Broken Society + Moral Decline = Instant Justice

A section of the media, in particular The Guardian and The Independent had caught a section of the Conservatives gloating. Were the riots an inevitable offspring of David Cameron’s 'broken society'? The morning after rioting had subsided Cameron stood sullen in the presence of gathering microphones and cameras, his skin still glinting of the Tuscan sun. I turned off the sound on my little television set and tried to recall the first few verses from a Rudyard Kipling poem.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Politics is a waiting game. The nature of democratic politics lies in the art of making the impossible possible. The possibility of achieving the impossible is the ultimate lure for the egotist entering this arena. Yet, this impossibility could only be possible under the right conditions and with a degree of persuasion. The cynic would call it coercion. Dictatorships reek of the bitter pungency of forced imposition. The cynic would add that there is no need for even the subliminal coercion through propaganda when at the height of one’s political power, whether for a dictator or Blair.
I am not a cynic but a student of the human condition.
There is no room for doubt in conservatism. Arguably, the London rioters have vindicated Mr Cameron’s assessment of the nature of man. Man meanders through a constant flux of aggression and self-interest. This lawlessness or ‘state of nature’ is nothing to be frowned upon yet it necessitates control. The early modern answer to this state of nature with the state still at its infancy, gesticulating through dictatorial monarchs, required the likes of Thomas Hobbes to argue for an absolute sovereign. To realise the potential of possible freedom within human society there needed to be a limit to the extent of that very freedom. Hobbes thought of it not as constriction but as ‘self-interested cooperation’ that could be achieved through a ‘social contract’ between the state and its citizens.
But Hobbes’ assessment of human nature is uncannily pessimistic. Perhaps, this pessimism could be attributed to the chaotic years of the English Civil War with the King and Parliament wrestling for absolute power. The notion of popular power propelling the state into the modern phenomenon that it is today was centuries away. Yet, the carcass that we have inherited today from those early notions of the political state contains the basic tenets of Hobbes’ social contract. The citizen as a member of civil society remains free to act in a way that is not forbidden by law. The sovereign state protects its citizens by limiting freedom when it comes to the forbidden. In three hundred years of Political Philosophy, protection and freedom have fallen in love, consummated, wedded, argued, separated and finally divorced. That is the state we are in.
David Cameron is of course not a direct philosophical descendant of Hobbes. Modern Conservatism has its roots in 18th century Whig politician and philosopher Edmund Burke’s idea that property is essential to human life. This singular conviction instills a necessary desire in people to be ruled and controlled. Burke anticipated that social changes brought about by the possession of property as the natural order of events should be taking place as the human race progressed. The division of property naturally leads to a convenient but altogether natural class system. This forms a social agreement and the setting of persons into different classes is the mutual benefit of all subjects.
What was a mere anticipation for Burke had led to a different reality centuries later. Burke understood conflict but seemed to have had little interest in the possibility of class conflict. Not all men are aggressive but some are so because of a ‘moral decline’ rather than any basic sense of inequality in society.
August had been a chance to shine for former and incumbent prime ministers. Tony Blair, an unlikely defendant of the chaviosa had been countering Cameron by stating that the riots should not be blamed on 'moral decline'.
What is this state that we are in? It would appear that our politicians are omniscient as well as possessing all the other qualities that hoist them into high offices of state. If politics is a waiting game laws are usually passed to reflect what had gone on before. After all, what is the point of burdening the statute books if there is no social need for a piece of legislation? The very nature of democracy is such that popular power can only come from populist laws, which more often than not, end up being short term containment and appeasement rather than dealing with the real symptoms of the disease. Politics is all that Kipling, inadvertently, warned us of,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

Cameron's assessment of the broken society would at once seem different from what Blair had countered. Yet the moral stance is identical. Blair had affirmed his centre ground political stance once again; the 'left's reasoning for the riot is apparently concentrating on social depravity whereas the right is falling on the age old argument over a lack of personal responsibility'. Has Blair identified the real reasons for rioting? There is a 'group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour.' The former prime minister consoles us in stating 'that sort of improper behaviour is not endemic to British society but is common in the majority of developed western nations'.
Realpolitik always ignored what politics should really be about,
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

The casual commentator, whether left leaning or right-wing might not question the veracity of Blair's assessment. I believe that David Cameron had identified the very same yet much of his real concern had been lost somewhere in between the machinery of press briefings and news conferences.

