Sep 122011

This item requires little comment, I’m afraid:

Shamed Tory Peer Lord Hanningfield has been released from prison after serving nine weeks of his nine-month sentence for fiddling taxpayers out of £14,000.

The website which brings us this story currently has a picture of the gentleman in question taking his dog Jefferson for a walk.  Meanwhile, it would appear the justice system has decided to take the rest of us for a ride.

Compare the above with this, if you will allow me to remind you:

A college student with no criminal record was jailed for six months on Thursday for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water during a night of rioting.

The judge in the latter case justified the sentence in the following way:

[…] District Judge Alan Baldwin said the background of “serious public disorder” was an aggravating feature.

I wonder what he might have said about the issue of MPs’ expenses. Surely another clear example of “serious public disorder”?

Or not … as the case may be.

And then we wonder why we don’t love Legal Aid as much as the NHS.

Aug 282011

Anthony Painter reviews a new edition of a book with the brilliant title “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.  This paragraph of his review in particular caught my attention (the bold is mine):

Cultural dynamics, a social research company, has used its British values survey to analyse the value-sets that would have influenced the behaviour of the rioters. They have asked specific questions about whether someone would like to be involved in a riot, look to exploit another’s weakness, be excited by social disorder, and if slighted whether they don’t get mad, they get even. Some of the hottest values sets for those who would engage in riot and social disorder are defined as “material wealth”, “power”, “control others” and “asocial”. You find a lot of bankers in these categories too.

As the Cultural Dynamics webpage (well worth a read) points out in its introduction to its short and concise analysis of the recent English riots:

This short paper examines the riots in England on August 7th to 10th 2011. Journalist Zoe Williams of the Guardian was the first to dub these disturbances “shopping riots”, a nomenclature with which we concur. They were the first ‘consumer’ riots.

Despite all the prejudices to the contrary, some of which I suspect I have also been guilty of expressing on these pages, the evidence provided by Cultural Dynamics would seem to support Painter’s view that (again the bold is mine):

There is a reverberating melancholy to Paul Gilroy’s updated work. We live in a nation where the slogan “ain’t no black in the Union Jack” is neither a threatening racist chant nor an embracing anti-racist retort. It is, instead, a nation where nifty design replaces political expression as in the artist who decided to add a little black to the Union Jack. This work is still powerful, almost a quarter of century on. It is a reminder of a more political time. It challenges us with the reality that racism is far from gone in our society. Instead it’s brushed over, re-designed and commercialised.

Morality is clearly not the issue here.  Amorality is the guiding light and star of our modern times.  Thatcher and Blair’s legacy isn’t the battlefield which results from a tussle over the social – but, rather, a cementing which both participated in of the manifestly asocial.

We are neither localists nor nationalists; neither racists nor multiculturalists; neither socialists nor capitalists; neither living in the past nor living in the future: instead, we choose a kind of anti-life where the dark matter which could illuminate our light, much as El Greco achieved in his art, now serves only to provide a chamber of secrets which we only occasionally break out of in violent reprisal.

We are, in a way, in a sub-textual way, at war with our own society and wants.  And yet we still have not managed to obtain the self-knowledge which would release us from anger.

Until we do that, the Union Jack will indeed not count on black – but, as Painter’s brush strokes also clearly indicate, this won’t mean the reality is being fairly described.

These recent riots are only “consumer riots” inasmuch as we as a society – as a broader society, I mean – seem to know very little more than how to relate to each other as consumers.  I don’t mean us bloggers – or pseudo-thinkers you might prefer to term us – who worry away, like yapping little dogs, at the ankles of clarification and pedantry: I don’t mean those sorts of people, no.  Rather, I mean the vast majority who love the hashtag #cbb – and look to fully enjoy an evening sat down with hubby or wife over a bottle of wine and some reality TV.  And they are clever people too, these others who do not yap and irritate with their thoughts.  I have witnessed conversations about the content of such shows, and the ordinary people who discuss and exchange views on their progress are as sharp about the implications and sociocultural consequences of all these complex interactions as any blogger with an allegedly greater sense of wisdom might demonstrate.

But we have substituted the complexity of real reality with the complexity of consumer reality; thus it is that the riots can be termed “consumer riots” because – essentially – the vast majority of people who occupy a place in our civilisation have forgotten how to be anything but a consumer.  They cannot be – nor ever could have been (nor, perhaps in the future, ever will be again) – political riots … precisely because we are no longer political beings.

