Ranting about riots

Whoulda-thought-it? Cast your media prejudices aside, because Peter Oborne has written one of the best pieces about the riots affecting London, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. It was published in yesterday’s Telegraph.

But I bet I’m not the only one to be getting quite fed up of the knee jerk political opportunism in much of the media coverage though. Harriet Sergeant’s Spectator piece was a prime example of what could have been good journalism soon descending into a blame the teachers, blame the left type rant; equally there have been plenty of silly pieces blaming the riots on the cuts or justifying criminality because of what the bankers have got away with, missing the point entirely that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Of course in these days of wall to wall media, all outlets will view the causes of the riots through their own particular lens.  But it seems entirely obvious that:

  1. rioting, looting and arson is ‘unacceptable’ (gee, thanks to our dear leaders and opposition for pointing that out, we the unwashed couldn’t have worked it out ourselves);
  2. there are plenty of well nuanced and considered views and comments coming from both left and right. And plenty of daft political opportunism too;
  3. it really seems to be a nonsensical hysterical media / silly politician trope to call for banning social media. i can’t even be bothered to engage with this;
  4. whatever the reason for the police tactics on Saturday night of standing and watching the initial looting, the widespread viewings of the TV broadcasts of this  must have encouraged the looting on Sunday and Monday;
  5. lots of people have always enjoyed a thrill from crowd mayhem: football hooliganism, stoking up unrest at protests, etc – this is NOT a new phenomenon. And, sadly, lots of people get involved  in mugging, burglary, horrific unthinking casual violence etc all the time. This, though, was a flashpoint or critical mass of mayhem + unthinking opportunism + planned criminality.
  6. so if we want to do something about [5] then we need BOTH short term effective deterrents (right wing lock ’em up & police ’em hard approach) AND medium and long term major fixes (left wing understand the causes / invest in communities approach).  Not have a craven political system doing only what they think will appease tabloid editors or win short term votes.

And crucially perhaps we need to stop thinking in terms of what seems or sounds ‘reasonable’ to middle class educated people. Because we’re dealing with a societal strata that i) is semi literate and very poorly qualified [an astounding 25% of pupils did not achieve the higher threshold of 5+ GCSEs at grade C or above in 2009/10 – source http://www.poverty.org.uk/26/index.shtml ] and ii) can’t / won’t [delete according to your political prejudices] get off benefits and into work.

I’ve been an employer myself and have sometimes been horrified at how difficult it can be trying to fill good, well paid entry level positions with clear potential for progression. It would be easy to think ‘young people just aren’t interested in working’.  But I’ve also worked in community regeneration, running New Start magazine for many years, and know that to be born a youngster in some families and communities is practically to have a predetermined fate; and the investment needed to ‘fix’ this takes longer than one or 2 political cycles to work.

Trouble is, as has been widely commented, the politicians have lost a great deal of moral authority as a result of the expenses and News International scandals; the police and the government seem to be in a stand off where neither want to compromise on police reform and budget cuts; and we seem to have absolutely no concern for the fact that creating a hugely unequal society benefits NO ONE – whether poor or rich, whether motivated well paid entrepreneur, public sector worker, struggling student from one parent family, or whoever; see Danny Dorling’s work and of course ‘The Spirit Level‘ for more.

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