Opinion: Leading Labour figures guilty of the worst kind of opportunism

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.

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  • Hiding from the failures of the government, including that of your own leader, by throwing abuse at the Opposition, who by definition aren’t in charge is shameless opportunism.

    How will the Coalition’s plan of cuts to state infrastructure and those parts of civil society not in the private sector make things better, not worse?

    It is time for a rethink of government.

    And with the Prime Minister proposing alarming assaults on liberty, time for the Liberal Democrats to finally get a spine and stand up for themselves.

  • We all know the immediate cause of these problems – the armed drug gangs who feel so strong that they will react to the police infringing on their territory, and as they have now shown, will hit back. That’s a law and order problem. What is the cause of the armed drug gangs? Insert your favourite political/sociological analysis here.

  • George W. Potter, you are absolutely right that Labour share the blame on this, as does every government of the last 50 years. But you guys are in charge now and your chosen strategy (at complete odds with your manifesto) of cutting the funds available to civil society and local government is not a solution which I have any confidence in.

  • And let’s also ignore that you are quoting Dianne Abbott entirely out of context in exactly the same way some moronic Tory backbencher did. You can tell the quality of people by the company they keep.

    So who’s the political opportunist?

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '11 - 12:46pm

    I’m sure this is not the time for tribal point scoring. I watched Diane Abbott on the box, mostly what she said was pretty uncontroversial, whatever underlying pressures existed, the behaviour of the rioters must not be tolerated. She was proposing a curfew as a means of bringing back control. Not sure how practical it would be – need to prepare nearby temporay detention centres at short notice for curfew centres/what is the legal position – but certainly an idea to be born in mind. And to be fair, it’s a lot safer than the widely debated use of baton rounds or water cannon. Actually, if in some truly desperate situation, the police and the Home Office ever had to take the decision to deploy such extreme measures, you would actually like figures such as Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Ken Livingstone, etc., to be happy to stand in front of the camera to say that they had been consulted and had full confidence in the Home Office and the Police. You certainly won’t get that if you get their backs up.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 1:04pm

    Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone are not the only ones I could criticise. Last night there was an angry exchange between Michael Gove and Harriet Harperson on Newsnight last night, this was after Harriet Harman implied there was a link between the unrest and the increase in tuition fees and the scrapping(reforming?) of the EMA.

    Diane Abbott made her link in a very soft manner and I can understand people dislking me for singling her out for criticism, but she was offering part of a narrative which seems to be permeating senior Labour politicians to link the disorder to the Coalitions policies and that is political opportunism, to call it out is not.

  • David Parkes


    You know the etymology of that insult? It’s a right wing creation aimed at mocking Harman’s public declaration of support for equalities legislation. Shameful to see it from a so called liberal.

  • Allan Heron 10th Aug '11 - 1:21pm

    @David – it’s a narrative that was used by Nick Clegg during the election as well. That there weren’t any riots going on at that time – just the mere matter of trying to collect votes – doesn’t make it any less valid. So are you suggesting that Clegg was engaging in the “worst kinds of opportunism” as well?

  • There seem to be two contradictory points put forward in the post: first, that more has been spent on young people and, in contrast, that front line services are being axed.

    Also, don’t Diane Abbott’s comments largely reflect Nick Clegg warning about Greek-style riots in the 2010 Election campaign?

  • “At a rather brutal level, people who leave school without a decent set of qualifications – including English and Maths to a reasonable standard – are always going to struggle to make a success of their lives.”

    But GCSE pass rates for both Maths and English were 98%+ and have risen every year for 20+ years

  • Kevin Colwill 10th Aug '11 - 2:18pm

    Calling the expression of legitimate concern “opportunism” is an age old trick. It’s the sort of thing that makes me switch off from politicians and wannabe politicians of all Parties.

    No – government policy did not cause the riots. Yes- the government policy, cuts if you will, has untended consequences in adding more fuel to pre-existing feelings of nihilism and disconnection with wider society.

  • Keith Browning 10th Aug '11 - 2:20pm

    A simple one line law making it illegal to cover your face in a public place would make all these protestors/vandals/looters think twice.

  • Kevin Colwill 10th Aug '11 - 2:29pm

    @ Daniel Lewis – your “funky thought”, I wouldn’t mention it to anyone who’s lost their home or business if I were you.

    There may be talented comedians out there who can tread the fine line and make funny observations about these events…you ain’t one of them.

  • Kevin Colwill 10th Aug '11 - 2:34pm

    @Keith Browning…I see your logic but I think you’re wrong. Leaving aside obvious issues about burhkas etc, .I really don’t think the looters would be at all concerned about such a law.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 3:54pm

    @ G yes I’m aware of the etymology. However, I understood it slightly differently. However, if it offends you I withdraw the remark and apologise.

  • David Parkes, it doesn’t offend me, however it is a shibboleth of a certain political persuasion that I did not think would be found in the Lib Dems.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 4:09pm

    @ Allan Heron – yes I’m aware Nick made a prediction that a Tory Government would result in rioting in the streets. It was upon watching a re-run of a video of that video that I agonised over this article and nearly withdrew it at the 11th hour.