So if we have identified the perpetrators and highlighted the reasons for riots, surely, this is time to learn our lessons from the rioters and not take advantage of a situation to hand out instant justice. Instant justice smacks of instant rioting.
The right had been calling for more visible police presence for years. Yet the cuts in police budget, in real terms, would undermine that very demand. The Conservative led coalition seem to have concluded that increased police presence in our streets would be preventing future riots. The same argument had been used when CCTV cameras first reared their ugly grey heads, beady eyed, watching our each movement in town centres across the land. The effect of increased police presence certainly reassure many residents, however, such presence often shift the crime scene to where there are no cameras or uniformed police standing guard. More importantly, CCTV cameras do not prevent crime and even their usefulness as an investigative tool could have been questioned until the rioters were caught on camera.
Democracy, when based on popular power can stifle the fringes. Popular voice resonate through the mirrored walls of Versailles and the echoes drown out the squealing insects caught up in the cobwebs around the thin joints between those polished mirrors. Yet it is the fringes that colourfully define the state we are in and remind us of the necessary truths however unpleasant those truth might be.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

So what of the angry alienated youth and his morally declined rioting ways? Instant justice had been demanded by a hysterical right-wing. Magistrates had processed criminal cases one after another like a supermarket checkout. It is that very term processed I find so distressing. The purpose of the justice system is not to process criminals but to provide an impartial platform for defendants to argue their case in light of clear evidence linking them to a crime. Public opinion has no place in the execution of justice although, it does unfortunately play a major part in its conception. This is the primary model of social contract based on popular democracy that had upheld the modern political state since Bastille.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!
Almost two decades ago the Rodney King riots in the US had a racial origin. The London riots might have started out as a protest by the Afro-Caribbean community around Tottenham against the police treatment of young black men, however, the criminal looting carried no echoes of civil rights movements from the past. The disturbance followed a trend all too known to the basest instinct in human nature, opportunistic greed. The civilised and environmentally conscious world we live in has no time for historical references. Julius Caesar, the Roman conqueror turned dictator called Rome the mob. Rome had always been the mob. In each mob there is the potential for senility. Public gatherings are the first to be banned by dictators in times of political unrest because the mob could turn violent at any moment. The equivalent in Britain would be the fees protest gatherings in the winter of 2010 as well as G20 protests. In both instances we witnessed how little provocation is required for events to turn nasty. Only the supremely charismatic leader, the likes of Mahatma Ghandi in colonial India or Nelson Mandela is South Africa could exercise a minor degree of control upon such mobs. The rest are doomed.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Is it moral depravity or criminal intent that drives the modern man? Neither. Not all of us are men. We could not be men ignoring the abject social conditions that we live through.


London riots need not be a prerequisite for illiberal lawmaking!

August is muggy. The balmy evenings of crimson glow across the horizon turns the ordinary man litigious and the not-old-enough-man into a tactile reactionary frenzy. Riots broke out this August in London, Birmingham and Manchester. 'Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh, Asleep in granite Aberdeen, They continue their dreams..'. Yet the youth of London, Brum, Madchester and the smaller cities where rampaging youths steamed along the streets like W. H. Auden's Night Train were dreaming of something else. What were they dreaming of? Politicians, litigators and intelligentsia debated as dawn broke out over the charred horizon now not so crimson, but ashen grey.

As planes landed one by one on ashpalt not too dissimilar in colour to the morning after the riots, Boris, Dave and others returned to the capital having cut short their summer holidays. Before the events in Tottenham I read in The Independent that the Prime Minister had gone back to the same busy cafe somewhere in Tuscany to tip the waitress who had not been tipped the morning before, apparently, for poor service. He returned to London on the first available flight after the riots had been raging for three consecutive nights to chair a meeting of COBRA. Cobra is the extraordinarily dramatic name for the civil contingencies committee which leads responses to a national crisis. On that very same night, heavy police presence ensured that very little happened.

