Jo Swinson MP writes: Determination, courage and kindness in response to riots shows true British society

Everyone across our country has been horrified at the scenes unfolding on our TV screens, and, for some, outside their homes and workplaces.

Watching from Glasgow, I was certainly relieved that the riots did not spread to Scotland, but I think it is unhelpful for anyone, especially the First Minister, to express any feeling of superiority about that. My constituents are feeling solidarity with the victims of the violence, and with everyone who is afraid in their own community as a result of the riots, not gloating that this hasn’t been happening in Scotland.

The question that everyone is struggling with, of course, is why? The behaviour we’ve seen is a total anathema to so many law-abiding citizens. We won’t find an answer to that question in today’s debate, because it is not a simple one.

For there to be so many individuals acting so destructively in a mob mentality, there has to be a wide mix of motivations. There’s the professional thugs and organised criminals who seek any opportunity to hijack events or protests. There’s those driven by greed and materialism, wanting the trainers or the TV – but not it seems, the literature from Waterstones. There’s those who are aimless, bored, or thrill-seeking. And those who are doing it because they think they can get away with it. What they have in common, is that they lack a values system, or moral code as the member for Tottenham put it, that would kick in and stop them in their tracks, recognising that this kind of behaviour is just wrong.

I’m very glad the Prime Minister mentioned that he would be seeking advice on tackling gangs from Strathclyde Police among others. Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan has done inspiring work in his Violence Reduction Unit over many years. Interestingly, he speaks most passionately about the need for early intervention, the need to work intensively with families with young babies.

The Pupil Premium will provide extra funding and support to children of school age, and the extension of free nursery provision to 2 year olds from deprived backgrounds is good news, but we should be looking to do more even earlier.

Time is short, and the issue I want to focus my comments on today is that while in the past week we have seen very ugly examples of what human beings can do, we have also seen the opposite.

The response to the riots has demonstrated the very best of human nature, and has shown a British society we can truly be proud of.

From the quiet dignity of Tariq Jahan, grieving for his son, but urging unity: “Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community… Calm down and go home – please.”

To the feisty courage of Pauline Pearce, Lady P, the so-called “Heroine of Hackney”, who has become a YouTube sensation after she was filmed shaking her walking stick while berating the rioters, before fearlessly stopping them beating up a photographer.

And there’s the generosity of ordinary people, who have donated piles of clothes and personal items for those who have tragically lost their homes, who are checking on elderly neighbours, and getting stuck into clearing up as part of the Broom Army.

It’s a good point to mention social media, which has in some quarters been blamed for the organisation of the riots. Government should be very cautious about any blanket restrictions on social media, because the last few days have also shown it to be a force for good.

The RiotCleanUp website and Twitter account has attracted almost 100,000 followers, encouraging and co-ordinating people to volunteer with brooms and binbags, clearing up the mess.

On PledgeBank, the RebuildReeves campaign has had 400 people so far donate to the cause of recreating the 160-year-old furniture store, House of Reeves, destroyed in flames.

KeepAaronCutting has taken up the case of 89-year old barber Aaron Biber whose shop was ransacked, and has so far raised nearly £6,000 to help him rebuild it.

The youth who was so shockingly mugged while people pretended to help has been the focus of a similar site.

Then there’s the Facebook groups attracting thousands of followers, Let’s Not Have A Riot in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield….

Of course many of these initiatives have been taken by young people, in a positive counter to the media image of teen rioters out of control.

Young and old. Black, white & Asian. Muslim, Christians, Sikhs… all races, religions and communities have united in a strong display not only of condemnation, but willingness to help and do their bit.

This generosity, determination, courage, hard work, and the spontaneous acts of kindness – this is more reflective of true British society.

This is the reason to be positive about UK society – this is the powerful alternative to hate and destruction.

The Independent had a characteristically thoughtful piece by Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids’ Company, who has more experience of helping to turn around the lives of our most marginalised young people than almost anyone else.

Those who committed these crimes must be brought to justice and face the consequences of their actions, the force of the law.

And in the long term, the challenge for us all, is that we do not write these people off. While serving their sentence for what they have done, we also need to help them to rehabilitate, to learn to value and contribute positively to our communities, and see for themselves the pointlessness of destroying them.

Yes, we have seen the worst side of human nature in the past few days. But in the courage, dignity, kindness and solidarity of the British people, we have also seen the best of human nature. We should remember that is part of the answer.

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7 Comments

  • I’d suggest the only thing we can say with certainty is that the riots took place in areas of the country, all with higher than average levels of deprivation – a piece of evidence that I have heard very, very few commentators or politicians mention. Beyond that, and how this might be a factor or proxy for factors, explaining the individuals behaviour is extremely complex and not one I feel qualified to comment upon.

  • Jo Swinson a British Scottish MP should know better than to use the term British when refering only to England.

    Would she refer to Scotland ONLY as Britain? I as an Englishman find it racially offensive.

    And as for showing the best of “Britain” maybe should do more to tackle racial attacks against English people in her own country before coming to England to make assessments about what is good and bad here.

    If she wants evidence she should check the press occasionally http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1786002

  • You say that ‘these people’ should not be written off and be ‘rehabilitated’. How can evicting people, throwing them on the streets, creating more poverty and putting them into the clutches of private landlords achieve this?
    I find the speed of the court cases disturbing, boding ill for the future of justice for us all and started wondering when transportation would begin. It all seemed very Dickensian.

  • Frances Alexander 13th Aug '11 - 11:36am

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog, Jo.
    50 years ago I trained as a midwife, following my SRN training. I married and had 2 children. while they were young, I ran a private nursing agency and interviewed over 500 young women, wishing to return to nursing following having children. Most had lost confidence. I think I did the NHS a good service by helping these women back into simple nursing work and into more challenging situations.
    I had the distinct impression that it was the unsatisfactory experience of childbirth that festered into self doubt and lack of confidence. This probably started when the hospitals and obstetricians took over the birthing process!
    I believe that young men and women should be made aware that every child should be a wanted child, that the birth should be as natural as possible but with the attributes of modern medicine not far away. that each parent should have help over those first few years of the child’s life as Parents as First Teachers offers. Started in USA, its outcomes are well documented – and New Zraland, I understand, offers the service to every family. in UK, you may find out more at http://www.paft.co.uk
    Confident parenting would make so much difference to our society

  • I wish that the people we saw with brooms would pay a visit to Westminster, Scotland Yard and Wapping and do a bit of sweeping there, preferably not sweeping under the carpet.

  • cynicalHighlander 13th Aug '11 - 9:56pm

    Over 300 MPs stole from the taxpayers yet were allowed to pay their loot back to avoid conviction yet a mother of two who received a pair of stolen shorts gets 5 months showing the amount of corruption going on at the top of society is endemic and goes unchecked.

    How much did Nick Clegg’s parents pay the German professor to get off from destroying his rare cactii collection?

    Rather than taking a side swipe at Scotland’s First Minister by misrepresenting what he said try standing up for your constituents as trying to run with other unionist politicians does you no favours at all.

  • …”work intensively with families with young babies”, “we should be looking to do more even earlier” – how about restoring the health in pregnancy grant for a start ?

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