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!