Enough of this macho politics which assumes party leaders need to throw off their summer shorts and put on their suits whenever the word crisis is in the air. Judging from Messrs Cameron and Miliband’s performance in the last few days, the best thing these politicians could do is stay on holiday.
The scenes of random violence that have come to be dubbed ‘riots’ were depressing but the spectacle of politicians scrambling to make capital from the human tragedies has been even more unedifying. In their attempts at creating an explanation for the recent events, all politicians have been guilty of over-interpreting. The original riot – and riot it was – had a clear cause in disgruntlement at the police handling of a specific incident. The copycat events that followed were most often acts of mimickry where there is little sense in rationalising them. The potential for small-scale disorder was apparent and the opportunity seemed to present itself. Most incidents needed little more justification, though a very few might have been aroused by malicious individuals.
And in response Mr Cameron seems intent on re-gaining the nasty label for his party. If society is broken, it needs careful mending, not smashing against the wall until it mends itself. The reaction of the justice system, egged on by Conservative ministers, has been disproportionate and often misdirected. It is an ironic display of the impotence of the state – an attempt to reassert the strong arm of the law when its ability to act at the right moment has been shown to be a myth. Yet, the Tory over-reaction, supported by the gutter press of the Daily Mail and Express (who needs Murdoch?), will only be given further specious justification by ill-advised comments by liberals. I think, in particular, of the Howard League for Penal Reform – a worthy organisation but responsible today for saying that the jailing for four years of those who incited looting on social media is ‘excessive’. Of all the sentences, these are perhaps the least over-the-top: the inciter, in this context, is like the drug-dealer. It is the drug-taker for whom we should have more concern and the equivalent are those teenagers now being criminalised by our courts. ‘They should have thought of that before rioting’, the dark Lord Howard says – missing the point that looting was most often precisely thoughtless. The concomitant thoughtlessness of Howard – and others – is the failure now to consider the consequences of the actions they demand: why this insistent desire to embed dysfunction within our social fabric?
Lord, save us from our politicians.