I am grateful for the big response to my request for comments on the looting and arson in our cities. Many of you want tougher policing, and have specified how. A few have warned against reactions which damage the liberties of the rest of us, or undermine the tolerance and consent of British society at its best.
Some of you do not like the fact that I have removed some of your comments. I have done so in accordance with my request for facts, evidence and analysis. I do not wish to have to spend time defending this site for posting material which offends innocent people because it falsely brands too many with the stamp of criminality.
A few posters are infected by the Ken Livingstone approach. He condemns the looters whilst at the same time claiming it is the result of cuts, social exclusion and other mistaken policies. He does not pause to think it is mainly an indictment of many years of Labour rule nationally and in London, if public policy is at fault. No-one can claim Mr Johnson or Mr Cameron have made much difference yet to levels of spending or the general approach to the public sector, other than to put spending up a little more.
I reject the proposition that we have been witnessing the spontaneous political outbreak from a dispossessed underclass reacting to draconian public sector cuts. To start with, overall spending has gone up. Consider three types of people we have seen or heard about involved in these criminal activities.
There are the schoolchildren. They are attending well financed state schools, whose budgets were increased substantially during the Labour years, and whose budgets have been protected by the Coalition. Those who attend inner city schools receive substantially more cash per head for their education than the schoolchildren in Home Counties suburbia. Their schools may well be getting double the amount per pupil. Both past and present governments are dedicated to improving their life chances through their reforms. The consistent message has been there is a decent life for you too, if you behave and perform well at school. The fact that too many of these children do not respond, may not get support at home, and get to the position where they wish to drop out from the mainstream argues for changing the way we do things but does not prove a lack of concern or cash.
There are the employed twenty somethings who have now been charged with theft and violent entry into shops. Listening to the roll call of oocupations, they did not sound like the dispossessed. They are not the frustrated unemployed. They were greedy people who thought they saw an opportunity to have something free that they could probably afford to buy from their incomes in the normal way if the budgetted sensibly. Those who have been caught have just made a mess of their lives. The danger is their criminal record will then get in the way of them taking responsiblity for themselves and their familes and continuing in worthwhile paid employment.
There are, we hear from government sources, the gang leaders and organisers. These are people who make a living out of selling misery to people by trading in drugs, protection and other illegal activities. Gangland culture is not a healthy part of some of our urban areas. It is run by people who show considerable entrepreneurial skills, but choose to exercise them in dark ways on the wrong side of the law, often with dreadful consequences for those caught up in their activities.
It is difficult to conclude from the tv pictures that this is a revolt of the very poor. Many of them went looting in cars, or were directed to the crime scenes through their blackberries as they raced there in their designer trainers and tops.
As many say, we have created a society where this type of behaviour is possible. There are too many children without parents controlling and encouraging them, too many school pupils who are not motivated and disciplined within the walls of academy, too many young people who know their rights but do not accept their responsibilities. We have concentrated on the politically correct at the expense of old fashioned virtues and orderly conduct. The last government encouraged the police to to spend more time and energy on thought crime and less on anti social behaviour or worse. People have been encouraged to worship the cult of celebrity, to think the possession of branded products is what matters most, and to think that almost any means are justified by the end. Civility, courtesy, moderate language, mutual respect, consideration for others and efforts to improve the social fabric have been regarded as old fashioned or middle class. Everyone else has been told to look to the state, to insist on their entitlement, and to think more public money will solve all ills and create fine lives. Deprivation, past hardship, low income beginnings have been advanced as excuses for criminal or self defeating behaviour. Ambition has been set low or snuffed out for those from poor backgrounds.
In a later post I will look at the kind of policing many of you would like to see to prevent this happening in future.