And it’s not just that the Union Jack don’t do black throughout its history – right now, I’m afraid dear reader, it don’t do red, white nor blue either.  In our desire to neutralise the negative forces of identity politics, we’ve ended up neutering our ability to think politically.

So we can’t even riot for the right reasons these days.  Just as the bankers can’t stick to providing the simple glue which – in its boring reliability – used to keep our economies on track.

And we’re both probably unable to do what we should for just the same reasons.

Aug 252011

Tom – cool editor that he is (always peering around the frame and looking beyond the common assumptions, that is) – had a brilliant catch the other day, which several days’ later I still find myself chuckling over – so after several retweets and some absolutely disinterested Freemania PR on the social meeja networks I participate in, I thought it was time to bring it more overtly to the attention of readers.  Here, then, is the reason why we shouldn’t take David Cameron’s word for it (the bold red is mine):

Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a speech in Oxfordshire on the fightback following the riots and looting last week.

[check against delivery]

It is time for our country to take stock.


And all I have to add, even as I think it’s a pretty big add, is that if I had been in Salford during the recent riots and looting and had said this to a police officer, they wouldn’t have dallied long in locking me up for encouraging violent disorder.

In truth, the real lesson from all of this is that in so many ways and so many places, situations in life can have two perfectly valid interpretations; that justice, to operate properly, needs time and space – and not the pressure of public and political expediency – to cogitate carefully and do its job objectively; and that if there was ever a philosophical justification for avoiding the kind of sentencing that cannot be undone (death penalty anyone?), then this is surely it.

For the kind of confusing language which Mr Cameron used in a speech over which speechwriters must have verily pored deserves the kind of second chance our Prime Minister likes to afford his nearest and dearest – but not, it would seem, the looters and rioters who occupy his fearful construct of a morally declining civilisation.

Aug 212011

This, today, is happening in England:

[…] Dane’s solicitor Kerry Morgan has criticised the judicial system for pursuing instant justice so much it resulted in an innocent man being locked up.

As well as leading to the following, where this innocent man, as well as having being charged and shamed publicly by the police:

  • has lost his home and all his possessions after being arrested;
  • was labelled a firebug by prison officers and told he would be jailed for life;
  • was locked up for 23 hours a day as a category A and then category B prisoner;
  • suffered panic attacks because of the stress;
  • has five alibis to prove it was not him.

More comment and background can be found at Liberal Conspiracy right now.

It does make me wonder if we are right – when we do so – to complain about the wheels of justice turning as slowly as they sometimes may.  A little more contemplation, a little less reaction, might have avoided all the above – and would’ve, in any case, surely led to a better investigation being carried out.

Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the responsibilities of the police – law enforcers and crime investigators both.  There is clearly a conflict of interest which shows itself especially in times of crisis and sometimes appears to lead to certain decisions being taken which prejudice the sensible and objective assessment of crime.  If the Guardian‘s recent overview of the crowd-like dynamics of many magistrates wasn’t enough, then this individual case today should be enough to make us think twice.

For when the people act like a mob is precisely when we don’t want the state to follow suit.

Aug 192011

Sometimes less is more.  One paragraph and fifteen phrases from the Facebook Wall of Peter Tatchell, which aim in their brevity to summarise modern Britain:

UK government is quick to condemn rioters. But police took bribes & failed to investigate phone hacking. No officers jailed. Cash for knighthoods & peerages. No one jailed. MPs abused expenses system. Only a few jailed. Editors bribed police. None jailed. Priests raped kids. No jail for most. Army killed & tortured civilians in Iraq. Soldiers not jailed. These = serious human rights abuses. Why no action?

Meanwhile, the predicted logjam of appeals against the sentences handed down to rioters and looters over the past week appears to be on the point of building up, as the Guardian analyses the patterns of punishment meted out:

[…] The Guardian’s data also shows that 56 defendants of the 80 who have already been sentenced by magistrates were given immediate prison terms. This 70% rate of imprisonment compares with a “normal” rate of just 2% in magistrates courts.

