Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Right or Left

It appears that yesterday my publicly stated views on events in England were misconstrued by nearly everyone who read them. Whilst yesterday that led to deep frustration, today I am forced to admit that if the writing doesn't convey the point well enough to the readers, then only one person is to blame, and that isn't the reader.

So we need to back track, before the debate over a person being left or right wing gets even more confusing, and we all feel like Colonel Renegade.

A riot doesn't spring up overnight, and nor does civil unrest. It is easy to see how distrust of the Met could spring up, certainly I have no love lost for them. At the time of the student protests, the Strathclyde Police were issuing statements apologizing for the actions of their Met counterparts at protests. There was weak leadership exposed by the hacking scandal, the issues of police brutality that never seem to go away (Ian Tomlinson just being the most famous recent case) and general ongoing problems with racism issues. Add to this that John Yates replacement as Asst. Commissioner of the Met - and the person now in charge of anti-terrorism in the capital city - is Cressida Dicks, the woman who made the headlines in 2005 for being in charge of the operation that led to the fatal death of Jean Charles de Menezes. Add to this Operation Trident, designed to smoke out black gun crime, but of whose forces only 5% are black officers only adds to the levels of distrust. It is important to mention Operation Trident, as it was officers working for it who were involved in the death of Mark Duggan, whose death was the spark for events in London.

So we have a police form, long time accused of racism, known for many examples of police brutality, known for it's attempts to cover up that brutality and having to pay up to £30k for being found guilty of that brutality. You can see why there would be lack of trust there.

Then we have our beloved Prime Minister, the man who looked ever so increasingly fragile during July, and who arguably was saved from an exit by the support of the 1922 Committee. His manner during the Andy Coulson debacle was humiliating to watch. Ignoring the fact that "nobody warned him about Coulson" (unless Ming Campbell asks him 5 minutes later) means either the PM lied at the dispatch box, or the editors of the Guardian and others are, the question he refused to answer roughly seventeen times (I don't think that it is too high an exaggeration) was: who vetted Andy Coulson to work in Number 10? News International sources, it turned out, so no wonder he didn't want to admit that in the House of Commons. The man gave the advantage to his opposition, a fellow seemingly destined as recently as six weeks ago to be the Labour partys version of Iain Duncan Smith, all the momentum. His biggest attempt to score a point on Ed Miliband's serve was to point out that Miliband's director of strategy, Tom Baldwin had also worked for Murdoch press. Even that failed, when the Labour leader, with a great relish to be in control of a situation for once, pointed out that Baldwin's line manager at the time was in fact... Michael Gove, the current Education Secretary!

Even without his faux pas at the despatch box, the Prime Minister could be forgiven if not forgotten if he had only led. That's why leaders are elected. To lead. Yet, through the worst moments of the phone hacking scandal, he is MIA. He threatened to be the same during the riots, but decided, out of the goodness of his heart, to cancel a holiday in the land of Berlusconi to come back and give out a few speeches about the violence. And reconvene Parliament. Well, at least he's starting to look go... (he also went against the advice of Sir Hugh Orde in order to score political points)...oh, well, forget that.

Let's not forget the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Or the London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

So that's who we have in charge of the situation.

Now, onto the civil unrest/riots. Funny how we like to think of ourselves as freedom lovers, so that violent riots in far off countries are civil unrest, yet ones closer to home are riots. I said before, when the student protests were happening, and again during the problems with the Free HRC, that trouble makers and rent a mobs will attach themselves to any legitimate protest. And what we've seen stemmed from legitimate peaceful protest. Did the Met overstep their mark at that protest? Too early to say, and despite my noted bias against them, I remain careful before the facts, but they are allegations none the less.

So you have an angry crowd, angry against the police, the state, the bankers, everyone. Somewhere along the line a spark happened, and in the words of one ex-hooligan, "it all set off". The death of Mark Duggan was the spark for the protest, not the riot, and using it as a reason is both an unfair soundbyte and utterly unfair on the family, who regardless of the reputation of the dead man, whatever it may be, have lost a loved one tragically young.

