more impressive than any of the commentators or politicians who spouted on the airwaves this week. He was more human. By his religious response to his son’s death, he humanised not only the dreadful and immediate tragedy. He showed us that without a religion we are all less than human.

    In the absence of a moral law, we see a decline in standards in all walks of life. Bankers continue to fill their boots even after they have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy; politicians fiddle expenses and see no reason to resign when they have committed wrongdoings; town hall fat cats pay themselves ever greater salaries as Britain slips further into debt.

  6. Speaking as an irreligious Brit, (though not monolingual) I suppose I should take offence at the idea that I am ‘less than human’ as I don’t have a religion.

    I am reminded that there was a popular movement in Germany in the last century which also declared other citizens to be less than human, or in their word, “subhuman”.

    Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

  7. @Ed, well said. Funny how the original and genuine protest at the shooting which sparked off all the riots was peaceful.

    What followed was yob culture, a complete disrespect for law and order and a desire to have something for nothing.

  8. In their speeches last week, I was pleased to hear both party leaders draw parallels with the corruption elsewhere in our society.

    One civilized aim should be to treat criminals consistently. But that doesn’t happen.
    When the Telegraph exposed the culture of criminality within the House of Commons, there were no overnight courts set up to deal with the hundreds of MPs who had been swindling the public for years. We saw no images of MPs’ doors being battered down. We saw no images of MPs having their faces pushed into the tarmac as they were arrested. It is about time the police dealt with politicians more robustly (a water cannon in the House of Commons would send a strong message).

    Politicians are also guilty of gross dishonesty. You ask a politician a question and he will draw upon all his wit and guile to find a way of not answering your question. He does this so that he cannot be held responsible, for anything. On this day, two years ago, The Lockerbie Bomber was released, on the grounds that he had weeks to live. He was actually released as a favour to Gaddafi in return for oil contracts, and yet politicians persist in lying to the public about it. Tony Blair’s Dirty Dossier – a trick to deceive the public into supporting a war, and a crime of the most grotesque proportions, goes unpunished.

    Following these years of spin and deception, I voted for Cameron mainly because of his honesty. But he has let us down. His desertion of young people since becoming elected is in stark contrast to the message of hope and support that he offered them beforehand. The tuition fee rises, following the election, remind me of that ‘sick’ incident during the riots. He appeared to want to help young people, but then he mugged them.

    Ironically, many of the rioters have shown a greater degree of integrity than the people running our country. We see parents marching their youngsters into police stations. We see looters admitting their guilt and accepting their punishment. But the politicians, with only a few exceptions, slither and slime their way out of taking responsibility for their own corrupt behaviour.

    It is right to question how parents, teachers and young people themselves can take responsibility for improving matters. But the biggest change will come when the people who run the country start taking responsibility for their own actions, are punished for wrongdoing, and set a better example to the rest of society.

  9. Very good analogy about the guy getting mugged and then ripped off by the people pretending to help, and tuition fees. I heard a minister at his ‘slithering, slimy’ best advising students to think of their paying back twenty-seven grand as ‘an additional 3% tax increase until you’re twenty nine.’

    Britain – the country that taxes learning. And this is meant to be a Tory government? I wonder, what are the relative amounts of money spent on overseas aid, and not spent helping people to learn for careers?

    Are we really all in this together?

  10. The visual of the riots on the streets was frightening to watch, even with the sound turned down to the people in Britain. Plus, surely unnerving to other parts of the world that look to this country to be a safe haven perhaps.

    The affect to the individual who has experienced the criminally organised and out of control behaviour of the rioters with an intent to harm is not initially visual to some maybe (after all buildings can be repaired etc) but will cause a rupture to the mind and heart of their lives for a long time. This is Britain where we are generous to be polite and wait in a queue!

    The queue for forgiveness of what these people have done has to be VISUAL to themselves and to the communities that try to live cooperative lives. It’s honourable for the good natured riot cleanup volunteers to come into action and in doing so reclaim the streets and the community spirit but will it be needed again?

    It appears everyone in gang and youth cultures are into tattoo and arts (and Guns?!)

    Surely for the lesser of the criminals that took part; a tattoo on the chin…. 07.08.11 in orange and working on the streets in overalls supervised to progress to parks and gardens or on public buildings wouldn’t be an infringement on their liberty but a step towards their understanding of liberty. Electronic tagging and organised work spheres thereafter until approval for the removal of tattoo.

    If they need to express themselves in the arts then white sheeting covering walls and paper progressing to computer arts doesn’t cost too much.

    The communication of blackberry and smart phones has to be monitored as does the internet. How easy is it to communicate with rebel cultures and organisers in other parts of the world. Simply by putting your true name to your comment on an internet blog would be a start in stopping irresponsible discussion. This has to be addressed now for fear of this type of crime being so simple to spread over world centres. STOP AND THINK! Sorry to use capitals but it makes me angry that these individuals are allowed to mock society that has tried to understand. Please get them to understand that rudeness, lack of respect and violence will not be tolerated.

    If the newspapers and large corporate companies can infiltrate peoples personal lives to cause headlines that shock why aren’t they revealing the problems in the underground culture and reporting or detecting that as opposed to money climbing society profiteers.

    (for the ones with Guns… probably past help! Except reading the article on Mark Stroman on death row showed he had been humbled by controlled communication with his surviving victim before his execution).

    The Turnaround has to be at the grass roots of responsible cultures in world societies and for them to communicate about criminal acts in their respective countries. Technology communication has made the world so small for the individual so quickly and I don’t think they understand the damage they do until it’s too late. Well lets face it they’re young and misled. Where do we relearn our morals?

  11. It’s great to see a positive reaction to the riots from the Mayor of London. But the part of this post that really caught my attention was the part about the being ‘No Jobs’. You are very right, there are many roles out there that need to be filled and with some good work ethic, it does not matter who you are you will be able to work your way up.
    Sophie Hobson, Deputy Editor of LondonLovesBusiness

  12. Maybe putting rooves over people’s heads and giving them jobs as newspaper sellers isn’t the answer.Give ’em communities and read up on “New Urbanism”,Boris!

    Iftikhar,I don’t like you,so why don’t ef off to Libya and become an effing martyr!

  13. trust Mr Ahmad to turn a riot by the lumpenproletariat into a girly whinge about the persecution of Muslims by the wicked Atheists and Agnostics who do not believe in Mr Ahmad’s invisible friend who can only be appeased by a decent stoning or three.

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