    I suspect Nick regrets that comment now, because if he stands by it it means Lib Dems in government have been rather ineffectual at tempering the Conservatives. However, recalling the comment, I do remember thinking at the time that Nick was scaremongering and that it wasn’t the right thing to have said.

    It has however, proved an accurate prediction and I’m not sure where it leaves us, except to say that riots were triggered by anger at the police, not by government policy announcements. They seem to have been fuelled by a mob mentality that has developed because the police were slow to respond decisively.

    I suppose also there is something to be said for the social psychologist perspective that rioting makes the powerless feel powerful. And that the rioters have primarily been identified as disenfranchised youths. However, 13 years of Labour rule did little to relieve the inequalities in society, so if these inequalities play any part in the troubles, they are not solely a product of Coalition policies. Especially as they are predominately occurring in areas with Labour Councils and Labour had 13 years in Westminster to get this right. So criticising the Coalition is and remains political opportunism.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 4:21pm

    @’g’ if it doesn’t offend you then what’s the problem?

    My personal take on Harman is that she is not interested in equality. Far from it, her record shows that she put forward proposals for positive discrimination in the workplace. As a liberal I have no issues opposing that. The ‘Har-person’ jibe for me was just a way of mocking someone who took equalities legislation to the opposite extreme when they end up discriminating against a majority to favour a minority. That’s how I’ve always understood it and applied it. No other implications intended.

  • David Allen 10th Aug '11 - 5:00pm

    Yes, when Labour politicians make valid points about the effects of social deprivation and the way it has been exacerbated by Coalition policies, they should think hard about whether their words might encourage rioting by appearing to provide an excuse for it.

    When Coalition politicians seize on their opponents’ words, and attempt to turn those words against them for the sake of making political propaganda, they are being blatantly opportunistic. They should think hard about whether their words might encourage rioting by enraging the young and deprived.

    Politicians, on both sides, who needs them? All they do is stoke up trouble and make things worse.

  • David Parkes, as I said it’s shibboleth of a certain political persuasion, it is also an attack on the person, rather than the argument and thus not very constructive.

  • Well I don’t think you can link these riots directly to the cuts, but I don’t think Harmon, Abbot or Livingstone were being politically opportunistic. All them have always said this kind of thing. In Livingstone’s (more popular with Lib Dem voters and until recently the party than the current mayor) case he ran London during numerous protest some potentially as violen these riots t for years, unlike Boris Johnson.
    My problem as a social liberal is that I think right of centre social policies, their economic failure and absent leadership are nothing to be proud of. And I certainly don’t think they add to social stability.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Aug '11 - 5:27pm

    “The civil disorder we are witnessing in London has far more to do with local issues, local politics and local policing.”

    So what’s your explanation for the disorder in towns and cities across England?

    What we are witnessing is the result of a small but (apparently) extremely powerful and well-organised category of young people who have no respect for any kind of authority whatsoever, from their parents, through teachers, to the police. This ought to be very obvious by now – in fact several of the rioters have cheerfully boasted as such in interviews with the BBC.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Aug '11 - 5:36pm

    Paul McKeown: “…if in some truly desperate situation, the police and the Home Office ever had to take the decision to deploy such extreme measures [as a curfew], you would actually like figures such as Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Ken Livingstone, etc., to be happy to stand in front of the camera to say that they had been consulted and had full confidence in the Home Office and the Police.”

    Funny, but I don’t remember Lib Dem politicians declaring “full confidence” in the Home Office and the Police when the latter judged the terrorist threat to be so serious as to warrant the power of 28 days detention.

    In fact Paul, given the ferocity of your anti-Labour-“authoritarian” rhetoric in the past, I’m really quite astonished to see you now proposing a curfew!!! These issues seem so much more complex when in power, don’t they?

  • This article is just very low, substandard, political gutter snipping. Just setting up straw man arguments. It would not be out of place on Conservative Home, or some other Tory propaganda site. I didn’t realize the coalition also extended to party communications.

  • Why did it take three whole days before our government decided it was serious enough to do anything? Why did Clegg, Camerone, Osborne and Boris choose to stay on holiday when leadership was needed?

    The whole political class is out of touch. There is massive corruption in the political system, the police and the press. How can we expect our young to act with complete restraint and civility when our “leaders” are just as corrupt and dodgy? Nobody takes responsibility for themselves any more – Labour blames the coalition, the coalition blames Labour.

    Now is not the time for you to be pointing fingers – now is the time to do something. Yesterday with Cameron and Clegg and Boris on the streets, well, it just felt and looked like a cheap photo op. Our political class by and large have never had normal jobs and have never had to choose between heating and food in the wintertime. They are so removed from us, and sheltered from the cuts and bad economy, that I don’t consider them representatives of any sort.

    But again I ask why did it take days for anyone to do anything? Do Clegg, Cameron and Osborne care that little for the people of this country?

