Oh what a lovely riot

Who are the rioters? Bored youths.
Why are they rioting? Because they can.
What are they rioting about? Nothing in particular.

Let me take you back a few years, back to the 1980’s and Thatcher’s Britain. Massed pickets had become an industrial weapon used to close factories and impose the will of union leaders on employers during the 1970’s, but Thatcher resolved to bring back the rule of law. The police were given new equipment and training in dealing with large numbers of people to clear safe passage for employees who wanted to work and for delivery trucks to get in an out. Rioting as such wasn’t an issue although it became one as frustrations and tempers rose on both sides once they were in close physical contact.

One thing stands out in my memory from that era. The police took to drumming their truncheons in unison on their riot shields, like scenes from “Zulu” where long lines of warriors would pound their shields with assagais to intimidate Michael Caine and his few red coats. Amazingly, it wasn’t throwing bricks or bashing someone over the head with a truncheon that aroused public ire, it was that. The drumming. As tough as the striking miners were, and they did have hard physically demanding jobs, it was absolutely beastly to make them hear the drumming and after many complaints it was banned.

And it’s gone downhill since. The police are hamstrung because anything that is effective in managing large numbers of angry protesters is ruled out because innocent people often get caught up during the event, and rioters know how to exploit human rights legislation after the event. Anarchists have learned how to use peaceful demonstrations either to assemble under their cover and break away to riot, or use them as human shields. And we come down hard on the police. Certainly there are some bad apples for whom the full process of the law must apply, but we shouldn’t demonise them all.

These are not genuine protests and these are not innocent people exercising their democratic rights. This is sheer lawlessness by a violent minority that deprives the majority of honest law-abiding citizens of their own rights and opportunities. And we’ve gone soft on them. We try to police a riot with tenderness and it is the police themselves now who are usually intimidated. The slightest misbehaviour on their part and they feel the full force of the law while we provide the rioters with lawyers at public expense to get them off any charges and win compensation. The system has turned topsy-turvy.

I have a vested interest: it’s not inconceivable that I might be a peaceful protester one day. We’ve all got something to be angry and protest about. For example, I’m angry about the way the banks rip us off, and when they run into financial trouble themselves we have to bail them out with public money, and then despite having run their banks practically into the ground the top directors still pay themselves colossal bonuses, only now in order to make the balance sheet still balance they sack thousands of employees and increase bank charges. But it doesn’t make me angry enough to go out and riot.

Another thing I’m angry about is what has become of our police. The Bobby on the Beat was an enduring icon of British civilisation, but a generation of jobsworths with little front-line experience and plenty of office politics skills have risen to the top and ruined all that. They’ve built empires of pen-pushers with layers of management and turned the police service into a quagmire of red tape, driven by targets and quotas. And with the economic crisis brought about by New Labour and the need to make serious cut-backs, who gets the chop? The Bobby on the Beat. Thousands are to be made redundant.

We need new leadership for the police service and a renewed sense of purpose. And we need to keep every copper we’ve got.

We also need to remind ourselves what is important. These are difficult times and there are millions of ordinary people who have genuine grounds for grievance. Their right to complain and their right to peacefully protest is important, and that right is being put at risk by these rioters. People are being put out of work, small business owners are being put out of business, and communities are suffering. Our rights far outweigh those of the rioters and we have to give the police our complete support in dealing with them. 

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