More than half those imprisoned were charged with theft or handling stolen goods, receiving an average of 5.1 months. This is 25% longer than the average custodial sentence for these crimes of 4.1 months seen in courts during 2010, according to Ministry of Justice statistics. Public order offences are leading to sentences 33% longer than normal and those convicted of assaulting police officers have been jailed for 40% longer than usual.

Curious how, quite independently of all political and media influence, magistrates seem to be coming to similar conclusions.

Is this another example of the power of the crowd – a kind of legal crowdsourcing?  Or is it more a case of lemmings heading for a sociocultural cliff?

I fear the latter.

Aug 182011

The state is always supposed to be the preserve of the left whilst the right are seen as out-and-out defenders of the individual.  But if we accept the establishment is inevitably a right-wing construct, whether the government in power is nominally progressive or not, it does occur me to think quite otherwise.

It’s recent sentencing policy, as the Mirror describes it, which makes me want to beg to differ.  Whilst the danger to an established order posed by the looting carried out by thousands would seem to indicate that David Cameron’s zero tolerance to crime is a shared response – by many on the right – to the need to uphold the integrity of the rights of victims, I do begin to wonder exactly who that victim is – and whether we couldn’t argue that the state as a whole takes priority here over any other.  The fact that the police and a wider establishment appeared to do everything it could to brush under the carpet the thousands of crimes against the privacy and integrity of individuals – apparently committed by people working for the News of the World newspaper – would suggest something quite different from the line Mr Cameron is currently trying to spin on the subject of protecting us all: that is to say, it would suggest that the right loves the state a jolly lot more than the left has ever been accused of so doing.
If we are happy to leave unchecked for more than four years more than four thousand examples of phone-hacking because they only affected individuals individually (that is to say, they didn’t threaten the oneness of the state), and yet manage to rush through in less than a week more than one thousand convictions in London alone related to the recent rioting and looting, what does this say about our regard for the integrity of the individual?  Individuals’ property – and what this represents – I’ve no doubt has weighed heavily on people’s minds (and quite rightly so).  But individuals’ right to privacy and to the integrity of their communications?  Doesn’t that count for anything any more?  For what we’ve been talking about in the recent phone-hacking scandals is the making of money out of the unhappy privacies of ordinary people.  The invasion, in fact, as painful and psychology hurtful as any looting might be, of personal spaces we surely all have a right to maintain.
If we are willing to intervene and interrupt Blackberry Messenger when and if it is necessary to protect the state from being perceived as too brittle, we should be more than willing to also intervene and interrupt – as well as duly, and in a timely manner, pursue and prosecute – the misdemeanours of those who attack the fabric not of the state as an entity but rather, quite separately, of its component parts – component parts which also serve to generate tapestry and wholeness.

By which, of course, I mean to say individuals’ lives we all experience and which form at an individual and discrete level

Any other response might lead the cynical amongst us to conclude that – even in Coalition Tory-land – the primacy of the state is far more of a priority than the reality and true needs of the individual.

Aug 172011

So sayeth the measured authors of this report, a short overview of which I’ve just read on the Kindle version of the Guardian.  Let me quote from the Guardian overview – in particular, the following paragraph, which is the one that really catches my eye:

To construct our measure of unrest, we looked at five indicators: riots, anti-government demonstrations, general strikes, political assassinations, and attempted revolutions. In a typical year and country, there are about 1.5 incidents of this type. The more you cut, the more incidents you get. By the time austerity measures hit 3% or more, the number of incidents has doubled. Interestingly, for the UK, the pattern is even stronger: for every percentage point of cut-backs, instability surges by more than it does on average in the rest of the countries. Importantly, these effects are in addition to the well-known relationship between lower growth (associated with more unemployment) and higher instability.

And so, in the full knowledge that these things will happen, it clearly involves the kind of cold-hearted button-pressing you can easily imagine those in charge applying to us robots – as well as those sorry processes where risk is calculated in order to determine where spending cuts are best made (the bold is mine):

[…] The annualized loss expectancy is a calculation of the single loss expectancy multiplied by the annual rate of occurrence, or how much an organization could estimate to lose from an asset based on the risks, threats, and vulnerabilities. It then becomes possible from a financial perspective to justify expenditures to implement countermeasures to protect the asset.