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '11 - 7:11pm


    Actually, you don’t read very well, do you? I didn’t propose a curfew, Diane Abbott did. Nor did I say it was necessarily a good idea, either, indeed I pointed out, en passant, a couple of obvious problems with the idea. Nor indeed did I say that I thought that the situation called for drastic measures such as a curfew, the use of water cannon or baton rounds, indeed my words were “if in some truly desperate situation”, indicating to those capable of accurate comprehension of written English that I felt that that was not yet the case.

    As regards Labour’s draconian tabloid triangulation, it was almost entirely pointless, self defeating and unjust, culminating in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, but not without needlessly raising tensions with and within our country’s various Muslim populations along the way, or wasting billions on id cards, surveillance schemes, search and stop protocols, or the robocopisation of our police forces that lead in no iota to the increased safety of our nation.

    I would point out that the police response to the current unrest has lead to zero deaths at the hands of the police. Various uninformed talking heads have advocated drastic measures such as the deployment of water cannon, but the most senior police officers have pointed out that is entirely futile to use it against individuals running or cycling quickly, as the utility of the water cannon lies in rapidly dispersing concentrated static crowds. In contrast, the use of mounted police, armoured police vehicles, police on cycles and helicopters, the use of intelligence, rapid arrests and processing by the courts is preferred, and is turning the tide. A tough response is called for, not a stupid response, nor a Peterloo massacre either.

    Mostly the response by politicians, whether Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem has been entirely sensible, calling for a strong response to bring the situation under control, without unnecessary fuss, and without uncalled for tribal point scoring. There are always some people who can’t stop themselves: little to contribute apart from egotistical whataboutery.

  • I think the Coalition have been naive to think that there would be no social unrest of any kind. I genuinely get the feeling many of them now feel entirely out of their depth; I think Cameron & Boris genuinely thought it wasn’t as bad as it was.

    The 30-year experiment with cutting massive numbers of jobs and throwing those people on the dole for generations – without creating enough sustainable, decent-paying jobs to replace the ones lost – has been an utter failure. Both Tories and New Labour are responsible for this. Of course youth will loot: one’s status is determined quite often by one’s possessions, especially by the young. Our whole system is based on limitless consumption. The measure of a man is no longer his kindness or intelligence. Rather it is how much money he has acquired, how much “stuff” he owns. Education, compassion and kindness are no longer virtues to aspire to. Letting the needs of the markets take precedence over people and their needs is not working. Stepping on the backs of those weaker than you is now the accepted norm in the UK. The Coalition government and Labour before them lead the way with this: it is, for example, acceptable to make those with the least bear the greatest burden in terms of the cuts. We choose to take from the disabled rather than raise taxes for the rich. The rich are protected and have ways around *everything*, anyway. And LibDems, like all other parties, are going along with this. The establishment is making the poorest pay for the mistakes of politicians and bankers, who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. What kind of example is that setting?

    We have created an economic system based purely on material wealth and consumption, where “greed is good”. The money continues to move upwards. The people who screwed our economy and people’s livelihoods by running a massive, fraudulent pyramid scam were not punished – in fact, their bonuses rose. Politicians who stole millions got a few months in jail at best. Most just got a slap on the wrist. The police have been shown to be deeply corrupt in the past few weeks. There is also mass criminality in the media. People in public life rarely take responsibility for the own actions so how can we expect the general citizenry to act differently? Kids’ role models are gangsta rappers and their bling, overpaid sports stars and z-list celebrities. All so shallow. If the goal in life is to be rich for the sake of it, or popular for the sake of it, what else do we expect?

    Our society has become rotten from the very bottom all the way up to the politicians of all main parties. We need a change, badly. If things stay as unequal, harsh and if the interests of the oligarchy continue to take precedence over the average man, then we are doomed.

  • Paul McKeown, on a day when the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats is threatening to make rioters homeless it seems a bit odd to refer to Labour’s authoritarianism. I also don’t recall Tony Blair sanctioning the use of water cannons and plastic bullets in response to riots, and he oversaw a few, but David Cameron has done so and there has been nary a peep of concern from the Lib Dems.

    I think the Tories are going to lurch very hard to the right, and it will be interesting to see what happens to the Lib Dems.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 9:32pm

    @David Allen – I don’t think Labour are making fair points, we keep forgetting this kicked off because a man was shot by police and the aftermath of his death was seemingly handled poorly by the police the IPCC and (I think it was Brian Paddick who suggested) community leaders. The rumour-mill got out of hand and following a sluggish police response to the violence and it spread from there.

    @Stuart Mitchell – When I wrote this piece the violence hadn’t spread to other cities. The Editorial Team at LDV ammended my article so it sounded more up to date than it actually was, this piece was penned on Monday afternoon.

    Is it all down to the shooting of Mark Duggan. No, clearly there are other factors at play, mostly poor police community relations. Do I think social deprivation plays a part? Yes I think we can say that if people are left feeling like they have no future and no prospects then rioting can feel tremendously empowering in the short term, until of course you look around a few days later and realise you trashed your own neighbour and there’s still no money to fix it. However do I think its fair of Labour to link the violence with Coalition policies when they presided over 10 years of economic boom, No I think that’s grossly opportunistic and is washing their hands of their responsibility for the sorry state of affairs we are in now.

