The last couple of evening riots in London, starting in Tottenham and working their way across the capital, seemingly sparing no town in its wake has left us in shock. People are being injured, the police and innocent bystanders as well as the rioters and looters. Again and again though, the question that people keep asking is “What’s going on?”
They are right to ask. Unfortunately, the riots have occurred while a high number of our leading politicians are out of the country. David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, they all could have spoken with authority on the riots but none were here. John Prescott has been on the bandwagon, #WheresTheGovernment has been trending on Twitter and people have been crying unprofessionalism. Do we think, though, that the riots would stop if Nick walked into Tottenham?
In fact, these riots are an infinitessimally complex pot of factors. Nobody is singularly to blame. It’s not the politicians going on holiday, it’s not the police being out of touch with local communities, it’s not a dodgy shooting, it’s not a lack of respect among these people, it’s all of those things in small part. Jodie McIntyre has been tweeting some rather controversial messages. You may remember him as the wheelchair-bound protestor that contemplated legal action against the police after being taken out of his wheelchair during the Tuition Fee protests. He was previously seen on the roof of the Millbank Conservative party HQ, several flights of stiars above ground. Now he wants everybody to know he’s proud of the rioters and we should all rise up to wreak havoc to rage against the establishment.
What is the irk of many of these rioters? Some blame the police. I think this leads us on to an interesting point. I think that, in the year 2011, you don’t have to be a card-carrying SWP member or an ex-convict to distrust the police. A worryingly large number take it further and hate the police.
None of these rioters are justified in what they do but it would be a mistake to ignore the opportunity to ask “What went wrong?”. I think we could do worse than to bring in some much overdue police reform to make the police more accountable to local communities. Read Jeremy Browne’s essay on Police Reform in ‘Britain After Blair‘ if you’re interested in how the police could be given the strength and decision-making capacity they need to deal effectively with crime and anti-social behaviour in a thoroughly liberal way. The problem can be summarised as police forces across the country being increasingly detached from local communities and following rigid doctrines from Whitehall. I have yet to be satsified by an argument against the idea of Elected Police Commissioners or why they are not in line with the liberal idea of connecting local police forces more closely with communities. Perhaps if the people of Tottenham had trusted their police forces a little more and felt they were a little more accountable, things might have happened differently.