Or not, as the case may be.  In other rather simpler and more straightforward words, if the cuts are going to mean more than 1,700 Londoners will be arrested for violent disorder, as well as allow for the introduction of draconian sentencing policies without the traditional resort to parliamentary approval, that then is a fair assessment of assumable consequence someone somewhere down the line must have decided at least fifteen months ago to make.

The question that comes to mind is: will they be able to get away with it?

Aug 172011

It’s a thought, isn’t it?  After the sentences yesterday which sent two young men to prison for incitement to violent disorder via Facebook, even though the events themselves didn’t then actually take place, there have been many references to “predictive policing”, the dear democratic principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – and even the film “Minority Report”:

Minority Report is a 2002 American neo-noir[2] science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg and loosely based on the short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick. It is set primarily in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia in the year 2054, where “PreCrime”, a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “precogs”. […]

Even as I think some of these references have been unhelpfully imprecise, especially in the context of a painful breakdown of law and order as we have just witnessed, there is a sense that we may be at the point of beginning to fear that just to postulate a change in the status quo exposes us to the investigatory instincts of the state.

And if the freedom of speech which constitutions such as the US embody sometimes seem to swing to a sad and difficult kind of an extreme, the tendency which I begin to perceive may be weaving itself into our tapestry of English rights is potentially unfortunate at the opposite extreme.

Whether we see ourselves as radicals because of our progressive or because of our libertarian instincts, either way the right to criticise, question and debate an existing order needs to be as free from the shackles of censorship as is at all possible to fashion.

And there is no worse censorship than the self-censorship generated through fear of state intervention – a censorship which refuses to take ownership and is often invisible to the outside world.

The authorities who rule over us down in that Westminster bubble should think very carefully before they destroy a raft of freedoms and liberties – even where this is to happen through an understandable impulse to prevent future violence on the streets.  I would not like to think Mr Cameron & Co were to become responsible for turning us into the kind of democracy which we used – in other better days – to find ourselves able to criticise and shun.

Yes-people deference – in part – brought the Murdochs to where they stand today.

And a long and painful inculcation of comparable national self-censorship could serve to similarly damage our country in a parallel way tomorrow.

Censorship of ideas is – above all – inefficient.  It may also be immoral – but, above all, it leads to corruption and cover-ups.  We don’t need any more of those – instead, we need openness and honesty alongside a shared desire to challenge everything.

Including the established order which – sometimes – terrible events manage to make seem so brittle.

Aug 172011

As I commented in my previous post, two young men have each been sentenced to four years in jail for apparently inciting disorder via Facebook – even though no riots actually took place as a result of their ill-advised actions.  Coupled with the Coalition government’s suggestion that social networks and messaging systems such as Blackberry Messenger be shut down in times of similar crisis, this would seem to represent a frontal assault on a raft of freedoms and liberties.

And at the very least, on sensible and coherent sentencing policies.

But I wonder if this is really the case.

I wonder if – rather than a sorry assault as described – we should interpret these actions by the established order as a powerful acknowledgement and final recognition of the influence and importance of social networks and social media in 21st century society.

For a while now, as an example, encroaching copyright issues have been lapping away at the edges of the free and easy Internet – a free and easy place of consumer-producers which the last five or ten years have served to bring us.  These copyright issues have been interpreted by many as a step backwards – and I have to say, right now, I am unclear whether I would agree or not with this assessment.  But what I do suspect is undeniable, with such processes and evidence to hand, is that the more the offline world pays attention to this virtual environment some of us still treasure, the more this virtual environment has to begun to count in the eyes of the powerful.  If we accept my thesis, then, what the future thus bodes for all of us involved with online endeavour is not so much a process of creeping oppression by repressive forces located in an offline society but – instead – a growing power and ability to impact on and affect what happens in that other place I mention, a place which to date has foolishly underestimated the importance of the virtual communication revolution.

Thus it is that with that growing power I describe – inevitably – comes greater responsibility.

So does this increasingly close analysis of what we do and say online – by an evermore observant and apparently intrusive state – represent a rite of passage which no one could hope to forever postpone?

I think it does.

And I think the pain and pangs we are witnessing at the moment are the pains and pangs which accompany a true coming-of-age – the like of which, in a connected and digital age, the planet is only beginning to properly perceive.

Which is why in a strange way – medium-term, at least, you know – I’m more hopeful after yesterday’s two Facebook jail sentences than I have been for a long time.

