Tag Archives: Birmingham Riots

Bleeding Heart Liberals or a Sane Voice in an Insane World

Swift justice and stiff sentences were called for after the riots as the politicians fell over themselves to be “tough” on crime.

Well it appears that is just what we have.  Courts have been sitting through the night to deal with the hundreds of people arrested and an unprecedented number remanded in custody either as a sentence or awaiting trial.

All was looking like just what Mr Cameron ordered until a rather peculiar thing happened – newspapers started reporting that sentences were too harsh and inconsistent. Remarkable because usually the complaint over the past 30 years has been that sentences were too lenient rather than too harsh.

A new political debate is now on the cards and whispers of “divisions” within the coalition are muted by such places as the Guardian and elsewhere.

I now find myself in a rather peculiar position, having been accused of being a “bleeding heart liberal” in the past.

I watched an interesting debate a few nights ago in which Michael Howard (yes the former Tory leader who lurched to the right in a cynical attempt to pick up votes and who proclaimed “prison works”) defended the sentencing being laid down by the courts for those perpetrating the riots and looting.

Others broadly described as “on the left”, “liberal thinkers” or those campaigning for “human rights” and “prison reform” have argued that many of these sentences are too harsh and inconsistent.  Not only that, but it has been argued that the appeals procedure will bring the justice system into disrepute and cost the tax payer more money.

As written in a previous post What are the causes of the riots?: An impossible question but one we have to ask I am sympathetic to and insist upon finding the causes behind why there is a section in society who seem to not feel they belong to society or their own community and have a set of values many of us simply do not understand.

However, I along with many others have been so shocked and sickened by the rioting and looting that went on as also discussed in Armageddon Days – Britain’s Riots   that the call for tough sentencing did not just come from the usual suspects on the right of our political system.

Seeing violence and looting on a mass scale without any immediate causal link like “the cuts”, “political demonstration”, or “poverty” – but rather naked wanton violence and thievery on an opportunistic mass scale regardless of the harm it caused to their own neighbours, community or wider society was shocking.

45 people lost their homes and 4 people died in the riots, and be it for a lot of luck, more would have died as the haunting pictures of the Polish lady jumping from a first floor window to escape the flames shows.

Not only were large businesses affected, but small businesses where a small interruption to their activities will send them to the wall and thus people losing their jobs. There is also the much unreported events of looters breaking into peoples homes in places like Ealing while people were in their homes and breaking into restaurants where guests where locked into basements while the staff fought off looters and rioters.

These people took part in riots without thought for their victims or society at large, because they thought they could get away with it and even if they did get caught they had nothing to fear.

Talking to Police – it appears that there is so much evidence they have obtained, from blood samples, finger prints and cctv evidence that they will still be making arrests in 2 years time.  The culprits did not take hardly any precautions because they never thought they would be caught.

Then there are those who committed “minor” offences of receiving stolen goods.  However, anyone who “received” stolen goods during or immediately after the riots when “picking up a TV set off the street” or “buying stuff in the pub off someone he didn’t know”, must have been living on the planet Venus not to know where these items had come from.

Michael Howard said famously that “prison works” – he was partly wrong.  Prison breeds criminals and starts a vicious circle of crime and institutionalisation. However, we have to have as a society an ultimate sanction.  In our society we no longer thrash people, or throw tomatoes at people in stocks or thankfully hang people – so for us prison is the ultimate punishment.  Prison works to keep those dangerous off the streets.

It seems obvious to me that if you take part in the worst rioting seen in this country for a hundred years; where it was wanton greed and violence; where 4 people died and 45 people lost their homes, then a prison sentence is likely to be the appropriate outcome for  good number. Indeed, to put rioters and looters back on the streets immediately could be seen as asking for trouble.

I do not accept the argument that people appealing their sentence brings the system into disrepute.  It is inevitable that there will be SOME inconsistency in the system as magistrates and judges are after all human (shock horror).

It is very easy to cite a few cases where sentences are disproportional or inconsistent when over a thousand people have been sentenced in a short period of time.  That is why we have an appeals procedure and that is how the law works.