The Coalition government had averted the crisis from turning into something far worse. Law and order was the order of the night again. After three nights of staying in largely due to a cold, my friend Charlotte decided to go to the pub again. As the police raided properties in search of rioters in the usual locations, they slept in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and in my very own Cardiff dreaming of something no doubt very different from the near two and half thousand arrested elsewhere. What do teenagers dream of?

Sex, when I was one.

Much has been attributed to teenage gangs operating in deprived neighbourhoods. The youth vilified all over England. Yet so many of the rioters were not teenagers. CCTV pictures which in itself seems to have been accepted as a necessary evil have revealed faces of men and women, largely black and white, but a few belonging other ethnicities too were within an age range of 12 to 35. What is it that they all have in common? The obvious answer seems to be criminal intent. Proving intent to commit a crime isn't difficult after poking one's right hand through the broken glass of a convenience store to steal a packet of £1 Haribo sweets. They are all criminals. Lump them into the same jail cell and throw away are key. A 'broken society' has descended upon us as David Cameron had declared. To mend this broken society new laws on rioting are required in addition to those allowing councils the power to evict rioting families. The parents of the children rioting are brandished with the same brush. Theresa May, the Home Secretary alluded to possible new curfew powers for the police. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had defended orange jumpsuits, Guantanamo style that could be worn by prosecuted rioters and made to clean up the streets themselves, and mend broken windows.

Broken glass can only be replaced not mended. The shards laying on the pavement and inside of shops get brushed up into dustpans by the broom-army and put away. The rioters are like the very same shards of broken glass. They have been broken. Perhaps they broke themselves. What started out as an 'old-skool' protest by the gangsta-designer label wearing black men in Tottenham soon became diluted into a general protest mele with the word protest losing any significance soon after dusk. New anti-terror laws and stop, and search powers brought in by the previous New Labour administration of Tony Blair, and never really repealed by Gordon Brown thereafter had often been misused by the authorities. The ethnic minorities have faced the brunt of it alongside the odd Holocaust surviving pensioner and Labour Party activist within conference settings. A young black man is more likely to be stopped and searched.

The criminal intent of the rioters in whatever capacity is unjustifiable in a civilised society. Clapham Junction is indefensible. Yet, by labelling each and every one of the rioters a criminal, and ushering in illiberal anti-riot laws ignores the social conditions that led to the first night of rioting in Tottenham.

Glasgow, Edinburgh and granite Aberdeen slumbers. Long ago the Night Mail Train stopped crossing the border whistling all the way, shaking gently but a jug in the bedroom. No jugs of water in Clapham bedrooms, only vials of Tamazepam and white-brown-black powder stains on the bedroom floor. This is England.


Let's never bring back the death penalty!

Treason remains the only legally viable excuse to hang. Considering that the Crown Prosecution Service is unlikely to bring on a case for treason against any individual, we shall be spared the medieval repeat of dark retribution. The arguments for hanging someone on the ground of treason is perhaps twice as heinous to those who would like rapists, murderers and shoplifters persecuted by hanging from the noose - 'let this be a lesson to the odious scumbags!'. Yet the principal argument against hanging is that it does not work as a deterrent to would be perpetrator of such crimes as treason. There might be greater powers at play. The terrorist bomber might be driven to one's destructive state of mind by following alternative philosophies. On a lesser scale, the rapist, murderer (whether predetermined or accidental) and shoplifter had never been deterred by even the mere prison term, fixed penalty and in their day, the ASBO.

The nature of punishment is that it always takes place after the criminal act had taken place. E. M Forster rued over how christening, wedding and funeral always took place after the physical acts of birth, coitus and death, striking too early or too late to really add any realistic meaning to the events. Perhaps, Forster, writing in the years before the Great War was taken in by a spirit where the celebratory nature of such events for those associated with the individual had not been properly taken into account. I for one would add the greatly emancipating event of graduation to the group of irrelevant events. Getting a 'first' in Philosophy is itself an achievement and needs no further accolade. Yet the day is served up on a photographic frame as a permanent reminder on the proud living room of middle class parents up and down the country. The reader might argue whether the gravity of getting a first, being born, getting married or death as acts could ever be compared to committing a crime. Yet these are all events where the act of working hard, physical communion on the part of the parents to bring about new life, falling in love (one shall ignore all the other reasons for getting married) and death are never really premeditated under reasonable circumstances. Coitus might well be initiated over a period to conceive, a first might be studied for, death could be the result of a lifetime of poor lifestyle choices making the body prone to incurable disease or mere exhaustion, and a crime can be planned, yet the punishment does not really dawn on the individual before they are committing the act.