Aug 162011

It’s interesting how this is panning out.  Whilst at the time of Clive Goodman’s original prosecution, it seemed imperative – for the integrity of the established order – to maintain the idea that these were isolated events and examples of rogue reporters, thus leading to a now well-documented, curious and lackadaisical approach by the police to the investigation in question, in the case of the recent English riots the integrity of the established order has depended on a pretty fearsome application of English law.  Witness this case today in Chester, the town where I live – or, indeed, this case where stealing water has lead to a six-month jail sentence, and where it would seem most people in England are currently quite happy to see this man spend time behind bars.

Now as Adrian fairly argues in relation to today’s case in Chester, incitement to a criminal act can reasonably be understood to compare quite favourably (or perhaps I should say unfavourably) with the act itself.  So I’m not going to argue with the draconian nature or not of such sentences.  What I really would like to underline, instead, is why the established order has seen fit to spread the pain (for want of a better word) so widely in the case of the riots – but not in the alleged phone-hacking cases of News International, its reporters, editors and executives, its apparent police hangers-on and other related folk.

There is, therefore, a clear lack of fit here in the attitudes and behaviours of those who prosecute and sentence in the English justice system which would appear to be most revealing in relation to whose interests are really at stake.

And the implications, if nothing else in this matter, are something I really do find most resistible.

Update to this post: there is, of course, as always, an alternative explanation to conspiratorial dynamics – an explanation which, more often than not, is actually where the bigger truth of the matter will lie.  Cameron describes the recent riots as “criminality, pure and simple”.  That is to say, easy to prosecute.  Meanwhile, it’s quite possible to believe that the phone-hacking scandal was “criminality, pure and complicated“.  Which might lead us to conclude, without any desire to cast aspersions other than those of incompetence, that it was all too much like hard work for anyone to want to properly pursue its implications.

Aug 152011

This short .pdf file should be required reading across the nation (background here).  It’s called “Unelected Oligarchy: Corporate and Financial Dominance in Britain’s Democracy”.  And it has something to do with what’s happened here in England recently.

Here’s a Wikipedia definition of “oligarchy”:

Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία, oligarkhía[1]) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, corporate, or military control. The word oligarchy is from the Greek words “ὀλίγος” (olígos), “a few”[2] and the verb “ἄρχω” (archo), “to rule, to govern, to command”.[3] Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next.

Throughout history, most oligarchies have been tyrannical, relying on public servitude to exist, although others have been relatively benign. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which the exact term is plutocracy, but oligarchy is not always a rule by wealth, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged group, and do not have to be connected by bloodlines as in a monarchy. Some city-states from ancient Greece were oligarchies.

And here we have a definition of “corporate oligarchy”:

Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals, sometimes from a small group of educational institutions, or influential economic entities or devices, such as banks, commercial entities that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the oligarchy, often with little or no regard for constitutionally protected prerogative. Monopolies are sometimes granted to state-controlled entities, such as the Royal Charter granted to the East India Company, or privileged bargaining rights to unions (labor monopolies) with very partisan political interests.

Now whilst the right is blaming a generalised moral decline for the recent disturbances in England and the left attaches the responsibility for such a decline at the feet of the rich, in general (at least according to this tweet tonight) no one really knows exactly what’s going on – nor really why it’s all happened.

I suppose I also have felt something similar these days – as I guess most people who consider themselves thoughtful will have had no alternative but to conclude.

And yet, after reading the .pdf I link to above, a short document of little more than twenty-four pages, I feel that a whole host of realities have slotted into place.  I cannot emphasise enough its synthetic importance in summarising and pulling together awful threads of reality which our business leaders and government servants have striven to hide from our sight.

Or, perhaps, not even that: they are so certain of their ability to game the system in their favour that they really don’t care who finds out or when.

Here are some choice phrases from its stream of unhappy truths:

“In the case of the UK, where the ratio of FTSE company directors’ pay to their average employee in 1989 was 19:1, by 2006 it had risen to 75:1, and by 2010 it was 145 times the median national full-time wage.”

