Sunday, 20 November 2011

Were August’s riots just a taste of what is to come?

This week the first academic analysis of the riots in London, Birmingham and several other cities at the end of the summer was published; I doubt David Cameron will care all that much for what it has to say.

In ‘Mad Mobs and Englishmen’ Steve Reicher and Clifford Scott of, respectively, the universities of St Andrews and Liverpool predict that a refusal on the part of politician to pay attention to the real causes of the riots could make such social disorder more likely. They reject the knee jerk reaction that ‘straightforward criminality’ was solely to blame for the riots, claiming the real trigger was a sense of grievance and lack of opportunity felt by a growing number of young people.

Speaking to Professor Reicher said the riots began because ‘police failed to engage with local communities’ and that when politicians responded by calling for ‘water cannon and curfews’ to be deployed next time they risked ‘making a bad situation still worse.’ He went on to say that politicians could learn ‘much about our society if we stop, listen and learn from what people did on those four nights in August.’

His concerns were shared by Mark Seddon, director of the People’s Pledge campaign, who said in an interview given to that more unrest on the streets was possible if nothing was done to address the ‘democratic deficit’, adding that there was a real risk that ‘the state response will become more violent as the riots become more violent.’

Elsewhere director general of the CBI John Cridland warned this week that the UK economy was in a ‘bad place’ and that efforts by businesses to turn things around were being hampered by the speed with which the government was implementing its austerity policies. As understatements go that deserves some kind of prize, this week number of people out of work rose to 2.62 million, 1.02million of whom are aged 16 to 24; far from curing our economic woes austerity seems to be making things worse and could cause government borrowing to reach £100 billion above target by 2015.

In a speech to the Social Market Foundation reported by the BBC this week Labour leader Ed Milliband said that given the harm being done to the economy and to society by their policies it would be ‘the height of irresponsibility for the government to carry on regardless.’ He went on to urge them to ‘change course for the sake of our young people, change course for the sake of the country.’

Even the dear old Church of England got in on the act with eighteen bishops signing a letter printed in today’s Observer calling for the government to reconsider its plans for welfare reform because they risk tipping thousands of families into poverty. It is the sort of comment the church should have been making when the Occupy protest camp first appeared on its doorstep; but better late than never.

The unfortunate truth though is that none of this, not the reasoned analysis of academics, or the politely heartfelt concerns of senior clerics, or the appeal from the leader of the opposition to put the good of the country ahead of party politics will penetrate the shell of indifference surrounding the government. David Cameron and George Osborne have painted themselves into a corner over the economy and fixing ‘broken Britain’ and lack the strength of character to find a way out.

Instead we are treated to comments such as the following from Tory Party Chair Michael Fallon who told the BBC that ‘rather than speculation whether businesses are good and bad Ed Milliband should set out a credible plan to clear up the mess Labour left behind.’ Yes that’ll solve the problem, another spat at the despatch box between George Osborne and Ed Balls over who is to blame for the deficit; it won’t be at all like playing pass the parcel with a time bomb will it?

In his conference speech David Cameron twittered on at length about ‘leadership’; I doubt he knows what the word means, he certainly hasn’t shown any. If he were serious about solving the problems afflicting our society and economy he would be working to bring the three main political parties, business leaders, the unions and anyone else with a stake in Britain’s future together to address the problems we face and to find a solution that is to the benefit of everyone.

That is what real coalition government is about, not using scare tactic to prop up a first past the post electoral system that disenfranchises millions of voters and using the introduction of IER to rob millions more of their vote altogether; not roaring like a lion at the people tagged as the ‘underclass’ by the tabloid press then mewling like a kitten frightened by a thunderstorm whenever he deals with the city or the banks. He lacks the courage and understanding of the fears of ordinary Britons to do so and so in its place we will get instead is a vicious cycle of riots and retribution that in the end will harm everyone.

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