I find myself, in the peculiar position of agreeing with Michael Howard, (if I believed in God I may well ask for forgiveness at this time!).  Prison sentences in many cases will be appropriate and the context of the riots should be taken into account.

The public appear to agree with this as seen in a recent YouGov polls showing that OF THOSE SURVEYED 81% either agree with the sentencing or think they are too lenient. However, as with all surveys we should be guarded. It is also easy to follow the mob in justice as in rioting.  During the riots it is worth noting that 33% were polled as believing the Police should use LIVE AMMUNITION on the rioters.  Yet another shocking statistic in the saga.

The question for the politicians now is what they do about the numbers game. Their prison policy is in tatters as the prisons are now about to be full to bursting point as Newsnight have reported that those convicted of knife crime are being housed in a Premier Inn Hotel rather than a prison!

They will surely be preparing a U-Turn for the Justice Secretary soon enough.  It may well be time for a rather more searching debate on the role of our justice system in future.  A balance between punishment and rehabilitation without policy led by the need to save money.

On this occasion I would have to say the “bleeding heart liberals” have got it sadly wrong.


What are the causes of the riots? : An impossible question but one we have to ask

Later today the great and the good in the House of Commons will discuss the riots the country has been subject to for the past 5 days.  In some ways my heart sinks at the thought.  The temptation to sink into the comfort of party politics and ideological prejudices I fear will be too difficult to resist.

That is not to say I have not heard some level headed comments by MP’s, but it does not take long before the ugliness creeps in as it could be seen with Baroness Warsi and Diane Abbott on Newsnight yesterday.  The temptations to blame the Labour Government or to point out that riots seem to happen under the watch of the Conservative Party could not be resisted.

Then we have the likes of David Davies who was blaming the lack of control on the streets of Britain on the criticisms of the Police in the past.  We apparently are not allowed to criticise the Police when they use Kettling, or when police officers accept money for information, or contribute to the deaths of innocent people like Mr Tomlinson.  he obviously perceives this on the agenda of “its the fault of the left”.

What will undoubtedly come out of the commons debate will be the universal condemnation of the violence which I am sure we would all agree with.  The feeling in the country that the people causing the mayhem, violence and looting need to be caught and severely punished.  Law and Order and confidence in the Police needs to be restored.

It is also the case that we should support the Police in the way they have dealt with a situation that was unforeseen and difficult.  I have no criticism in the way the riots were dealt with with the resources they have in a society where they police on the basis of consent and not coercion.

There are clearly 2 issues we need to address. One is to restore Law and Order and severely punish those who have acted in such a disgraceful manner bringing our communities to the brink of anarchy – The Second Issue however is far more complex and that is, what is the cause of the rioting and the fostering of values in a section of society that is abhorent to most people.  However this is actually the wrong question. The real question is

What are the causes

I have already heard people come up with the simplistic “cause” approach – its poverty, or its the family, or its inequality, or most ridiculously its the cuts.  These explanations are as simple as they are stupid.

Lets also be clear – looking for the deep rooted long term causes does NOT excuse the acts of violence and looting, but as Tony Blair eloquently put it, we need to deal with “crime and the causes of crime”. Unfortunately, as with so much Tony Blair said, he was great on rhetoric, and very poor on substance, he never did deal with the causes.

In my view the only way to come to a conclusion in what is happening to our society and why these values pervade a section of our society is for us all to step back and analyse deep seated traits of our society, to speak to people who actually engage with the people engaging in this behaviour and to throw off the shackles of our political prejudices and ideologies.

A full public enquiry needs to be undertaken and nothing should be off the table for discussion, this is the only way to come to a conclusion and to begin to address the causal issues in order to make our society as a whole a better place to live and to prevent this descent into sickening acts of depravity.

I have been racking my brain over the last few days to come up with reasons why people can act in the way they have in the rioting.  Sometimes I can only come up with the questions and not the answers – other times I feel I have an understanding of how we have got to where we are – at others I am simply at a loss.