But once you set something off, things can grow. Some of the usual suspects got involved, then brought in their mates. In the last three days many things have been brought to me by my sources: tales of London gangs getting involved in the rioting, of parents sending their children out with lists of things to loot, teachers and youth workers involved in it. It's not one sector of society, its a miasma of different people for different reasons. To claim it is social poverty, disenfranchisement, yob culture, education, gang problems, institutional racism, any one thing, is to belittle the cause and effect of what has been going on. A riot doesn't start over night, there is a slow build up rarely seen except from within.

And yet, the pivotal moment here is of crime and punishment. I've never had a problem with political protest, indeed I support the right for those to speak their mind, even those of odious natures. However, I also believe that one should accept the consequences for their action. If not paying the TV Licence is your stand against the BBC and State, then you have to accept the consequences if you get caught (ignoring the fact the licence is basically funded on trust, and the few caught out for evading the licence are those ignorant of the laws involved). If you want to chain yourself up to Parliament or throw a custard pie in the face of a billionaire, you have to accept the custodial sentence involved. After all, its part of the activism. Have you gone to jail for justice, etc.

Likewise, if you protest, even on legitimate reasons - especially even so - and you set fire to a persons house with intent to injure, then you must accept the consequences for that action. Likewise if you run over someone with a car in a hit and run, or mug a walking passerby.

VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER. In that respect, I do remain as constant as the Northern Star. Those who resort to violence lose the higher ground, morally. Worse, they give excuses to those who would seek to mistreat them. The people who suffer the most from these events are the vulnerable. Their peaceful protests are ambushed, they are attacked by those who ambush the protests, and then the violence is used as an excuse for harsher measures on them. I cannot support people who will use mindless violence on innocents, be they in war or on the street. All it does it turn people. Yet it is fully possible to have the ability to accept the many layered reasons for an event happening, and still being able to say: "Those who burn houses down, and murder people, in the name of this action are wrong and must be punished!"

I will defend the rights of the innocent against those who use violence as a means to express their anger. I will also defend the rights of the vulnerable against those who will use this violence as means of cracking down on them, using excuses to bring forth their ideological madness.

Think of it like benefit fraud. It does exist. It should be punished. Yet, if one in ten people on benefits frauded the state, that leaves nine in ten who don't, and who desperately need the help it provides. Michael Foot once claimed he'd "rather see nine people fraud the state then the state leave one genuinely needy person to starve". We shouldn't allow the 1 in 10 to mean draconian laws for the 9 in 10. But that is what knee jerk reactions to this and similar situations leads to. That's what we have to be on guard about. After all, don't forget that our beloved PM won the Anti-Nobel Peace Prize recently for this. This is the level of opposition we are dealing with.

But the press works on soundbytes, so I guess the soundbyte here would be: They are all to blame. The Tories showed weak leadership and willingness to crack down on the vulnerable in society, claiming "We're all in this together!" The Met have form and history. The rioters succumbed to base instincts. The bloody weather. The councils, who path over play parks and seem disinterested in anything but profit. The Home Office who ignored all warning signs. An education system that has edged in favour of "profit over education".

When I was three, mum gave me the greatest gift in life I could ever have. A library card. We came from a poor area till I was 10, and the path that library card gave me - the ability to read, the thirst for knowledge, for experience - was the one thing that separated me from every other person in my class where, to the best of my knowledge, I was one of the only children to wind up at university. I remain as impotently raging as the rest at polices, racism, etc. The only difference between me and the looters, I guess, is that I fall back to the writing, because it's the only thing I've got. I feel for those who don't even have that, through no fault of their own.

So right wing or left wing? Couldn't tell you. I know that I stand on the side of the vulnerable against those who wish to exploit, harm, and victimize them. I know that knee jerk reactions and soundbytes wont solve a situation. I also know that violence never pays. We can only hope that the lessons stemming from this nightmare are greater tolerance, better education and less victimising of the innocent. Sadly, on previous form of all the leaders involved, the exact opposite can be expected.