    I’m not going to sit silently whilst Labour pretend the last 13 years didn’t happen and then sit high and pretty in opposition and blame the last 12 months for everything that is wrong.

  • Harman is a joke, what is it, crash into a car whilst talking on the phone and then stride off without leaving her details saying “you know where you can get me”. What right does she have to pontificate about lawbreakers?

  • Paul McKeown 10th Aug '11 - 10:40pm

    Dear Mrs. ‘g’,

    Sorry to inform you, but plastic baton rounds were initially approved for use by police forces in England and Wales in June 2001, the Home Secretary being David “Machine Gun” Blunkett. I understand that they were used a bit more than 40 thousand times in Northern Ireland, on 14 occasions causing fatal injury. As far as armed interventions are concerned, they are therefore relatively safe, but nevertheless by no means entirely so. Anyone at all rational will only call for their use under entirely appropriate conditions in response to the most grave situations imaginable that could be faced in law enforcement. Regarding water cannon, David Cameron, as I have read, has stated that they will be made available at the request of a Chief Constable at 24 hours notice; as any logical person will realise, that means they certainly will not be used in immediate response to any specific tactical situation, but a firebreak is put in the process, requiring some serious thought to be given beforehand. In practise it means they almost certainly will not be used, unless the prevailing situation dramatically deteriorates.

    Regarding Nick Clegg’s comments, I should first off point out that I’m not his press officer. If you need clarification of his comments, you will get better satisfaction by addressing your communication directly to him. His comments were in response to a question regarding the e-petition which reads, “No taxpayer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them,” and specifically to reports that certain London councils are threatening to evict tenants who have participated in the current unrest. Social housing is very strictly limited in availability, there are enormous waiting lists, its allocation is regulated to some degree by statute, including the application of reasonable preference criteria, which specifically allow social landlords to exclude those who have behaved anti-socially. What Nick Clegg has said is therefore fully in accord with longstanding law, which devolves responsibility to social landlords, including councils. It is also fully in accord with popular wisdom, that a rat doesn’t shit in its own nest.

    As regards your speculation, entirely unfounded as far as I am aware, it is fully in accord with the norm currently held by the Labour Party’s Press Office, which is to speculate continually about the end of the Coalition and the death of the Lib Dems. It saves the Labour Party from actually having to come up with policies or, even a philosophy, indeed, that can be espoused by all its membership, without losing popular support. Further comment is entirely superfluous.

  • David Parkes 10th Aug '11 - 11:01pm

    @Alistair – So you’ve never broken the law? (Being politically opportunistic for a moment) After 13 years of Labour and their prolific rate of creating new offences. I suspect this is highly unlikely.

    For balance, I myself broke the law many times and I spent 9 of the 13 years living abroad. (1) Forgot to buy a train ticket. (2) Attended the Parliament Square Protest without being “authorised” (3) Was drunk in a public place, (most Saturdays). Whilst I hasten to add I was never arrested for any of these offences, you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to break our countries laws even without Labour in power.

  • I agree that Labour spent 13 years doing very little to increase opportunities for young people in deprived areas. Which many of us criticized all the time they were in office. So why exactly are liberal minded people supposed to round on politicians for alleged opportunism and yet applaud the sanctioning of the use of plastic bullets, water cannons and god knows what else because it looks good to the editors of the Daily Mail? . All of which would just about be tolerable if the economic mess the coalition were claiming to clear up wasn’t actually getting worse.
    The fact is that whilst the cuts did not directly result in these riots, they have fueled a background hum of civil unrest.

  • I usually listen to Dianne Abbott and want to throw things at the TV, but when I saw her on TV she was actually calling for support for the police and stated she would support giving them the the resources and powers they would need in the short term. Also, in the quote you use she clearly said that none of the things were an excuse for rioting and I think her comment “But with these and other cuts in jobs and services, it is difficult to see how areas like Tottenham can become less flammable soon” is also probably spot on. We can never stop the hardened criminals from taking advantage of any social unrest. We can however affect the normal people who often unwittingly give those determined to cause trouble a platform from which to do so.

    You are correct that Police community relations always play a part in these types of incidents but that does not lesson her points. Also the coalition, whose plans have been independantly projected to cost 10,000 + police jobs, will not be doing so at at what most people would consider to be a sensible time. Is stretching police resources even more thinly going to allow more or less time for community liaison ?????

    Cameron has today been talking about the “visible” police presence not being cut. Yet a recurrent theme of these riots seems to be their is too little visible presence. In fact in opposition he was fond of saying he would get more police “on the streets”. The coalition cannot hide from these issues. I don’t like important decisions to be made too quickly, but I think a message that police cuts were to be reviewed over the next 3 – 4 months would be a good thing right now.

    The coalition are not to blame for the social conditions in our cities and nor entirely are the last the Labour government. Those of us who were old enough to remember the 80’s riots will remember many of the same statements regarding society in breakdown. This is a problem of several generations and will take several more to fix. And it can only be fixed if there is a true cross party political will. The Thatcher / Major years were all about self attainment and unfortunately many were left behind. The Blair years were little better as we sed towards some high tech, high education valhalla that ignored those who missed the bus to get their.