For what it is worth – these are my thoughts:

1) Looking at society and the way it has developed over the past 35 years, there is no doubt in my mind that we have become a more selfish and materialistic society.  Money and materialism is the mantra of our society, it is our new religion.  As a pithy remark – perhaps we could engage people to vote in the political process if we told them they would get a new pair of Adidas trainers at the polling station!

The instant gratification society we now live in is likely to cause problems in a time of austerity due to the way we encourage the idea that we can all have what we want when we want it.

When I was a child in the 1970’s, I was taught that you saved your money and bought items when you could afford them.  Buying items “on the knock” or what we now refer to as “buying on credit” was frowned upon.  You live within your means.

Our financial system however is built on credit, creating money that does not exist until it is paid back.  We previously trusted financial institutions when they leant us money, but those very same institutions changed the rules and told people they could borrow far more than they could afford; that it was ok to have whatever we want NOW, and to worry about it later.  This aided economic growth for 30 years, but has now thrown us into a stagnating state of austerity that we will probably endure for a decade or more.

This is what happens when you “live for today” and don’t care about tomorrow. Is it any wonder that those who are on the fringes of our society think they are entitled to whatever they want when they want it?

2) Are some of the rioters doing just what other so called “responsible” members of our society have been doing for years.  Do we have any so called role models left?

We see MP’s who rip off the country’s tax payers on mass effectively steeling millions of pounds in expenses while telling the country they are subjecting themselves to wage restraint and building property empires while a housing crisis ensues in our communities.

Bankers who have brought the country’s finances to its knees, who are bailed out and effectively nationalised, where the risk is taken away – and yet they award themselves enormous bonuses for taking risks that do not exist.

Journalists and newspapers break the law at will and are not held to account for years even though it is openly admitted – all to obtain more money for their publications.

A celebrity culture that says you can earn money for notoriety and not for achieving something constructive.

Time and again those at the upper echelons of our society do not get what they deserve proving we do not live in a meritocracy but a nepotistic one, awarding failure and cutting off opportunities for others.

3) Family life – It is clear that the behaviour of a section of our society do not know the difference between right and wrong.  Boundaries have been taken away and some families are completely dysfunctional. We need to be brave and ask why? Frank Field investigated this and wrote a paper handed to the government 8 months ago.  It was kicked into the long grass by the government, but we need to investigate this further and not simply give a tax break to married couples which is as useless as handing them a chocolate tea pot.

4) Education – How can we as a society accept that 17% of 15 year olds are affectively illiterate.  How can we not see the correlation between illiteracy and crime when 70% to 80% of those in prison cannot read and write.  How can we accept a post code lottery on whether children go to a good or bad school. Giving people poor education is the equivalent of shutting the door of aspiration in their faces.

Why is it that teachers have their hands tied behind their backs in preparing the boundaries of behaviour for our young people and why are they not backed up by some of the parents?  How can we change this culture?

5) Social mobility – Our society today has not been as unequal as it is today since the 1920’s.  After WWII our society became more integrated, more equal in terms of wealth, wealthier and social mobility increased. In the past 30 years this trend has been reversed, is this a coincidence?

6) Law and Order – Michael Howard said “Prison Works” – 20 years later we have been told by Kenneth Clarke that “prison does not work”.  In truth they are both wrong.  Prison works when it protects the public from dangerous people.  The public would like our justice system to provide sentencing that is equitable with their crimes.

When you have dangerous violent crimes being given light sentences; when you get people convicted of knife crime getting a few months in jail and serving less than a third of their sentence; when you get MP’s like Jim Devine sentenced to 16 months in prison for ripping off the tax payer and abusing the highest office in the land and yet is released after serving only a quarter of the sentence, is it any wonder people do not believe they will be either caught or punished?

I am all for more community sentencing and alternative forms of punishment and a focus on rehabilitation, BUT people need to know that people convicted of serious crimes are severely punished and that there are the prison places available for them.

7) Lack of Community – Our overwhelming pre-occupation with the individual and the lack of “belonging” seems to run throughout our society.  I do not wish to make a political point, just a fact that we need to face up to, and that is that we devastated communities in the 1980’s, most of which have never recovered.  I have lived in various areas of the country and until recently, I had not lived in a real “community” since I was a child in Birmingham.  Political leaders like to give lip service to community, but I doubt if many actually know what it really means.

