Friday, 12 August 2011

Lockdown Lynch Mob London - Day 4

It's been four days since there was any serious public disorder in London and as 16,000 Metropolitan Police continue to rack up the overtime patrolling the streets, there are some signs of normality tonight. The City bars seemed to be coming back to life and while a residue of tension remains, there is the very strong sense that the storm has passed for now.

On blogs such as politicalbetting the baying lynch mob continues to gloat at the destruction of lives as summary justice is meted out to those arrested following the disorder - whether stealing a bottle of water or setting a building on fire makes little difference, mercy is in short supply and our already overcrowded prisons look set to receive a new generation of students looking to get a career qualification in lifelong criminality.

Make no mistake, a moment's madness or a stupid decision to follow a crowd is going to destroy lives and blight prospects long after all this has been forgotten. The criminalising of the rioters will benefit no longer as lives are needlessly destroyed - career and educational prospects will be blighted in a disproportionate and ill-considered frenzy of lynch-mob justice which is both obscene and disturbing.

Yes, let's punish by all means but let's not criminalise.

For now, rational debate and argument are in short supply and the retributionist tiger is in full flow - one which even David Cameron is finding hard to ride as he squares up to the Police on the questions of tactics and cuts to Police budgets. Yet tonight the Police will again be out in force earning their overtime.

The deeper arguments about how we live as a society and the kind of morality we have ourselves and which we pass to our children are issues which few want to discuss at the moment. One or two have tried to claim this as a "crisis of liberalism" but it is no such thing. As the pathetic victims of their own stupidity and greed pass before us for condemnation and abuse, it appears we are looking at ourselves, a microcosm of society. They have failed and therefore we have failed them.

They are rich, poor, working-class, middle class and classless but mostly young and mostly male. Some are already saying (and doubtless tomorrow's Daily Mail will be at its sanctimonious and pompous) that the failed children are the result of failed adults, that sixty years of welfare, fifty years of permissiveness and forty years of liberal education have brought us to this point.

Yet conservatives have no answer - they hark on about romanticised values of discipline and order in some far-off time when respect was king and the beatings handed out to children by teachers, parents and other authority figures were "all part of growing up". The Church will be slammed for failing to provide moral guidance as will the BBC and underneath it all will be the insidious, nasty undercurrent of immigration.

In an evolving post-industrial society, morality cannot be imposed. I've always believed that personal morality is just that, personal. It's nothing to do with social standing or creed. Some of the most polite and courteous people I know are appalling bigots when it comes to homosexuality and abortion while others have a more generous and tolerant attitude.

We cannot turn back the clock or put the genie in the bottle. The world is a fast-changing place and we need to adapt to that and recognise that adaptation isn't easy for some. The anger toward the looters is as much an anger toward ourselves, a recognition that as a society we are not as developed as we should be or as enlightened as we can be. True liberal advances are held back by the suffocating blanket of fretful conservatism, fearful of change and anxious to avoid a radical redistribution of expectation and opportunity.

The fault, as the phrase has it, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.

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