    In the short term we need a comprehensive police stategy, and unless things calm down soon that may need some measures that those of us of a centre / centre left find uncomfortable supporting (and I discount the authoritarian types that form part of the Labour party who feel no such discomfort) . Longer term we really need to look at some of the messages coming out of Government and have a close look at some of our inner city areas.

    Tories are want to twist some government measures to appeal to their own supporters. Not everyone on benefits is a scrounger and not all benefits should be cut and the Lib dems in government need to be very vocal in their condemnation when Tories put this slant on some policies. If people feel society has no stake in them they are less likely to want a stake in society……

  • “What right does she have to pontificate about lawbreakers?”

    What right do Cameron and Johnson have, when they used to trash restaurants in their Bullingdon Club days? “Oh, they were young then” is one excuse I’ve read a number of times from Tories on internet forums. It’s no excuse, just as it’s no excuse for the vandals, most of whom are young.

    Economy contracting, high youth unemployment, savage cuts in spending , rioting in inner cities, and a royal wedding which is supposed to raise our happiness factor. Take your pick – 1981 or 2011 – but on both occasions we were little more than a year into a right-wing ideological Tory administration (let’s not pretend that this is a coalition).

    2012 won’t be like 1982 though. There won’t be a Falklands conflict to save the Tory hides this time, and if there was one we couldn’t defend the islands any longer – thanks to Tory cuts. The VAT rise for which there was no mandate, public sector job cuts, services being removed or privatised for a fast buck, massive fuel price rises, people being told they’ve got to work longer and pay in more for a smaller pension, the trebling of tuition fees – there are very many angry people out there, and this won’t be the last time it boils over.

    If the Liberal Democrats had any concern for the nation, they’d pull the plug on this right-wing government which they are allowing to destroy the fabric of our society. And Cameron used to campaign on the theme of “Broken Britain”! After a year of that clueless, incompetent idiot as PM, Britain isn’t broken, it’s shattered, as the nightly TV pictures show.


  • @David Parkes

    It has however, proved an accurate prediction and I’m not sure where it leaves us, except to say that riots were triggered by anger at the police, not by government policy announcements.

    The Tottenham riots were triggered by anger at the police, the rest of them were triggered by copycat behaviour, but triggered is the operative word here. A sudden bout of physical exertion might trigger a heart attack, but only if you have an underlying medical condition. You don’t get widespread rioting and looting on this scale without root causes that go much deeper.

    The alienation of (particularly) young people with few employment prospects and who feel devalued by society has been there for a long time. Society offers them little except a basic allowance to keep them fed, clothed and housed.

    Successive Labour and Tory governments have failed to convince young people on poor estates that society values them. I suspect that the real reason for this failure is that much of society doesn’t value them. They see weekly headlines labelling them as lazy scrounging scum or menacing hood-wearing criminals.

    On top of this, many have recently seen cuts to their benefits, the EMA, sports centres, youth services, and charities who work with them to offer an alternative to gang culture. And why the collective belt-tightening? Because a bunch of mega-rich bankers screwed up royally and now we’re all paying the price. Yes, I know it’s not as simple as that – but that’s the perception among the non-rioting majority and I doubt the rioters have a more nuanced grip of macro-economic subtleties.

    Are these factors the fault of the coalition? No, most are not. The credit crunch that made cuts necessary certainly isn’t. But it’s willfully naive to deny that cutting things young people value and wagging our fingers at them to go and get jobs that don’t exist doesn’t help. Rising unemployment almost always leads to rising crime and unrest, in all countries.

    Ironically, David Cameron seemed to understand many of these issues – his infamous ‘hug-a-hoodie’ speech was a reasonable summary of some of the underlying causes of these riots. Sadly, he appears to have lost touch with his inner hoodie-hugger, in favour of ringfencing benefits for the over-65s who he hopes will reward him with votes at the next election. Whereas young people don’t vote because they feel alienated, so politicians ignore them, so they feel more alienated and don’t vote, so politicians ignore them…

  • Kevin Colwill 11th Aug '11 - 12:10am

    @ Daniel Lewis…you’re right I was a bit harsh. You made a fatuous, unoriginal and unfunny joke which you decided to distribute to a wider audience. You are, however, quite right in saying I don’t know you and it’s possible that your friends find you a very funny bloke.

    I withdraw my comment as I would never deliberately seek to offend anyone’s sensibilities.

  • “What right do Cameron and Johnson have, when they used to trash restaurants in their Bullingdon Club days? “Oh, they were young then” is one excuse I’ve read a number of times from Tories on internet forums. It’s no excuse, just as it’s no excuse for the vandals, most of whom are young.”

    That is an excellent point. If I were Labour I would be highlighting this and showing that in our society there can be redemption for young idiots who run loose – its practically a prerequisite for the upper echelons of the Tory Establishment although I’m not sure joining that qualifies as redemption or purgatory.

    I do struggle to take seriously the idea that the Coalition government has in the course of a year fundamentally changed the nature, value system, beliefs etc of this subset of today’s youth who have been looting. I think Thatcher created the underclass – but New Labour cemented it in place.