8)  We accept unemployment is acceptable in our society – I am well aware of the poverty trap and welfare dependency, but we have a systemic problem that unemployment is accepted as a part of our system.  Indeed it is a necessity in order to suppress wages and to encourage people to do the jobs the rest of us do not want to do.  Should we now question this approach?

None of these possible causes on their own is a reason for an anti-culture in our society, but they all need to be investigated and considered.  It is the combination of many factors that creates the society in which we live and if we want to prevent this “underclass” from growing larger in numbers and for this complete disregard for civilised values to stop, we need to have a good look at ourselves and how we can break this cycle.

ARMAGEDDON DAYS – BRITAIN’S RIOTS: Is there rhyme or reason for this violence?

I have woken this morning in a confused state, my mindset reeling from anger, to shame and despair, I can hardly recognise my country as I scrawl through the news channels taking in the devastation across Britain.

Birmingham, where I grew up has been bombarded by seemingly mindless violence with youths and others on a jolly looting in the city centre and acts of violence in Handsworth. I am thinking of my friends who were on their way from work at the time the rioting started.  People who are neither rich or privileged, who work hard to provide for their families.

London this morning looks like a war zone. The destruction no longer confined to the “usual” areas of deprivation, but the leafy suburbs of the middle class. Ealing, where little happens than the odd drunk being thrown out of a bar from time to time experienced wanton violence, looting and destruction.  Attacking small businesses regardless of whether there was anything worth steeling.  Shops full of baby clothes, flower shops and jewellery stores.  Setting fires to properties where people live in the flats above.

Again, I have friends living in the area, one had her car windows smashed and couldn’t get any sleep due to the running battles beneath her bedroom windows. Stories of looters entering homes for their pickings.

Then other provincial cities catching the same disease with Liverpool and where I live in Bristol.  Last night we got off lightly in Bristol.  The main violence was contained within St Pauls and Stokes Croft, where gangs were trying to get to the main commercial centre.  The Police actually had it seemingly under control, preventing the spread of the mob.

I am caught in two minds – a part of me in effect wants to string up (metaphorically speaking) the people causing this violence.  It is hard for me to comprehend the mentality of anybody who could commit wanton violence, especially torching buildings where people are situated.  To me this is a case of attempted murder – no one with an ounce of intelligence could surely not understand that people could die.  Many stories already of people escaping burning buildings with their children.

Many sickening videos have appeared on the net, the one below, just shows the mentality of some people in our society, some would say – pure scum to rob an injured bleeding man.


Is it that some people just do not have the base values of a civilised society? Is it that people are simply so badly educated that they cannot see that destroying the very communities within which we live and work actually harms us all?

An interesting article in the Telegraph today comes up with a dispassionate view of what is happening in our society, which will be difficult for those affected by this violence, to step back and think of possible causes.

The premise of the piece is that the there is now a significant underclass in our society, that have no investment or belonging to our wider communities.  That the UK is now more unequal that it has been since the 1920’s.  That after the 1930’s Britain became more equal, yet over the past 30 years this trend has been reversed.

Certainly looking at the attitude of people who have committed these acts it appears that they have no connection with the community around them.  They see no consequences to their actions. How could anybody commit these acts in a society where people have a stake?

Perhaps David Cameron was right, and maybe I have become too middle class, to see it, maybe we do live in Broken Britain.  Maybe though, we have a Broken Britain for different reasons that David Cameron would like to admit.  If the wealth created in our society is largely going to the top 10% and the bottom section of our society continually gets no look in on any wealth creation, can we blame this type of lashing out?

Is our society now so skewed that we are happy for an underclass to be left behind, disenfranchised and producing their own set of values to make sense of the world. I do not believe that this has anything to do with “Cuts”, that some were suggesting yesterday, but something has gone badly wrong.

But is this just a load of excuses for a section of our society, who for whatever reason have grown up with different values and morality, and it is simply “entertainment”, to destroy our communities, destroy shops and jobs, commit violence, rob the injured and torch buildings in which people sleep.

Personally I cannot make sense of it.