Am I bovvered?

My recent column in the Ham & High

Am I bovvered? That was the gag line from Catherine Tate – and we all laughed. But there was nothing funny about the real life representation of lots of young people who were not bothered at all.

Their consciences weren’t bothered. They weren’t bothered about the victims of their actions. They weren’t bothered about the consequences to themselves of their actions. They weren’t bothered about their communities. They weren’t bothered about their families. They weren’t bothered about what people thought of them and they weren’t bothered about the businesses they ransacked and looted.

All sounds rather similar to the concerns being so widely discussed after the tragic riots – but the fact that Catherine Tate started her satire several years ago reminds us that far from all of these issues are new and so we should not under-estimate the continuing work that should be our response to the riots.

The police certainly deserve thanks for their bravery, but as many police acknowledge the question of what tactics to use when needs careful study. Even as we remember that the police’s choice of tactics reflects previous concerns expressed about their behavior, we should not shy away from a careful re-consideration of what the best tactics are.

The Government was criticized for not having its senior members on the spot (that left me to go out on the airwaves as duty Minister at the Home Office on the Sunday and Monday). It is now being criticized for knee jerk reactions and for raising questions about police tactics. It is the government’s job to ensure that its citizens are safe – and if there are questions that need answering on operational decisions – that is appropriate. But we do have to be careful about jumping to conclusions.

There is already much information flowing in from the many who have been out talking and interviewing in the affected communities, added to which is the data from the thousands being passed through the justice system. Some of those cases catch the eye – such as the improbable sounding looting of a violin or the case of a primary school employee. But we all know that the stories which catch the headlines can be far from typical – we need a full analysis of the whos, the whats and the whys so that future decisions are based on reality rather than everyone just cherry picking the evidence to support what they always wanted anyway.

One question I particularly want to keep an eye on is the large number of people who were on parole who have been arrested and those who have ‘previous’– which raises questions about how our parole and prison systems work (or don’t).

We should also learn from the few bright spots, the displays of strong community spirit to protect property and clean-up communities – a display which I, as a London MP for a highly diverse community, am particularly pleased to have seen was fully multicultural, involving all different parts of our society.

We saw great dignity from the father of one of the three young men mowed down by a car. We saw community spirit rise from the ashes and give us all heart. And we probably managed to arrest more of our criminal fraternity in London on a single night than ever before.

On my visits to the various parts of my constituency to talk to traders and local people I talked to one young man. He told me he had grown up on a council estate in Tottenham. I asked him what he thought of the looting of phones. He said it was simple – you have to have a phone. If you don’t – you’re nobody. It’s not just a matter of convenience or communication, it is a matter of status – an eerie reminder of what so many people say to me is the excuse the carrying of knives too – it gets you status.

So as the evidence comes in I expect we will be faced with two main challenges: that of how to make our policing and legal system work better and that of how to help give people in some of our poorest communities a different sense of hope and self-worth than that which comes from criminal or threatening behavior.

Am I bovvered? Yes – very!

0 thoughts on “Am I bovvered?

  1. This sounds like scapegoating of young people. There were a lot of other factors, especially the behaviour of adults – MPs and bankers – who set the “Am I bovvered” example to young people.

  2. Bang on right Dave.

    “Bovered”? More like given up hope! Young people are not thick, they’re just switching on their TV sets (presumably their newly-acquired flat-screen Sony’s) and seeing the bankers and the MPs and are thinking – “hey I want a bit of that money!”

    But what do they have? Few job prospects and what little community facilities they have are being pulled away and closed by a Coalition that just doesn’t appear to care anymore.

    The Lib Dems have to consider over what remains of their long summer holidays how they are using their position to help social mobility among the young. Perhaps start with the removal of EMA’s and closing of the libraries…

  3. There is no justification for the looting of stores or violence perpetrated against people and this has nothing to do with Lib Dems, or Labour or the Conservatives. Nor is there any justification for the murder of three Asian men in Birmingham –

    These people were criminals of different age groups willing to engage in criminality on a significant scale. The Metropolitan Police and other forces should be commended for their actions and for restoring public order.

    I am glad that the government is providing resources to help people who have lost their homes and businesses.

  4. Although of course there were many factors in the recent riots, the main one is simply the application of new technology in social networking.

    All powerful technology is a double-edged sword.

    Artists created Flash Mob events

    Middle-Easterners overthrew their governments

    Communists suddenly became entrepreneurs

    Con artists went global

    … and a large proportion of the nation’s hooligans joined forces to wreck the place

    Without that technology it wouldn’t have happened and it’s futile to restrict or ban the technology, so we have to work withi that situation.

    The real solution is to make it impossible for youths to be idle, but short of reintroducing national service it’s hard to find a way to do it. Besides that, military-style boot camps favour tough bruisers and persecute the sensitive who are no threat to anyone.


  5. The notion that young people may consider phones and knives as comparable status symbols is unfair and fails to fully acknowledge the breadth of the issues involved. Phones are status symbols for a wide spectrum of groups; the iphone may be technologically brilliant but its appeal is tied up with fashion and status.

    Rather than making fatuous comparisons, would it not be more useful to garner the views of a wide spectrum of young people and report these views fairly and sensitively?

  6. Yes Maddy, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard’, according to Martin Luther King, Jr.

  7. A problem for the Police is that nowadays very few people have had to make life or death decisions. Historically, a large percentage of the population had undertaken dangerous work such as fighting in wars, working on ships, mines, construction sites, shipyards, etc, etc where decisions had to be taken in a few seconds and where the cnsequence of a mistake was death or injury. Nowadays, most people have no experience of danger and therefore will always criticise the Police. Consequently, the Police often end up veering from under to over reaction. People talk about Policing by consent but does that mean consent from the criminals?

    It is time we had a practical discussion about what are the threats to peoples security, what we expect from ourselves, the Police, the legal system and what we are prepared to pay.

    One aspect that needs to be considered is what should able bodied adults , especially men be expected and obliged be expected to do in order to deter crime and catch criminals. It is unfeasible to have a police constable on every street. Many able bodied men desist from making citizens arrests because they are scared of being accused of assault by criminals. If an able bodied adult chases a criminal and rugby tackles them to the ground resulting in injury, say a broken leg, what are the consequences for the public spirited citizen?