Monday, 15 August 2011

Riots - let's keep things in perspective and remember Blair's mantra: tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime

Out of a UK population of 62,260,000, approximately 2,275 people have so far been arrested for rioting (note arrested, not charged or even convicted).

This is equivalent to 0.0036% of the British population.

Assuming (a big assumption) that the majority of rioters were aged 14-29, the figures change to:

13,324,000 - population in 2011 of 14-29 year-olds in UK.

Therefore, arrested rioters form 0.017% of 14-29 year-olds.

As a nation, we are understandably in the midst of national soul-searching about the causes of the riots. Jonathan Todd's article in LabourUncut should be required reading for our political class at this time. As he ably points out, neither right nor left has a monopoly on wisdom and the events of last week were a national tragedy requiring a national response.

The post-riot process of analysis of what went wrong at the macro and micro level is legitimate, necessary and can help us tackle both the criminality on display and some of the deep-rooted cultural, social and economic problems which have been allowed to fester in the UK. These problems are not confined to deprived areas, indeed it is insulting to the vast majority of people living in deprived areas to insinuate that simply living in such an area somehow leads inexorably to looting.

The UK has many deep-seated problems which successive generations of politicians and yes, ordinary citizens, have failed to tackle. These include (in no particular order), include but are not limited to: inequality of opportunity in education, the breakdown of the family unit, poor parenting, ineffective challenging of violent tendencies of boys from an early age, an unequal society, rampant consumerism, lack of a sense of community, lack of time for people to commit to their own communities, lack of youth resources, poor job prospects, economic short-termism, etc.

All this and more must, and is, being considered by our political leaders, including David Cameron and Ed Miliband. However, we shouldn't forget that the vast majority of Britons did not riot last week. The vast majority of young people did not riot last week. As with general criminal activity, what was displayed last week, was the ability of a minority to impinge upon the rights of the majority.

Again, as with general crime, we must not tolerate this and must do all we can to prevent it. A previous Prime Minister had a phrase which encapsulated what must be done - "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Substitute 'riots' for 'crime' and we can move beyond the predictable criticism of the post-rioting analysis of both left-wing and right-wing politicians. To talk of 'causes' doesn't excuse the criminality. However, to imply that what we witnessed last week was mere criminality, is fatuous.

Readers may also recall that the PM mentioned above, Tony Blair, was castigated for having attempted to tackle the very criminal and anti-social behaviour we saw last week. He attempted this with ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) and through his 'Respect' agenda. He was, of course, pilloried from left and right for doing so. To some extent, his agenda failed. He and his government were not able to fully tackle crime and the causes of crime. But they tried. We in the Labour Party must take up the baton now.

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