“The increasing ability of corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid taxation, and the enormous effort expended on devising ingenious schemes for doing so, is damaging to democracy at each of these levels.  It means that those doing so are able to take advantage of the infrastructure necessary to their wealth and profits while escaping the responsibility to pay for it. […]”

“[…] An investigation by the National Audit Office in 2007 discovered that a third of the country’s largest 700 businesses had paid no corporation tax in the previous year.  The UK tax liability of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is minimal, while in 2009 Barclay’s Bank only paid £113m in UK corporation tax on profits of £11.6bn, a rate of around one percent. […]”

“[…] An investigation in 2006 by The Sunday Times found that the 54 billionaires living in Britain paid income tax between them of a mere £14.7m on their estimated total wealth of £126bn.”

“[…] As a study by Democratic Audit has shown, ‘just 224 donations, originating from fewer than 60 separate sources, accounted for nearly 40% of the three major parties’ declared donation income between 2001 and mid 2010′.”

“The number of former ministers ‘revolving out’ raised particular concern in Parliament and the press in 2008, when the list for the previous two years revealed that no fewer than 28 former ministers had taken jobs in the private sector.  Of these, thirteen were still MPs.  Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), commented that ‘he could not remember ministers hopping into the private sector like this……It is a way of buying access.’  This number of 28 compares with a total of 31 in the list published in March 2011, which covered the previous twelve months.  A smooth transition to the private sector could now be said to be the normal expectation for a government minister.”

Even as the circle of corrupting behaviours is now complete, there’s plenty more I could quote from – but, to be honest, I really think you should go back to the original document and read it in full for yourselves.

There are no easy connections to be made between the street violence in England over the past week or so and the realities the document under discussion in this post contains.  But I do honestly feel, and even more so in the light of the above data, that even where the violence has been entirely apolitical, the causes lie most firmly in the field of our system of government – especially where this system justifies the inequalities that this paper makes patent for all who choose to read it.

Where democracy becomes a mere façade which allows those in charge to game the system and rot it from within, we are surely on a long-term journey to nowhere particularly productive for anyone.

Except, that is, for the short-term interests of the super-rich who can hide behind their security measures – and look down on the rest of as simple pawns in their games of stratospheric chess.

Aug 152011

Interesting stuff.

We will review our work and consider whether our plans and programmes are big enough and bold enough to deliver the change that I feel this country now wants to see.

Government cannot legislate to change behaviour, but it is wrong to think the State is a bystander.

Because people’s behaviour does not happen in a vacuum: it is affected by the rules government sets and how they are enforced…

…by the services government provides and how they are delivered…

…and perhaps above all by the signals government sends about the kinds of behaviour that are encouraged and rewarded.

What do you think?  The kind of stuff you could agree with?

Sure is, in my case.  It encapsulates a recognition of the importance of an engaged and societally aware government.  It indicates an understanding of cause and effect – not only for that matrix of parents and children which traditionally holds a fascination for the right in our body politic but also for the broader dynamics, the state-structured frameworks, which define our complex and modern civilisations.

In essence, it shows a leader aware that modern politics – and life – is far more complicated than those moments prior to gaining power tend to indicate.

If we are to take the analogy of that blessed parenthood of yore and extend it to learning in leadership, we could, I would argue, say the following: for any potential parent, the solutions seem easy – be clear and strict in your guidelines and your children will grow up easily.  For any existing parent, however, the guidelines become just that – and, whilst your children may still grow up, nothing will ever be simple again.

Meanwhile, these words show a leader willing to learn.

A leader who is moving from the facile phases of potential parenthood to the realities of bringing up his babies.

Thankfully – for our short- and medium-term – they don’t belong to an ex-Labour PM from years back, but actually to Mr David Cameron, and from today.

It’s a good first step, too.  Or at least a sign of some movement.

Let’s not criticise him for changing tack.  Let’s, instead, encourage him to go for more of the same.

Aug 152011

Thus says our Prime Minister, David Cameron:

“Within the lifetime of this Parliament, we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country.”

I wonder how Mr Cameron intends to define “most troubled”.  When he uses this term, what exactly does he mean?  Does he mean the poorest, that is to say, using poverty as a crass indicator of criminality – or does he mean the most criminal, in which case any social class?  I would be very interested in what his expectations are: if, for example, we do manage to identify those white collar looters of families at the top of the social pyramid, where it’s the mothers and fathers who have been involved in crime (in this case, corporate fraud), do we really expect the aforementioned miscreants will attend programmes such as the National Citizen Service – and, if they refuse to, be required, by Mr Cameron’s millionaire Coalition, to fully participate?

