Thursday, August 11, 2011

The London Riots & David Cameron's Big Society

So what have we all learnt, well judging by the twitter, facebook and phone-ins we can certainly agree that people are very, very angry & shocked over what happened in the London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Salford, Bristol and West Brom. It is always a shame to see the surge of "Hang them high, birch them low" Daily Mail style knee-jerking but after what we've seen over the last week who am I to argue with them?

People took the opportunity to run amok, simple as that. This isn't a's simple scumbag criminality. The very second they new that police in Tottenham were confined to barrack they went out and started stealing. Then the rest of country's scumbags decided they wanted in too. We all know this...I say it to give a background of how I see it because ultimately we HAVE to look for the reasons behind this otherwise we'll be here again sometime soon. Given the background of cuts to police and fire services it is irresponsible of the coalition to pretend that frontline services can cope with emergencies like this with a massively reduced budget and much less manpower. The young police officers and fire crews who put themselves in harms way this week deserve to have this looked at because they always have our backing if we expect them to go out and bring order to anarchy.

The problem at the moment I see is that to give a reason for these riots seems to be viewed as making excuses...let's be clear (Politician speak!), these little rats where looting and torching local family run businesses with people living in the flats above. See it unfold in our own neighbourhoods or live on our tv screen was appalling. So what factors meant that given the chance to going a rampage people took the opportunity so readily and so widely? There will also be economic factors at play, these are difficult are scarce, benefits and services are being cut, families are broken. There is a just a void in these places and gangs and the opportunity to riot fill that. When violent crime takes place the rest of the country doesn't care as long it is is contained & away from the rest of us.

With all this there is no shame in the criminal behaviour because it's seen as taking a bit back from a society that wants to ignore you. There is also a lack of family and community pier groups to re-enforce the pride in being honest. It's an ever-decreasing circle then. Operation Trident was an attempt to police this in a more measured way but we will definitely have to look at where we are with that. My point is that going with the easy, instand reaction of coming down on these people like a tonne of bricks then doing nothing else is only a temporary solution. My thought is that David Cameron will finally get support for his oft-relaunched, oft-rejected Big Society but it will only work if this time he finally puts some funds and resources behind it. Things like SureStart centres are the Big Society but *gasp, shock, horror* they are coming from local government...if you can explain what's wrong with this let me know. Cameron's bizarre obsession with localism and federalisation is a postcode lottery writ large and it's not what we need because these communities where action is needed most have already lost that lottery.

One other thing we can be re-assured that the ordinary people of this country will always rise to challenges like this. Armies of clean-up volunteers have been spontaneously coming together to help restore high-streets to order and helping shop-owners get back on their feet...if there is a Big Society this is it, it is restorative rather than preventative though and it's effectively running on adrenalin...if we are to take this and apply it to the communities in question we need cash and resources. Liverpool jumped aboard The Big Society with gusto but quickly backed off when people realised it was little more than a fig leaf for government cuts, if Big Society relaunch #18 (I think that's what we are up to now) is to work when it's needed most then it has to be more than a bumper-sticker.

David Cameron seems to look massively annoyed whenever the job of PM involves something other than gala lunches and meeting famour people...he is a classic captain-of-industry figurehead chairman, well hopefully this week proves you can't do the job from the golf-course (or in this case Tuscany). He needs to work at establishing things that will make improvements to our inner cities and then people will the moment all he's done is to create a void (through cuts) and created a name for what he hopes will spontaneously fill it. If the Big Society is as important to him as he makes out then he's now got to put up or shut up.

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