Opinion: Tottenham points to wider policing problems

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.

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16 Comments

  • It would be interesting to look back at the Blair / Brown years to see how many times those in the current cabinet kicked up a fuss when senior politicians were away and major events happened. They are now reaping what they sowed and thanks to our media it does resonate with people. Perhaps sitting down as adults and agreeing cross-party lines not to play that game anymore would help, but politicians would never do that it is just too tempting in opposition….

    Of course nothing would change if they were here. Theresa May returning is a waste of time, she could have teleconferenced the acting head of the met and been just as effective. Everyone deserves a break, even Tories!

  • Dominic Carman 8th Aug '11 - 4:42pm

    ‘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. ‘

    According to this spurious logic, the politicians are, in some inexplicable way, to blame for the riots and looting in London – simply by being on holiday while they occurred.

    ‘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.’

    Or perhaps, if some of the people of Tottenham were not opportunistic criminals, they would not have committed arson, serious acts of violence, wanton destruction and organised looting in their community. There is no excuse for these actions, and whatever the apparent shortcomings of the police, we are all enormously in their debt. Without them, no doubt, many of the rioters and looters would be mercilessly targeting law abiding citizens of London. Things might indeed be happening very differently then.

  • They have seen polticians fiddle their expenses (and some get away with it!!!), the corruption of the police and who knows how many others by the media. Greedy landlords who charge exorbitant rents. The bankers who rob with the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse while taking more and more for themselves. What wonderful role models. None of these care about these comunities but only the lining of their own pockets. What did everyone expect? The whole situation was waiting for a catalyst.

  • For a change, it might be more enlightening to hear from those involved why they’ve acted as they have rather than listening to a range of commentators pontificating over possible causes.

    One dreads to think what the situation would have been 12 months hence with the police already fully stretched handling the Olympics.

  • I think we are seeing the first signs of things to come and things are only going to get worse.

    I don’t believe that this is just kids leaping on an opportunity to steal and cause crime. I think things go much much deeper than that.

    Our society is very much broken at the moment.
    The Banks have run amok with the countries finances, paying themselves huge profits at the expense of the people.
    The Banks where guilty of miss selling PPI and over charging customers on overdraft and credit card fee’s

    The Government has privatized out all the profits, whilst making all the losses Public.

    Our biggest businesses are all engaged in tax avoidance measures.

    Our government are all in the back pockets of corporations.

    Our police and our Media are involved in corruption.

    MP’s abusing their expenses.

    Then on top of all that, we have the cuts that have unfairly hit the poorest people in society, Benefit Cuts, Cost of living sky rocketing. Cuts to Education Allowances.

    No prospects for the young unemployed.

    The government constantly trots out the line that were all in this together. Unfortunately on the street in the real world this means, Politicians, Bankers, FTSE100, the Elite are all in it together “protecting their own”, at the expense of the less fortunate people in our society.

    I really do fear for what is taking place. Yes the violence needs to be condemned, However, there is a fundamental point that urgently needs addressing.
    To start mending our broken society, the government needs to first start with itself then the banks, and then our British Businesses who are taking advantage of tax avoidance measures and lobbying government s for policies that suit their own agenda and not those that are in the public interest.

    This must be the first step towards mending our broken society. If not things are going to get a whole lot worse

  • On a mundane level, if you have lot of poor and unemployed people sitting around and the opportunity to take stuff arises they will take stuff. Poverty breeds crime and in areas where low level crime is seen as a way of getting by, be it selling dodgy goods under the shop counter or whatever the police tend to be mistrusted. It was always thus, hence the many unpleasant nick names for police officers.
    I do think some of it could be avoided if the metropolitan police looked at the way midlands police forces dealt with community relations. The stop and search policies in operation in London do little to lower crime rates and a great deal to increase tensions. The police need to be more constantly visible and less proactive. Swooping into areas under various initiatives may look impressive and may seem cost effective., but is almost certainly much less valuable than just having police officers walking around.

  • There seems to be a lot of left-wing activists taking part in the riots, but no one is talking about it in the media. If you look at the occupations of many of the people who have been arrested they have very middle class jobs and come from outside London. I know that left-wing activists have been building connections with inner-city disaffected youths for a while, especially since the tuition fees rally.

  • @Sam, I don’t know where you are getting that impression from, but all the “left-wing activists” I know are calling for peace and calm. The “left-wing” activists I know have been organising clean up crews and support.

    Instead of blaming unconfirmed straw-men boogeymen, how about blaming our “leaders” who did nothing for days?

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