Or is this all, in fact, one massive underhand plan to take advantage of these disgraceful riots in order to cement politically convenient theses?  Which is actually to say: “most troubled” = rioters and looters = benefit claimants = only the poor.

Myself, I’m all in favour of a National Citizen Service – as long as, of course, it includes an expenses regime akin to that of MPs.  What do you think?

Aug 152011

This tweet has just come my way via the House of TwitsLab Twitter feed:

RT @tpearce003 IDS seems to think looters are all benefit claimants #notgotaclue

IDS, for those of you who might not know, refers to this gentleman, currently the British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  A man, you might conclude, whose remit would be considered essential to any post-riot reconstruction.

And on the back of tpearce003’s tweet, the following thought came to my mind.  Why would IDS, an intelligent and occasionally thoughtful right-wing politician, want to give the impression he thought that looters are all benefit claimants, if the objective wasn’t – long-term – to convince us quite the reverse: to convince us, that is, that all benefit claimants were potential looters?

The essence of successful politicking, after all, is not in setting the initial frame but – rather – via and on the back of the events which then take place, in successfully bolstering in the eyes of the public one’s initial assumptions and prejudices.

Aug 132011

I’ve been worried about the Greater Manchester Police’s official tweeter for a couple of days now.  I mentioned the other day that I didn’t like his or her overbearing tone – but, on the other hand, recognised that most other people, especially those who live in the area in question, seemed perfectly happy with the result.

Today, however, it all seemed to get out of hand.  Again, I felt mildly sick, out of sorts, not at all comfortable with what was going on.  But, at the same time, seeing no one apparently reacted, I thought little more – or, at least, did little more – as (perhaps I should now ashamedly admit) I passed liverishly by on the other side that is discretion.

In the meantime, Political Scrapbook has been telling the full story here – without, as the Spanish would say, pelos en la lengua

Then there’s the “Shop A Looter” campaign, from the same part of the world as that gloating tweet – and more information about which the BBC provides here.  And I’m really amazed and pleased the police are suddenly so able to catch, charge and put behind bars antisocial miscreants such as these – through the ennobling strategy of energising the democratic collaboration of the sentient English majority: by working alongside, that is, the voting public at large.

I am minded to wonder though whether this is consensual policing or populist policing – as well as if anyone cares to appreciate the difference.

I also do wonder why we can’t operate with the same admirable haste in other notable cases of corrupting societal influences: with financial services sector executives who cocked up big-time with money, jobs, pension schemes and futures that really weren’t theirs to cock up; with MPs who were given the opportunity to pay back their looted expenses instead of serve the time the looters quite rightly are now undergoing; and with journalists and editors who’ve spent the last decade operating illegally with the connivance and virtual authority of a whole political and legal establishment.

I mean I’d love to see a double-decker bus driving through the centre of the City with the bowler-hatted exponents of financial fraud pasted up on either side.  Or, alternatively, where appropriate, a bendy-bus in the centre of Marbella, alongside the golfing greens where so many ex-CEOs of banking disasters are now almost certainly to be found.

If only …


But it actually now gets worse.  A certain David Starkey, an apparently respected and popularising historian, was reported to have said on British television the other night:

In an appearance on BBC2’s Newsnight, Starkey spoke of “a profound cultural change” and said he had been re-reading Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech.

“His prophesy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber did not foam with blood but flames lambent, they wrapped around Tottenham and wrapped around Clapham,” he said.

“But it wasn’t inter-community violence. This is where he was absolutely wrong.” Gesturing towards one of the other guests, Owen Jones, who wrote Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Classes, Starkey said: “What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs that you wrote about have become black.”

Tottenham’s Labour MP, David Lammy, was then referenced by Starkey in the following way:

[…] “Listen to David Lammy, an archetypal successful black man. If you turn the screen off so that you are listening to him on radio you would think he was white.”

So whilst for the Greater Manchester Police tweeters, populist policing would now appear to have replaced consensual policing – at least for rioters and looters, if not bankers, MPs and newspaper people – for individuals like Mr Starkey, the revolution underway is a direct result of people not appreciating the importance of sticking with their assigned stereotypes.

