Posts Tagged ‘riots’

The Children of New Labour

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

This blog hasn’t been a fan of the Metropolitan Police’s public order policing in the past and it seems that David Cameron has finally woken up to the appalling consequences of appeasing an opportunist, baying mob.

It’s no criticism of the individual police officers to note this schizophrenic attitude to policing. Indeed, it must be extremely frustrating for them as individuals to be asked to switch from passive to ultra-aggressive mode. However, this bipolarity must give bizarre signals to those people who are breaking the law – ‘it’s OK to steal, smash things up and burn them until, er, it isn’t’ (maybe when the 24 hour news helicopters sniff out the trouble).

On this point maybe it’s worth reconsidering the famous bear/tree aphorism in a modern context – ‘If something is stolen from a shop and no-one films it then has it happened?’ Certainly if I was an excitable, marginally-criminally inclined idiot and saw the helicopters arriving and then saw the breathless coverage on TV about where it was ‘kicking off’ next then I guess I’d be out to see what was going on.

The 24 hour news channels seem to have emerged from the post-mortems scandalously intact. Some of their reporting was irresponsible in the extreme – motivated more for the ratings and the syndication rights than for any concern about what their glamourising of arson might do.

Woman Jumping From Burning Building In Croydon -- From Telegraph Website

For example, the aerial images of the fire became almost iconic. It was a sick, pathetic glorification of criminality that may arguably, by its propagation around the rest of the world, damage this country far more in the long term than the actions of a small number of looters.

You can almost imagine these pathetic, holiday relief juvenile BBC news producers going into paroxysms of excitement, thinking they were transmitting images that evoked echoes of the Blitz. OK – report what’s happening but don’t repeat it on a 5 minute cycle to make it look worse than it actually was. IMHO, the people who didn’t show any editorial judgement but became part of the baying mob by proxy are just as bad as the scumbags who actually did the looting.

I’d argue the TV news coverage encouraged the looters to turn into arsonists. Thinking back to recent media coverage of large-scale lootings, such as happened in the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, no-one there set fire to the places they’d stolen from.

In some respects, it’s understandable, if not condonable, that people will help themselves to something in an abandoned shop if they think they can get away with it – but to break into residential property is far worse and to set a fire that may threaten any individual’s property, home or life is utterly beyond contempt.

I can only guess that it was either motivated by some kind of ‘that’s my fire there on the telly’ sick boasts or some disgusting attempts to hide the forensic evidence that might be used for the trainer-stealing Crime of the Century.

Perhaps fortunately for Ed Milliband, the courts have been processing those arrested very quickly – so rather than construct a narrative of the supposedly dispossessed ‘kids’ – the Labour Party have had to acknowledge that a large proportion of those arrested are not the oppressed jobless but university students, teaching assistants, locksmiths, trainee security guards, models and so on.

Apparently by far the largest age group arrested in the riots was the under-24s – so these are the people whose ‘moral compass’ was set in the reign of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The oldest any of them would have been when New Labour was elected was ten. Most were at an even more impressionable age.

Any opprobrium heaped for their appalling behaviour must be heaped on the resentful and avaricious moral-relativism ingrained in the likes of Brown– that Blair only served to obscure. Despite Ed Milliband’s efforts, absurd poison has been spilling out of Harriet Harman’s mouth over this week, although, to be fair, most Labour MPs have not been so equivocal in their condemnation of the lawless behaviour.

While the behaviour of the rioters has been criminally disgraceful and should never be dignified by any excuses – after all, there are plenty of underprivileged people who don’t riot – I have some general sympathy if their anger is motivated by any realisation of the shocking legacy the likes of baby boomers like Blair, Brown and Harman have left them.

On an economic level the baby boomers have looted the wider economy in almost as brutal and amoral way as the rioters on the streets – revelling in the indulgence of full employment or free education in their teens and twenties (and the supposed free love too), then skewing the economy of the planet towards their own reckless, rapacious consumption economy and, after this, retiring early in good health to expect the young to wait on them into their febrile long old age, having not produced a economically viable replacement population themselves – nor actually invested properly in the taxes to pay for an education system that invested in other people’s children either.