  • “And Cameron used to campaign on the theme of “Broken Britain”! After a year of that clueless, incompetent idiot as PM, Britain isn’t broken, it’s shattered, as the nightly TV pictures show.”

    I agree with this depiction of Cameron, the Tories are a shower. Unfortunately that clueless incompetent Cameron got more votes and seats than the clueless incompetent Brown, and I think you’ll agree that a coalition was better than complete paralysis now that the world economy and our economy in particular have made us so vulnerable. Do feel free to give him lots of stick over his Hug a Hoodie campaign.

  • David Parkes 11th Aug '11 - 5:45am


    “The fact is that whilst the cuts did not directly result in these riots, they have fueled a background hum of civil unrest.”

    One point that I think was lost , or that I didn’t make particularly well in my original piece as events were still unfolding at the time it was written is that I am not oblivious to the idea that there are underlying social causes which are factors in the unrest. However to blame these factors alone is as much as simplification as to ignore them. .

    Furthermore, where social factors play a part in the unrest, then they haven’t developed overnight and I do object to Labour criticising Coalition Policies whilst singularly failing to take responsibility for their failure to address these issues during their 13 years in power. Or to tackle them during their long-term and continued control of the local councils where the trouble-spots have flared.

    This second point is the central thrust of my argument and the charge against Labour of political opportunism. Ignore the fact Labour did little to tackle the problems of social inequality for 13 years, that they left the country on the cusp of bankruptcy and now want to blame the Coalition for not spending money the country no-longer has, on problems of they failed to tackle.

  • Simon McGrath 11th Aug '11 - 6:03am

    ““What right do Cameron and Johnson have, when they used to trash restaurants in their Bullingdon Club days? “Oh, they were young then” is one excuse I’ve read a number of times from Tories on internet forums. It’s no excuse, just as it’s no excuse for the vandals, most of whom are young.””

    Any evidence for this?

  • I see Cameron and the Tories now blaming the absence of parental responsibility, given that they are determined to pull away the safety net of state responsibility for the most vulnerable I wonder what horror they are storing up for the future?

    I wonder too what of the Liberal Democrats and their arguments against authoritarianism? Cameron has promised us water cannons and plastic bullets, his fellow MPs demand more robust policing. Where is the liberal argument against the increase in the powers of the state to administer violence, and the encouragement of its instruments to do so?

  • It is going to be a very difficult time as l(L)iberals. And by the way, let’s not pretend there are no authoritarians in or supporting our party. It is going to be quite difficult also, to listen to Nick Clegg’s words on the likely effects of hard line Tory style cuts pre-election and coalition, and see them rammed down his throat while replaying time and time some of the “lowlights” from the looting and mayhem. We as liberals have tried to get less authoritarian treatment of legitimate protests, eg UKUncut demos in support of genuine Cuts, or green activism to get more action against high carbon emitting processes. In the post looting atmosphere it is going to be much easier for corporate interests to get a hard line taken by police. It will be very easy to forget the excesses of the tabloids, and the linkages which were on point of being exposed with illiberal journalism and media group and wider corporate interests. The party line within the Lib Dems will be incredibly difficult.

  • davos mcnulty 11th Aug '11 - 10:12am

    Sorry, must have been watching a different episode of Newsnight last night. My ears heard Diane Abbot specifically state:

    1) This is not a Black problem, my parents came from the west indies and were church goers and loved your queen more than you do. This sort of behaviour/culture doesn’t come from the west indies.

    2) I condemn these thugs and criminals, but you can’t stigmatise people.

    3) I don’t blame the cuts, but they can’t be helping. (Gavin Esler then points out no cuts have actually taken any effect). Diane carries on with this line of blame and expands to suggest civil unrest only occurs during conservative times.

    Diane it may come as a shock to you but not all black people come from the West Indies, so your narrow personal prism of experience is frankly irrelevant in this matter. Have you also ever heard of the self titled “Jamaican Yardies” and that Kingston won the coveted Murder Capital of the world title in the mid-2000’s?

    Last time I checked there wasn’t a british conservative government in Jamaica, let alone one that was cutting, and the west indies became autonimous over 50 years ago from british governance.

    It’s prejudiced apologists like abbot that provide the politcal apron for these thugs to hide under, by condeming what they do for appearnce, but never blaming them personally she says to them “Yes you did it, but you are not to blame, the english white man/conservatives and his society made you this way”.

    Having Black skin does not make you the go-to expert on black issues by default, anymore than nick griffin and the scummy BNP speak on behalf of whites because of their skin colour. But it seems having Black skin is a get out of jail card for making ill informed, borderline racist comments.

    It was Abbots own constituents that rioted, but note how she only refers to her constituents as being the victims. Talk about deflecting attention from her councils, and her, running of the local residents lives for the past 40 years. Her council gets more money for the underprivileged than supposed wealthy ‘white’ areas so if there has been any failure, its been directly on her watch.

