I have never had so many responses to stories as the numbers that came in concerning the looting, arson and violent attacks on our streets. I have done my best to keep up with the flow. I understand that some of you wish to discuss race and immigration issues. I have edited these for two main reasons. Firstly I do not think we have just witnessed race riots. Secondly, my understanding of the UK – and of England – is that we are a country made up of many migrants from many places who came at various times in our history. There is no simple tale to tell, and I do not wish to help divide communities or libel groups who have their share of criminals, their share of hard working and responsible people and their share of saints like all the rest.
England was settled by Angles and Saxons, by Celts and by Picts, by Jutes and by Jews, by Hugenots and other Protestant refugees from the continent, by Indians and Pakistanis, by West Indians and by Africans, by Poles and Czechs, by all manner of people from many parts of the world. I have no idea where my ancestors came from or when they came, nor will many of you, but we too ultimately are the sons and daughters of migrants.
We should not seek to divide all those legally settled here by reference to race or creed. We should be working towards common goals and creating a common life which draws on our great island story. We have democratic institutions founded on fine principles. All are equal beneath the law. The law applies to all, however powerful or rich. Everyone is innocent until proved guilty, and all charged with a crime have the right to prove their innocence in court. There is trial with a jury for the more serious offences. The state does not make windows into men’s souls, and permits all religions and beliefs, unless they preach hatred, violence and intolerance to others.
The one thing which defined and united those who broke windows, threw bricks, stole goods and torched other people’s property is that they are all criminals. Most if not all of them were UK citizens, legally settled here, many born here. The issue is what should the government and the wider community do to prevent such misconduct in the future. The elephant in the room is too many criminals. The problem is the spirit which took so many into crazy behaviour, which if unchecked would have made normal commercial life, jobs and incomes impossible to maintain.
The government recognises it needs an agenda to improve its response to any possible break down in authority. In recent days the police have changed their response to such an outbreak of criminality, with the support of the government.
The government has stated that the police can insist on people revealing their faces, to make them more relucant to commit offences.
It has stated there will be enough prison places available to put those who committed serious crimes into jail.
The police moved to putting more officers on the streets, and to arresting more at the time of the crimes being committed.
The government confirmed that the faces of those believed to have committed offences can be posted on the web to locate them for questioning.
The courts met continuously through day and night to handle the rush of cases expeditiously. Some magistrates and judges have handed out exemplary sentences. Others have been criticised for alleged lenience.
The government says it intends there to be enough police available in future for front line duties. There is an argument between the polticial parties over whether future budgets are sufficient. The government claims there is plenty of scope to divert resources from back office and paperwork to more active policing.
There does seem to be a move towards more active policing at the time of the event, and less reliance on CCTV images and subsequent arrests.
My first question is what else would you like the authorities and the police to do? Does the law need strengthening? Are the new police tactics correct?
Several of you have written in to say that you think the behaviour of thieves and yobs is similar in nature to the bahaviour of bankers and politicians who have taken large bonuses or generous expenses. Some of the yobs, far from beign campaigners for higher public spending on youth clubs, were saying taxes were too high leaving them insufficient cash to buy what they wanted, as if that excused taking it for nothing.
I fundamentally disagree with this way of thinking. Where MPs stole public money they should be condemnded as roundly as the looters, and sent to jail – which indeed is what has happened. An MP who is found guilty of theft loses job, reputation, and liberty. An MP who claimed sums under a generous scheme for expenses which was legal at the time was guilty of misjudgement in the court of hindsight, but was no thief. The subsequent row led to a tighter scheme as befits the mood of the times. The fact that MPs are allowed to charge for secretrial support, other office expenses and overnight accommodation when they are working late is no justification for others to steal. Most people in executive style jobs can claim overnight and subsistence costs when working away from home. Most have secretaries and office supplies provided to do their jobs without having to submit claims for audit.
A banker who earns a very large bonus because he and his bank have made large profits of course attracts jealousy, but again is no good reason why others should go looting. The profitability of the banks should have produced more competitive challenge, and may now do so to compete away high profits. If the bank has risked private capital and chooses to reward it employees or its shareholders well, that is no more unacceptable than the wages very good footballers earn because many people want to see them play. The rest of us benefit from the high taxes they pay, assuming they are onshore.
I agree that the state should not subsidise the banks to pay such bonuses or to bail out their losses. I was the one MP who disagreed with the nationalisation of the banks. I proposed breaking them up, only protecting the depositors, handling them through a controlled administration. I think it was a huge mistake that the government did not make it a conditon of support for nationalised banks that they had to cut high salaries and ban bonuses until the banks are profitable and back in the private sector.
The fact that Messrs Brown and Darling confirmed many generous contracts and signed up some more of their own still does not justify others going looting.
We also need to continue the substantial work going on to get more young people into work, and to teach and train more to see the value and virtue of abiding by the law and taking responsibility for your own life.