London burns and communities reel from successive nights of violence and looting, rumour is rife, facts are scare. All we know that peaceful vigil held for Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police on Thursday night, somehow was hijacked by an angry mob and his death became the catalyst of nights of violence, which have now spread to other parts of the capital and country.
What do we hear from Labour politicians? Calls for calm? Space for the IPCC to carry out their investigation into the shooting? No, instead we have them lining up to link the violence to the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan.
Ken Livingstone was one of the first out of the blocks when he remarked on LabourList on Sunday evening:
The economic stagnation and cuts being imposed by the Tory government inevitably create social division. As when Margaret Thatcher imposed such policies during her recessions this creates the threat of people losing control, acting in completely unacceptable ways that threaten everyone, and culminating in events of the type we saw in Tottenham.
He was quickly followed by Diane Abbott MP who wrote in the Independent on Monday:
Haringey Council has lost £41m from its budget and has cut youth services by 75 per cent. The abolition of the education maintenance allowance hit Haringey hard, and thousands of young people at college depended on it. Again none of these things are reasons for rioting and looting. But with these and other cuts in jobs and services, it is difficult to see how areas like Tottenham can become less flammable soon.
Let’s ignore for the fact that Haringey Council actually spent more on Children and Young People [PDF] between 2010 and 2011 than they did in the previous year.
And let’s ignore the fact that Haringey Council has been Labour controlled since the early 1970s.
Lets also ignore a report by the Telegraph this March, that accuses Haringey Council of axing front line services when they could be trimming the fat.
Yes let’s ignore all that and lets pin the blame on The Coalition and its deficit reduction programme. That’s a reasonable justification for rioting… right?
Wrong! The riots and unrest in Tottenham point to a much deeper problem of police-community relations.
For this some blame must lie with the Mayor’s office, which together with the Metropolitan Police Authority overseas the policing strategy for London. But most of it rests with local police commanders in the trouble spots for failing to reassure the communities they serve. It would also seem that to some extent, that the rumour-mill, has overtaken the facts surrounding the shooting of Mark Duggan and that criminal as well as political opportunists have seized an opportunity to reap havoc.
Social media and mobile phone messaging may have allowed these rumours to spread unchecked and inspired a disaffected generation to lose their heads. But no amount of disaffection should lead you to think that stealing a TV from Curry’s is a legitimate form of protest.
The bottom line is much as opportunistic Labour politicians would like to paint the riots as some sort of product of the Coalition’s policy to reduce the budget deficit. The civil disorder we are witnessing in London has far more to do with local issues, local politics and local policing. A sorry state of affairs for which the Labour Party cannot escape their share of the blame.