In case you don’t know what is going on over here on our small island North of mainland Europe, things have got into a right old mess in London and in some of our other big cities. I suspect, though, that news would have leaked out now across the World that London has been going up in flames, the police have been struggling to control gangs of looting teenager vandals who have been setting fire to shops, apartment blocks and cars all across the capital for three days now.
The buzz word from the police and the government is “pure criminality” – these orgies of inner city looting are, we are told, just criminal acts by irresponsible people running riot and inflamed by online social networking sites.
They are all meeting today, we are told, our government politicians and police chiefs, to work out what to do about it all. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, interrupting her summer holidays, tells us very firmly that the guilty people will be punished after appearing in court and the “acting” Metropolitan Police Commissioner has appealed for people to clear the streets so that the police can confront the “troublemakers.” Even David Cameron, the British prime minister, has come back overnight from his Italian holiday issuing a statement that he is going to have a meeting first thing in the morning. So no statesman-like comment so far – maybe after their meetings, our leaders will have a better idea of what to say about this distressing state of affairs.
Not their fault, of course, actually no one’s fault except these very badly behaved teenagers or so we are being encouraged to believe.
It was just unfortunate that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London were all away at the same time and even more unfortunate that there has just been a wobbly change of personel at the top of the London Police. You may not have heard that the previous Metropolitan Commissioner and his deputy resigned a few weeks ago over the seedy hacking scandal. None of this caused the rioting, of course, but it hasn’t helped giving the impression that, over the last few nights, London has been running out of control.
It was those “criminal” teenagers who did the damage though – no argument there. It is, however, much too simplistic, unsurprizing coming from our current embarrassingly naive government, that this is just thuggery and criminality.
These young thugs have been burning and looting whilst showing a disturbing sense of enjoying themselves whilst also showing a discerning eye for a bargain in the shops that they have been emptying. They are, we are told, being egged on by the social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, the modern equivalent of telephones, conversations in pubs and even those hill-top beacons lit across the country to warn of the Spanish Armada in 1588. We are a species of communicators so let’s stop blaming the messenger. For the message to have been meaningful to these rioters, there most have been a reason why burning and looting your home town seemed like such a good idea.
Mrs. May and the “Acting” police chief will say that it is “pure criminality” using the age-old argument that bad people are just bad people and looking no deeper for a reason behind their behaviour.
The government think-tank issued some advice for British parents last week telling them that they should talk to their children for twenty minutes every day without the television on and, on top of that, play with them for ten minutes too. So set your watches, British mums and dads, we know you find parenting boring, that you are busy working or depressed because you can’t work, but in the interests of bringing up some tolerably balanced human beings, it is time, without patronising government advice, to actually start to enjoy being a parent.
Maybe I have grown less tolerant of kids but it strikes me that whenever I go out, I hear screaming children fighting for the attention of their bored and stressed out parents. We know, without being told, that large numbers of older children, teenagers too, are mostly left to their own devices. We, as a nation, have fallen out of love with parenthood which is a much too demanding a job for a society encouraged to crave instant gratification. Even the fashion for ostentatiously gigantic pushchairs reflects parental impatience with allowing their children to walk slow child-like steps. Many modern children have their computers, mobile phones, social networking sites and the odd beer can to kick around in the streets but what they mostly are not doing, is looking to their parents for advice or example.
Who do they have to admire in modern Britain? A police force that is being rocked by corruption scandals, a government of, at best, well-meaning elitists who have no understanding of what life is actually like if you are not a millionaire, a banking system that has revealed the unalloyed power of greed and newspaper journalists who have shown that nothing is beyond the pale in their thirst for a good story. They live in a country that, we are always being told, is in financial crisis and where even, and maybe, especially the poor have to take most of the pain. What do they have to loose, these teenagers from the least privileged parts of British society? Why not take the opportunity of riot to go and get what they want and to have a bit of riotous fun at the same time?
The police shooting of a young man, Mark Duggan, who may well have not been an entirely innocent person but who probably didn’t need to be shot down in a minicab, was the catalyst for this explosion when a group of the man’s family and friends embarked on a peaceful protest in Tottenham, North London. There was genuine anger in the eruption that followed but also, after that, this wild and hysterical teenage riot which, I am sure, has not been without a bit of help from subversive ill-wishers in our society.
Whatever, the Prime Minister finds out at his meeting this morning, whatever final conclusions are drawn from this drama, one thing is for sure, this is not just “pure criminality.”