    When you narrow her field of expertise to a group of specific islands in the indies you realise just how irrelevant her witterings, huffing and puffing and rude interruptions of other debaters truly are. Smile, roll your eyes and trying to rile your opponent into making a mistake in anger then capitlising on it is deflection, it is not debate.

    Shame no-one in the media seems to recognise this and lower her profile.

    You can’t put up abbot, livingston and harman as the leading lights of the labour party in the media, then deny that they represent the views of the labour party. They ARE the labour party, and without alistair campbell and the lord of darkness to smooth their jagged edges this is being exposed more and more each day.

  • David Parkes 11th Aug '11 - 11:02am

    If you want to understand a little more about why I reject the notion that “the cuts caused the riots” as overly simplistic, I suggest you read this piece by Stephen Tall

    What this article does is actually pick up where I left off and with a few more days to reflect actually gives a pretty discussion of the nature of the riots. It raises the point that when you consider Spain has survived without rioting despite facing far greater youth unemployment and even harsher austerity measures, the ‘cuts excuse’ doesn’t hold water when taken in isolation. It also looks at the apolitical and nihilistic nature of the unrest. Unlike the street protests we saw earlier in the year which targeted banks, wealth and political HQs, the riots we’ve seen have just torn the hearts out of their communities.

    There are no doubt underlying social causes which do play a part, but not in isolation either. So to describe the violence as a response to the cuts programme does not hold water.

  • @David Parkes
    “So to describe the violence as a response to the cuts programme does not hold water.”

    That would be a fair point if you can demonstrate where anyone has actually claimed the only the Cuts were responsible. Even those Labour politicians I frankly detest have seemed to me to be talking about multiple factors…

  • Indeed Steve, well put.

    I respect Ed Milliband for saying this is complex. Cameron’s finger pointing has been clueless and embarassing. The worst kind of opportunism, saying things that will appeal to bigoted of Tunbridge Wells, while being totally unhelpful in solving the problem.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Aug '11 - 2:35pm

    “The civil disorder we are witnessing in London has far more to do with local issues, local politics and local policing.”

    So what’s your explanation for the disorder in towns and cities across England?

    What we are witnessing is the result of a small but (apparently) extremely powerful and well-organised category of young people who have no respect for any kind of authority whatsoever, from their parents, through teachers, to the police. This ought to be very obvious by now – in fact several of the rioters have cheerfully boasted as such in interviews with the BBC.

    To say it is just about local issues, local politics and local policing is nonsense (though these will influence things in different ways in different areas).

    The unhappy truth is that this is a class issue. It is not going to go away and it’s going to get worse. The likes of Cameron and May have not more idea of how to cope with it than of going on holiday to stay with Elvis in his castle on the back side of the moon.

    Tony Greaves

  • Earlier this year, our rancid government was encouraging the rioting in other countries that became known as ‘The Arab Spring’. The difference between middle-class rioters abroad wanting power, and lower-class rioters in the UK wanting goods, may not necessarily be obvious to disaffected Britons.

  • Stuart Mitchell 11th Aug '11 - 5:51pm


    Your actual words were :-

    “Not sure how practical [a curfew] would be… but certainly an idea to be born in mind.”

    So would you ever consider a curfew, or not??

  • Simon Shaw, as a liberal, what do you think of the government permitting the use of plastic bullets and water cannons, and the PM, like some middle eastern despot, calling for social networks to be shut down?

    You’ve been ranting against authoritarian labour for some time, now it’s your side outdoing them have you anything to say?

  • Simon Shaw, nice attempt at not answering the question. It still stands, what do you think of the Coalition’s call for plastic bullets and water cannons and the shut down of social media?

  • g – what do you think of posterchildren for the entitlement culture Kaufman and Blears in the Commons yesterday? Doesn’t it make your Labour heart beat proudly? Kaufman was clearly outraged that the yoof are nicking such cheap tellies when they could be breaking into B&O whilst Blears was itching to tell those lovely looters to write a cheque, wave it on telly and it will all be ok.

  • Alistair, Simon Shaw,

    I think the actions of MPs of all parties, including Liberal Democrats (David Laws), has been shameful and sets a terrible example. Futhermore, it undermines their moral righteousness in dealing with the dishonesty and disregard for law and decency in parts of society.

    Unlike Ivan, I see a difference between riots directly as a result of political process and riots as a result of criminality. However, the underlying social causes of both should be considered. I also strongly reject authoritarian responses to either that damage society, including the disproportionate use of force by the state and attacks on freedom of expression.

    Your turn.

  • g – Its not just moral righteousness, its supreme stupidity and ignorance. Blears went on TV to ask “why these kids are not in school?”. How out of touch do you have to be with your electorate to forget that there are summer holidays? You think someone like that is going to help understand the underlying social causes? Should someone that stupid be allowed to help vote on the laws that govern us?

    If you are anti authoritarian then you can’t seriously vote Labour. How many days did they want us to be able to be held without trial? After 10 years of Labour we had 20% of the worl’d CCTV cameras, 1 for every 12 citizens. What about the ID cards, the DNA database? The coalition and primarily the Tories in the coalition will voice proposals to block social networks and take away benefits and whatnot, and the Lib Dems will block these unless Labour and the Tories join together. There is only one party that defends freedom and its not Labour.