This is why it’s so sickening that the victims of the arson and looting tend to have been not the baby boomers or the rich but entrepreneurs who run small shops or people living in low-cost housing over shops that were firebombed. It might be argued that it was only when the total breakdown in law and order allowed by the gutless, spineless, politically-correct senior police chiefs resulted in some random and horrific opportunist burglaries and steaming of restaurants and so on in middle-class areas that the ‘ordinary’ people who have to put up with low-level crime routinely were given a little protection.

Also, it’s an almost inevitable effect of the model of global capitalism that has had hegemony over Western economies for the last 60 year that it exploits and seeks to make idiots of its consumers. With age and experience, consumers become accustomed to the insidious and manipulative ploys of global capital’s marketers – and global capital counters this by trying to force a wedge between generations.

‘Don’t listen to your parents – they know nothing’ – is the message of almost all advertising aimed at the youth market since the 1950s. Thus the aim of global capital is to be a malign pseudo-parent to a generation – urging the worshipping of consumption over all else.

No wonder the abiding image of the riots (except for the gut-wrenching flames) was the materialism – looting of flat-screen TVs, trainers, the latest mobile phones and other items. Apparently no bookshop or library was touched.

Moreover, one of the reasons underlying the credit crunch (as was) and now the stagnation of western economies is the reckless amount of personal debt that the banks have allowed individuals to accumulate. It’s arguable whether there’s a huge amount of difference between walking into Comet during the day and ‘buying’ a TV on a credit agreement that you can’t pay back and breaking in at night and taking the same TV for nothing. One’s legal, one’s not – but in the end there’s going to be someone out of pocket.

As said above, what marked the rioting out as particularly heinous was the violence and arson – the disregard for personal property and, even, life itself.

In the final analysis, it’s amazing that the police didn’t understand that human nature (or how it’s been corrupted by global capital) means that many people will behave in a way that’s determined by a calculation about whether they might get away with something. It’s so elemental and so fundamental to the preservation of order in any society that it’s stunning that the Metropolitan Police bosses seemed to think, like the bankers who ruined the economy, that ‘it’s different this time’. Yes, it definitely was – but not in the way they thought.

‘Look Left for the Scene of the Famous Student Battle of the Treasury’

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Exactly a week after the student tuition fees riot I walked through Parliament Square yesterday. I was shocked to realise how small the area is — far more compact that the TV pictures during the riot suggested. It must have been very oppressive to have been kettled in there — and it must have been fairly easy for anyone trapped in Parliament Square to see what was going on in all corners.

All the graffiti had been removed but the Treasury windows were still boarded up and the phone boxes hadn’t had their glass panes renewed (obviously something not on BT’s list of priorities). The Supreme Court had workmen inside who looked as if they’d just finished fixing the damage to the windows there.

I saw a big group of tourists — possibly foreign students — looking carefully at the Treasury’s damaged windows and it brought to mind the London sightseeing tour episode of The Apprentice that was on BBC1 recently — which had Jamie’s unforgettable commentary ‘the River Thames is the second biggest river in London’, ‘the clock face on Big Ben is exactly twenty diameters in width’. If Stella could take a bus of tourists to see a roadworks in Mile End then the scene of the famous battle between the Met Police and the students is, no doubt, already firmly on the London tourist map.

Tourist View the Historic Site of the Battle of the Treasury

Tourist View the Historic Site of the Battle of the Treasury

Poking With A Stick

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Here’s a special variety of daffodils that I’ve planted in my garden. I can’t remember if the packet included any instructions about how they might be planted by poking around with a stick but, if so, maybe that would have earned the bulbs their royal seal of approval.

Camilla Duchess of Cornwall

Camilla Duchess of Cornwall

How Could They Get It So Wrong Again?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

This (or something close to it) is apparently a headline on the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph and refers to the police’s abject response to the latest student tuition fees protest — although it’s probably just as apt in referring to the tuition fees proposal itself.

I managed to watch several hours of live coverage of the Parliament Square protests on Sky News — which for long periods had much better coverage than the BBC, which was more interested in covering the debate inside the Commons.

What was obvious to anyone in possession of a brain, which seemed to exclude the spokespeople for the Metropolitan Police and the news anchors who seemed to think they needed to dutifully intone about upholding the principles of law and order, was that the police response was largely incompetent and, viewed from the air, looked as clueless in strategy as the Keystone Cops.