The principal difference between committing a crime and the other acts is that the criminal punishment is never celebrated by the one being punished. Not in the normal criminal circle that is and for the purposes of this discussion we shall refrain from referencing the masochist. The other events, christening, wedding, funeral and graduation might well be. However, christenings and weddings are affairs of hope. It is hoped that those involved would have a long, joyous and righteous life under the gaze of a watching creator. The criminal is expected to rot in jail or be hanged. We need never look back upon their lives as positive events even if they had been christened, graduated and married. Death, whether initiated immediately through the direct play of state legal machinery or a line on page 5 of the Independent is as close to a ceremony.

Miscarriages of justice is never really a consideration when the jury or judge is sentencing. The scope of the legal framework is that it can only examine evidence and the sentence is delivered based on available evidence. This process is exactly the same when the criminal is contemplating the act of crime. The ability to get away with it might play a part but any future punishment after having been caught is not in mind as the crime is being committed.

Either way, the death penalty is long buried under the ashes of Derek Bentley, Guildford Four, Renault Five and Birmingham Six. The various arguments have lost any semblance of meaning in every quarter but the staunch right wing Daily Mail reader's breakfast table.


Justice is not retribution but rather an opportunity for realisation and rehabilitation.

A cross section of my Facebook friends' lists contain a bunch of ardent football lovers. For the purpose of this argument, nameless, they shall be sectioned to one group - staunchly patriotic, right-wing and largely working class. It suits my purpose to contain the soccer and rugby-football lovers within the very same group. Although the experience of attending a soccer match is so vastly different to the passing by hand game that as a passionate soccer fan myself, I'd rather be in a rugby game any day just for the sheer friendliness. The infield brutality of a hard nut-crushing tackle inspires those in the stands with a rather gentler spirit. The level of passion feels less visceral. This need not be translated as a complete turn down of courtesy tickets to see West Bromwich Albion play any other premiership team should any come my way but, a mere admission that if I had no interest in either sport, I'd still rather see Blues playing the Scarlets rather than see lower league soccer in any blisteringly cold winter evening. The winter breeze in these parts is so cold.

Yesterday, my football friends, proudly working class, engaged in a tame exercise of highlighting how preposterous the recent claim by Milli Dowler's killer against the Prison Service had been. Apparently, he had been physically abused in prison by other inmates. The ground of their disconcert lay in wanting the individual to be punished in all forms by natural and poetic means for what they did to Milli. The latter mean, an elaboration of whatever punishment self righteous inmates might dictate upon newcomers on the grounds that they are deserving of further punishment. The problem with this argument is that the deliverer of poetic justice are themselves accused of other crimes and perhaps as violent, and heinous as the Dowler killer. My football friends have no sympathy for rapists, murderers, dole-scroungers, shoplifters, pushers and pimps but seem to be utterly sympathetic to poetic punishments channeled through them.

When the tabloid and for that matter the broadsheet print media take on the part of judge, jury and executioner, a climate of fear descends upon whoever is at the receiving end of such cases, whether justified or not. The Dowler family will never be united with Milli again, at least not in this life if one believes in reincarnation or predestined life there after. Yet retribution does not stop with the family who have emotive grounds for demanding harsher punishment. The general populace have no such justification other than thinking of their own children, nephews or nieces and take on the role of a moral adjudicator.

The prison system, in principle remains an opportunity for the individual to realise what had gone on. Any reality over prison overcrowding, drug-infestation, habitual gang rape over passing the soap games need not cloud our judgments as possible additional punishment for the odious few who are locked up. A prison sentence is a banishment from society for the duration of the sentence. No further qualification or addition required. Period.