  • Alistair, Simon Shaw,

    You can’t do it, can you? You can’t condemn the coalition for proposing authoritarian measures in response?

  • > You can’t condemn the coalition for proposing authoritarian measures in response?

    If I do, will that make you happy?

  • @Ivan White
    There are countries where people have no option but to engage in mass protests and sometime full scale revolt just to achive basic human rights and democracy. The United Kingdom is not such a place. You have just written an anti Government statement but you do not need to fear security forces knocking down your door and attacking or imprisoning you (or worse). To compare the two is frankly more than a little ridiculous.

    Sadly I would say that even those of a liberal (be that big or small L) persuasion know that at times measure are required that we should all be hugely uncomfortable about using or even threatening to use. These measures have not been used to date and I would hope that the options are never required.

  • g – I’m happy to condemn anyone in the Coalition who proposed authoritarian measures – which I guess would include Clegg if by proposing you mean failing to disagree with an interviewer. What you don’t seem to get though is that the Coalition is formed of two parties – much as you’d like to pretend that isn’t the case. Who stood up in the Commons and defended social media and pointed out that people cleaning up after the looters had organised using social media? That would be a Lib Dem Julian Huppert. Even the rightwing Tory David Davis is less authoritarian than all your Labour MPs. Personally I thought Diane Abbott was trying hard to be balanced but even she raised the prospect of a curfew. Why don’t you come out and admit that when it comes down to it – there is no more Authoritarian party in the UK today than the Labour party – except perhaps the BNP.

  • @Simon Shaw:
    After all it is headed (rather misleadingly, I sometimes feel) “Our place to talk”. Unless I misread it, “Our” means “Liberal Democrat”.

    How very illiberal of you. Have you forgotten that the Liberal Democrats was a merger between Liberals and Social Democrats and, therefore, there are still many Social Democrats who would still love to vote for & support your party (as I did in the 2001, 2005 and 2010 elections).

    Wanting an echo chamber and exclusive members club is something I’d expect from LabourList or Conservative Home. Just because I disagree with 90% of coalition policy does not mean people like me should not be allowed to post here. It is not my right, as someone who supported your party for years, to voice my disapproval about your current direction? Am I supposed to keep quiet while the LibDems are, with the Tories, enacting policies that are detrimental to my life and other people like me?

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Aug '11 - 6:54pm

    Alistair: “After 10 years of Labour we had 20% of the worl’d CCTV cameras, 1 for every 12 citizens.”

    No we didn’t. You really need to update some of the stats in your “civil liberties paranoia” folder.

    As was widely reported about five months ago, that “1 for every 12 citizens” figure was completely bogus, and was calculated by counting all the CCTV cameras on a single 1.5km stretch of road running through a busy shopping district and extrapolating that out to the ENTIRE COUNTRY.

    In actual fact, there are only around a third of the number of CCTV cameras you claim.

    And most people rather lke them.

  • Stuart – you are right – more recent estimates are 1.8 million cameras. That is still quite a lot of cameras IMHO.

  • @Simon Shaw:
    Most Lib Dems I know do not regard LDV as “our” place to talk. Mainly because they feel crowded out by the large number of (mainly anonymous) non-Lib Dems.

    So, in other words, as someone who voted LibDem in 2001, 2005 and 2010, I am not wanted because I am not a member of the LDs and because I disagree with most of your current policy?

    Is your private members forum not enough? If you want your echo chamber where you can pat one another on the back, then fine. It seems, just like those who lead your party, you don’t want to take the responsibility of dealing with your (mostly ex) left-of-centre electorate you are so willing to throw to the wolves? Why are so many LibDems unwilling to confront their voters, such as me, who now feel let down?

    Have to say, again, that is something I’d expect from New Labour.

  • Britain is broken by over 30 years of Thatcherite neoliberal financial economics. New Labour and Tony Blair was more of the same. If you think things are bad now just wait until we have had 5 to 10 years more of Cameron’s selfish and irresponsible PR spinning privatisation of everything. The hard fought post war social consensus is being smashed to pieces by free market neo liberal dogmatic madness.

    The neo liberal small state free market cannot provide social cohesion, stability and equality. This country will end up being a very scary, autocratic and dangerous place to live if the Liberal Democrats continue to prop up this terrible Conservative government.

    How many more years of this dysfunctional, simplistic, ill thought through and irrational Conservative government do we have to put up with ? Cameron’s response to the riots and refusal to look at or acknowledge the complexities is a disgrace. Unless you can carefully consider why something happens, how can you prevent it happening again ?

    Question. Is the New York Policeman being called in as Cameron is driving to an endgame to outsource or privatise policing operations ? Apart from deflecting the blame from his shambolic handling and absence of leadership in regard to the riots that is.

  • This is the most incompetent government I have ever witnessed. It is even more incompetent than Heath’s. You may try to wriggle out of it and deny any responsibility for it but the worst scenes of public disorder ever to have taken place in Britain occurred on your watch because of your combination of soft law and order policies and heartless, unjustified cuts. A recipe for catastrophe.

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