(the sentiment isn’t mine, it’s something I heard on Radio 4)
I can’t pretend to understand why someone would pretend to help an injured man before mugging him, completely destroy a bus used for older people services, or loot a Poundland store for crisps. None of this makes sense.
But I do know what has been happening is wrong. Most people feel the same. Why haven’t the rioters got the same moral perspective (see a rare tweet stream from a rioter via @glinner)? What worries me more than anything is that the moral nilism that I thought had captured just a few has actually caught enough to spill out into the day light. It has been growing, spilling over into parts of our society and we’re not dealing with it.
Some people are already willing to say that the sheer audacity of this minority, the unfathomable mindless thuggery and criminality doesn’t need explaining – just dealing with. Dan Hodges is right that this isn’t the right time for political posturing. But as the nightmare begins to spread across the country our politicians are going to have to think and talk seriously about why this faceless minority have come from and how we didn’t realise their number growing.
Communities are working to heal themselves, the #riotcleanups are both inspiring and reassuring – so we can take comfort that society hasn’t collapsed. But the fracture between these ‘citizens’ and those ‘others’ needs fixing.
Without strong voices the public have a tendency to make up their own mind and once that happens politicians stop leading and just follow. With that in mind yesterday’s poll by Yougov makes for depressing reading. 90% want to bring out the water cannons, 65% think plastic bullets are the answer (despite dangers), and a massive third would support live ammunition.
Zoe Williams had an excellent piece in the Guardian highlighting just how confusing this group is politically. These are poor people but they’re not making a stand against inexcusable wealth, they’re looting Poundland not Tiffany’s. They’re not looting out of necessity, they just don’t see a downside. And that’s how far they’ve fallen and how ignored they feel. Some have their faces masked but others aren’t bothering.
Ed Miliband has talked about responsibility – that discussion needs to focus on this faceless group. It needs to ask how we hold people accountable for their choices and their actions but also how does this group get back their identities, their individuality and their role in society. For a group lacking any sense of dignity once they’ve been punished then the question will be what will politics offer them? We’ve assumed these rioters are on the fringe but they’re right in the heart of every community – from Tottenham, Clapham, Notting Hill to Salford.
When the riots have ended (if they haven’t already) we’ll be left with two different questions: how do we make sure we are ready in case this ever happens again and how do we make sure this never happens again.
I hope we don’t ignore the last one – it is harder to answer but will define our society for the foreseeable future.