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.
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.