Let’s get this straight from the start: These riots are bad, wrong, horrible, destructive, devastating and heartbreaking. We also have a legal system to deal with those who have clearly broken the laws of the land. We have seen in recent days what can happen if the rule of law breaks down. If we don’t have the rule of law, what do we have?
What is happening on the streets of a number of towns and cities is causing a lot of people from all political backgrounds to examine their consciences and beliefs. It’s at times like these that we find out just how strong our principles and our beliefs are.
What is happening affects us all – because one way or another, we all pay taxes and it is the taxpayer that will foot a huge financial bill. That’s before we’ve even considered the human cost to all of this – the people who will have been through the trauma of coming face-to-face with the violence that is going on. There will be hundreds and hundreds of innocent victims who will have been traumatized by this.
The first priority has to be the restoration of peace on our streets by the police. Our armed forces’ experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan tell us this – little can be achieved in the face of widespread violence and civil unrest.
I’m not going to pretend to know what the underlying causes of this – I don’t. On Puffles’ Twitter feed I’ve observed a number of explanations and comments – some sounding more plausible than others.
What I do think though is that what we are seeing on our streets is a symptom of the catastrophic failure of politics and quite possibly, of ‘economics’ too.
Political processes are there to enable us to resolve our differences without resorting to violence and war. When one person riots, that person is in trouble. When thousands of people riot, the rest of us are in trouble too because politics is in trouble.
The breakdown of the basic social contract of “you pay for goods and services that you want to acquire” has also broken down as far as the looters are concerned. What differentiates what’s happening on the streets now compared to the crimes of theft, robbery and burglary is that it is widespread, indiscriminate, systematic and violent. No business can survive in an environment like that – and if businesses cannot survive, then neither can ‘the market’.
Once the police have restored peace to our streets, there will be a lot of difficult questions asked of a lot of people – in particular of our politicians, civic leaders and decision-makers across the public, voluntary and business sectors. The reasons being that we cannot return ‘back to normal’ because ‘normal’ is what got us here in the first place.
If there is to be an independent public inquiry – and I sincerely hope there is, I hope that its remit will be at least as wide and as powerful as the one investigating the phone hacking. It needs to find out how we got to here, why we got to here, how we put a stop to it and how we can prevent this violence on this scale from ever happening again.