Hardly surprising he should think this, given the attitudes – expressed through the very social media Mr Cameron is looking to censor – of some members of our rather more significantly outspoken establishment.

David Lammy’s response, by the way, whilst understandable in the circumstances, hardly infuses me with any greater degree of hope in what’s beginning to look like a very dodgy future.  This, his tweet in question:

Yes, I have now seen what he said. His views are irrelevant – he’s a tudor historian talking about contemporary urban unrest.

So is this the mark of the civilisation we’re looking to build?  A democracy which only allows you a certain radius of action?  A society where you are only relevant in terms of the silo of specialism in which you are deposited?

Are we really saying you can only talk about riots if you’ve got that PhD in Contemporary Looting?

Mr Lammy, that’s not civilisation either.  No, sir.

Or, at the very least, not my idea of what it could – and should – mean.

Silos of specialism lead to walls of misunderstanding – and walls of misunderstanding, in part, in the aftermath of the riots, will only serve to exacerbate an already extremely delicate situation.

Don’t you think?

Aug 132011

mulberrybush makes an excellent couple of points in an exchange of tweets we had yesterday evening.  The first as follows:

@politicsworld @eiohel with the riots, papers are back to trying to herd readers into the “creed”. Need to get beyond this.

Whilst the second continued the theme:

@eiohel @politicsworld I am certain it is important to build bridges. Have spoken to a number of Teleg readers who think so too

Meanwhile, also yesterday evening, and in response to comments from tris on my post on this awful story from Wandsworth (more here from Munguin and Co, and further background here), I couldn’t help myself bleating just a little woefully this sadness on our current state of affairs:

The quality of our political class, and the ability of our institutions to engage with ordinary people, is definitely wanting though.

This clearly has a history behind it, and it truly makes you want to get your own back on the political miscreants involved.

But there’s something else: I didn’t start writing about life and politics to turn into some vengeance-seeking male harpy. I’d far rather we were able to create a society which supported its members, was intelligent in its actions and institutions – and relatively free of corrupt and ingrowing practices. Unfortunately, we simply don’t seem to be any closer to such a society at all – if anything we are moving away from it.

With my Croatian background, I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually I turned into a nationalist of some kind myself. No small can ever be as ugly as big and lumbering London-centric style.

And I suppose I resist the impulse because I’ve seen the damage it’s done in my mother’s homeland.

Even so, it’s a temptation when you see all this disconnected mediocrity.

I’ve already mentioned Peter Oborne’s courageous writing from the heart of Tory thinking over at the Telegraph.  I first noticed this “getting it” during the Cameron-Coulson-Murdoch matrix of half-truths at the centre of the News of the World phone-hacking scandals.  It was almost as if a certain threshold of evidence – a watershed of truths – had been uncovered.  This allowed certain honourable souls to accept that the legacy of spin – which has led us all to doubt any theses about public behaviours, as well as acquire a corrosive cynicism which concludes every accusation has an angle – did not necessarily mean that everything said about top-level governance was inevitably going to be the spoutings of the envious mob.

That people like Oborne are able to tell us home truths the political class feel unable to is both worrying and heartening.  Worrying, because our politicians ought to be braver and more principled; more convinced of their own ability to persuade a frightened populace that societal cohesion is still worth pursuing.  Heartening, because at least there are some prepared to put their reputations on the line.

Even if, objectively speaking, they speak what we can only describe as blindingly obvious and self-evident truths.

In the modern world of spin, 24-hour rolling news and social media, however, such truths are often the first casualties of this killing-field where reality is edited.

And so I come to another heartening piece – again, from the heart of Tory thinking; again, from a writer of note.  This time we find Fraser Nelson concluding in the Spectator with the following even- and open-handed appeal to cross-party cooperation:

The LA report was called “To Rebuild Is Not Enough” – a very good title, which applies to Britain. The report led to the unlikely Clinton/Gingrich welfare reforms. An inquiry is a Labour idea, but if there is to be consensus on any issue in British politics, it should be over tackling poverty, joblessness and lawlessness.

As with the Oborne article, this is well worth a read and careful consideration in full.

Enough has been burnt in the past few days.  This is not a time to also burn bridges with aimless self-justifying rhetoric.

Swords into ploughshares?  How about enemies into friends?  And if friends is not possible, then at least functional colleagues …