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We Know Nothing yet, Except That we are all to Blame for These Riots

Posted: 09/08/11 14:13

Barking, Birmingham, Bristol and Bromley. Camberwell, Chelsea, Clapham Junction and Croydon. Fulham Broadway. The King's Road. Sloane Square. Notting Hill. Peckham High Street and the Isle of Dogs.

The rioting and looting was indiscriminate, random and terrifying. Shops, cars, police stations, even fire engines and private homes - old women asleep in their beds - came under attack.

It was into the early hours before I could feel confident that the rioting raging as nearby as Ealing and Wandsworth would not reach Richmond. With police cars speeding past at regular intervals, away from us and towards London, there would not have been much left to stop them if they had happened. But then the closest Richmond has got to a riot was when Waitrose nearly ran out of pappardelle.

What do we know? Well, we know more about what we don't know, than what we do know.

The attacks have departed any rhyme or reason. What began as an apparently peaceful protest (how much of an oxymoron is that becoming?) in Tottenham after an alleged criminal was shot by police, has since developed into a melee of motivations. We can begin to speculate why people are taking part in variegated mayhem, but you would be foolhardy to assert.

Police cuts? True, police morale is at rock bottom, but the gutting of police forces that certain people are blaming for the riots spreading out of control is not a plausible explanation. This gutting hasn't happened. The Prime Minister confirmed this morning that 16,000 troops will be on London's streets tonight and all police leave is cancelled. The Met is calling up all Special Constables. Riot teams are being drawn in from across the country.

Lack of force dealt out to the rioters? No water cannons? No rubber bullets? No armed forces? A bizarre irony of last night was listening to the sort of people who spend their lives berating the EU saying our law enforcement should be more like Europe. I'm not convinced. Cars, businesses and property would have been vandalised even if the entire cavalry had charged in, and possibly inflamed tempers further. The pictures in your newspapers and on your TV screens this morning would have been worse.

Social media's role? Allegedly, much of the co-ordination (however inappropriate that word is in this context) of the riots was conducted via BlackBerry Messenger service, which is popular with young teenagers. The people tweeting last night were shocked onlookers and intrepid, tireless hacks. We don't know (or at least I don't know) whether Twitter was used to spread the destruction because I don't follow any rioters. As Hugo Rifkind wrote in the Times last week, Twitter is not as open as we think and we mostly speak to ourselves.

However much the riots displayed Twitter at its best - a rapid gatherer of information, faster and more effectively than any traditional news source - the cold light of this morning is displaying Twitter at its worst - a rapid disseminator of vapid tommyrot by people with little useful to add.

This is not about a clash between 'right' and 'left', 'authoritarian' and 'liberal', or any nomenclature you care to mention. Some Conservative MPs are blaming this on "13 years of Labour". As tempting as that seems judging by the age of some of the rioters, it is wrong, ignorant and unhelpful. Equally, for Ken Livingstone and other Labour party politicians to blame this on "Tory cuts" is pitifully opportunist. Indeed, it is times like this that party politics can be most damaging and counter-productive. It is the lazy outlet for those who would rather not search for honest answers.

Variously, so it is said, the Government, the police, the Tories, the Labour party, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London the BBC, the public, are 'out of touch'.

If you believe this, I have news for you. The only conclusion we can safely draw is that we are all out of touch. I am out of touch. You are out of touch. We are out of touch with ourselves and with each other; with our neighbours, with our authorities and, by the sight of so many children taking part in the riots and looting, within our own families.

So point your fingers. Whoever you choose to impute, you will, sadly, be right. Because we are all to blame.

 

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