The Metropolitan Police  seems to have two modes of crowd control — passive and psychopathic. They swing between the two both temporally and geographically. So one minute a row of plods might look kindly upon the trashing of government buildings and massed criminal damage as if they were observing a village fete and then the next they’ re laying into injured protesters on the ground with their batons like a bunch of savages.

One consequence of the inhumane ‘kettling’ strategy is that cracked heads and charged into crowds with mounted police in on corner of Parliament Square while letting unpoliced anarchy take place a few yards away. Some hooligan (obviously not a real student) took a spade to the historic leaded windows of the named Supreme Court. It was only when it was shown live on Sky News that the plods filed in to try and stop it.

Because the tactics of the police seem to depend so much on acting in large groups (surely the complete opposite of how a civilised country’s police force should behave) then they ignored the policing of the rest of London. The cowardly and thuggish tactic of ‘kettling’ ought to be up for public scrutiny but another piece of police incompetence will hopefully see heads roll at Scotland Yard — their unbelievable decision to pitch Prince Charles and Camilla into the middle of the chaos that they’d failed to control.

Sir Paul Stephenson (the Met Commissioner’s) response to his officers putting the heir to the throne in the middle of a riot on Regent Street was to praise the royal protection officers for not whipping out their guns and shooting the protesters. It’s a good job that the riot police in Parliament Square weren’t armed as they weren’t particularly restrained with their batons and shields when they got the chance.

I don’t have any sympathy for the kind of anarchist thugs and hooligans who came to protest armed with paint bombs and who covered their faces from the camera but efficient and intelligent policing should have dealt quickly with this element — not corral them into a confined space for hours so they could whip up the resentment of the genuine students who had been imprisoned by the kettling.

Here’s a video following some of the students that’s taken from The Guardian’s website.

As regards the issue at stake — increases in student fees — no matter what sophistry and spin the Lib Dems or the Tories try to put on it, it’s a terrible piece of legislation to have passed. To be saddled with £9k debt per year plus living costs is bound to deter anyone from going to university — it’s an investment that any sensible person would want to ensure paid off. Yet the paradox is that, following the last Labour government’s ridiculously arbitrary target of having 50% 0f school leavers at 18 go into higher education, it’s almost obligatory for young people to go to university if they want to get a decent job.

This contrasts with the proportion of the population going into higher education 25-30 years ago which, I think, was about 5% going into universities and another 5% or so going to polytechnics and other institutes of higher education (which now have all renamed themselves as universities).

This massive expansion of higher education in the 1990s always seemed to me to have the very cynical objective of reducing the youth unemployment figures — although the education would genuinely benefit the new students, it would remove them from the labour force. That the  students could be convinced to fund this themselves was quite a cynical masterstroke.

In many ways, the protests over tuition fees should be logically directed at Blair’s Labour party who first broke the principle of free teaching — and did so when public finances were nowhere near as tight as now. The vote yesterday served to remove the cap. However, Vince Cable and his dwindling band of Lib Dem friends can argue that while allowing fees to rise that they’ve brought in various measures to sweeten the pill but the degree of increase is startling — with no attempt to phase in the increases as a more politically astute (or cynical) government may have done.

What Cameron and Clegg also seem to have failed to realise is that, unlike their Oxbridge background, higher education isn’t elitist and that this rise in fees will affect a huge number of people — at least indirectly — and most of these will have been middle-class families who voted for them. And while £27,000 might be worth getting into debt for if you get an Oxford degree, then there’s much less logic if having to go into the same amount of debt to do a three year vocational course in, for example, nursing — which is now a graduate entry profession.

That said, I’m also quite a believer in education myself, having a degree from one of the redbrick universities, a master’s degree from one of the ex-polys and being a current student of both the Open University and another of the old polytechnics (both at master’s level).

Having been a recipient myself of student grants at a time when charging tuition fees would have been thought absurd, I have every sympathy with those who have to fund loans for subsistence as well as now paying exhorbitant tuition fees. However, I realise it’s not possible to provide access to higher education on the same terms for three or four times as many people as received it in the past.

As the Telegraph headline quoted at the start suggests, the latest policy is another in a long line of wrong directions — yes, we should have widened the number of people in higher education — but, for many, the type of education they will receive will make a dubious return on their fees.