Friday, 12 August 2011

'Cure' for the riots is worse than the 'disease'

David Cameron called parts of Britain "not just broken, but sick". If this is indeed the case, his plans for a "cure" will only make the patient worse.

For a start, politicians of all hues have been saying the riots cause them to have concerns about people's 'morals'. They claim it is an ethical issue not a political one. Of course, the Tories have to say this because it would be political suicide to admit that their policies had anything to do with the riots, even though most people know they do. One might (possibly) have expected something better from Ed Miliband though. Instead there seems to be a competition over who can have the most reactionary policies. Blue Ed has thrown his lot in with the government by talking about the parents' need to take responsibility for their children rioting.

The idea that somehow we should blame parents for the rioting when our young people are fighting back against brutal police and a government that has taken away any chance they had of an education, a job, a future, is sickening. The leaders of Nottingham and Manchester councils have said they will use powers they have to evict any tenants in council housing or housing association properties that are convicted of rioting. If those convicted are children, the parents will be evicted too. They have also called for a change in the law to include private tenants and even owner/occupiers. This is incredible. The idea that making people (that already feel as though they have no stake in society) homeless will improve things is utterly ridiculous. It can only enflame the situation.

Harriet Harman, meanwhile, has called for hoods to be banned. David Cameron has announced that existing police powers to ban face masks will be extended. One has to ask, what do the politicians think the problem in society is? Do they think wearing hoods and face masks are the root of the problem?

There is also talk of banning some people's access to social media. As with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it is not Twitter and Facebook that have made the uprisings happen, they have just made them a little bit easier. When the internet was shut down in Egypt, the revolution continued.

More worryingly, the police have been granted new powers. These include the ability to use plastic bullets and water cannon. Clearly, these powers will be kept in reserve and brought out in the future whether against more riots or against peaceful protests that the police either attack or provoke into violence. This could be the beginning of the end for 'policing by consent'. Of course many people have withdrawn their consent, if they ever gave it, but the government have clearly used these events as an excuse to give police powers they fear they will increasingly need if the government is to force through its unpopular programme of cuts and privatisation.

The only cuts that any politicians have called for to be reversed since the riots are the cuts to policing. The Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and Labour leader, Ed Miliband have both called for cuts in police budgets to be scrapped. Once again, they have no interest in solving the root cause of the problem, only the symptoms. The idea that the solution to riots sparked by police brutality is to have more police to crackdown harder is incredible.

It will be interesting to see how they police demonstrations in the near future. Will they go in hard to appease the reactionary calls from politicians and certain sections of the media, thus risking an escalation of the situation? Or will they take a more softly-softly approach? Only time will tell but we may not have to wait long. There is a demonstration in Tottenham tommorow calling on the government to 'Give Our Kids a Future'. There is also the Notting Hill Carnival in a few weeks. The police had already begun an operation to arrest people they think might 'cause trouble' before the riots began.

Either way, in the longer-term the politicians need to listen to the young people in this country. They need to roll back their cuts agenda. If they do not, and it seems highly unlikely that they will, this unrest will happen again and next time it will be more political.

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