Category Archives: Riots

Brexit and the break-up of the UK

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 7th September 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network. Every time I tried to begin a post here about politics, since Thursday, I kept thinking “But David Graeber is dead.”

David Graeber died in Venice on Wednesday 2nd September. I didn’t know him personally and my sense of loss is only what I feel when a writer I admire and respect and want to keep writing is gone: there will never be any more clear sharp insightful essays and articles from him, never again. He was 59 and I am old enough to feel strongly that this is far too young to die.

Well, so.

I watched PMQs on Wednesday, and Boris Johnson, fresh from his holidays, reacted to Keir Starmer’s questions with an outpouring of poisonous bile. He didn’t look well, not that his illness excuses his behaviour: as John Crace noted, PMQ is essentially a kind of Westminster performance, something perhaps only political afficionados care to watch: but it is a dance with rules, a question followed by an answer, a follow-up question, a follow-up answer. Boris Johnson was interrupted mid-flow by the Speaker, who very gently and politely told him to answer the question. I don’t think I’m inventing this: Lindsay Hoyle looked worried.
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Filed under David Graeber, European politics, Riots, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics, Supermarkets

Problem family on the cards

Imagine this. A middle-aged man who, forty years ago, was removed from his family at the age of 7, sent to one “approved school” after another, the last with a reputation for violence, at which he was a troublemaker and learned to take illegal drugs. After he left school he joined a gang of thugs who regularly got drunk and violent. He straightened up, more or less – got married, had children, one severely disabled for whom he claimed benefits: he ran a chain of nightclubs that specialised in getting people very drunk at a cut rate. He became leader of a powerful organisation with strong links to crime, accepting large financial gifts from people who made their money in very shady ways. Despite this, he lives in state-owned housing and claims more than thirty thousand a year. A few months ago, he and his wife were out drinking and abandoned their young daughter in the pub when they went home, and still more recently, one of his close associates was convicted and jailed* for swearing at police officers. This is a problem family.

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Filed under Benefits, Poverty, Riots, Supermarkets

“Amusing side-effects of today’s results”

After Aidan “Nazi stag party” Burley had to sit through “the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen”, he tweeted:

This evening at the Olympics stadium the three British gold medallists were a picture of the British multiculturalism that Aidan Burley and the Daily Mail had decried. Published on the Mail Online only a few hours after the Opening Ceremony came to an end, Rick Dewsbury wrote:

“This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.
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Filed under Disability, In The Media, LGBT Equality, Olympics, Racism, Riots, Women

The Metropolitan Police are institutionally racist

Mark DugganA year ago today, an armed Metropolitan police officer shot Mark Duggan in the chest and killed him. There was a gun in the cab but Duggan was not holding it and the gun had not been fired. [Evidence from the inquest: there is no evidence the gun was in the cab at the time the police caught up with him. The only shots fired were from police guns: Duggan was unarmed when he was killed.]

Our mission: Working together for a safer London

Duggan’s parents found out that their son had been killed by the police from a newspaper headline.

Our values: Working together with all our citizens, all our partners, all our colleagues:

The police who had killed Duggan lied: They claimed there had been an “exchange of fire”.

We will have pride in delivering quality policing.

Metropolitan Police confront bleeding protestersTottenham police station refused to meet with the peaceful delegation of protesters come to ask questions about the police killing of Duggan. Instead, they sent out a squad with riot shields.
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Constable Savage

On Thursday 4th August 2011, the Metropolitan Police shot Mark Duggan in the chest and killed him. The police story at the time was that Duggan had fired on them: a story later confirmed to be false. Having killed Mark Duggan, the police do not appear to have made any attempt to contact his parents to let them know he was dead until Friday: his mother discovered the shooting from a newspaper headline.

Mark Duggan

Since 1990, 1433 people have died in police custody or after police “contact” – such as Simon Harwood’s baton knocking Ian Tomlinson to the ground – and not one police officer has been convicted of a criminal offense. Continue reading

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Filed under Olympics, Riots

Our constitution, July 2012: Public ethics

“Code of Conduct / Public Ethics”

There are, according to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, seven principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.

I have to say – having taken part in many protests in Edinburgh over the years – that I have never felt afraid of Lothian and Borders Police. I warily arranged a phone contact before going to the SPUC OFF protest, because I did not know for sure that SPUC would stay non-violent and away from us and I wasn’t confident that the police would necessarily pick out the prolife aggressors over us feminist hippy weirdos with our hand-painted signs: but I was sure that so long as no one started any aggro, Lothian and Borders Police would simply allow both sides to have our peaceful protest. And I was very glad they were there at the BNP protest at Meadowbank.

But I have felt afraid on several protests in London – because I was part of a large crowd engaged in peaceful public protest, and the Metropolitan Police seemed by that to assume I was the enemy. They did not seem to regard any part of the crowd of protesters as the people whom it was their obligation to protect. We were, at best, there by their tolerance: and I only felt at risk in any crowd when I saw the Met Police in their riot gear.

I heard by unsubstantiated rumour that when the Metropolitan Police offered to send a detachment to Scotland to “help” police the G8 protest in 2005, the Scottish police forces gave the Met a joint dubious look, muttered “aye, that’ll be right”, and politely declined the offer, on the grounds that they wanted to keep the peace, not stir up trouble.

The UK Committee on Standards in Public Life was set up in October 1994 and issued its first report in 1995, under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It was established in order to investigate concerns about the conduct of members of parliament, after allegations that MPs had taken cash for putting down parliamentary questions. The Committee Report set out seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. The ‘Nolan reforms’ established a new post of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (see ombudsman) whose job was to maintain the Register of Members’ Interests and investigate the conduct of MPs; to set up a House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges; and to set down a Code of Conduct for MPs. In 1998 the Committee issued a report on the funding of political parties, which rejected calls for state funding. — Alistair McMillan, Oxford Dictionary of Politics

There is a Ministerial Code, which is – we discovered with Jeremy Huntharder to break than the Enigma Code. Apparently the unwritten “constitution” of the UK requires ministers to be accountable to the Prime Minister, not to anyone like the “independent” adviser on the ministerial code:

The current holder of this well-paid and undemanding sinecure, Sir Alex Allan, tried to convince the select committee that he would be proactive and would not be sidelined.

Giving evidence, he said he would quit if he were marginalised, and promised not to be anyone’s “poodle”. He even came up with proposals for how he could conduct inquiries more quickly than his predecessor, Sir Philip Mawer. But he was clear that the prime minister had no plans to change the fundamental tripwire: that only the prime minister could ask him to conduct an inquiry.

Arguably, constitutional propriety requires ministers to be accountable to the prime minister, and not to a Whitehall bureaucrat. But it is notable that neither the cabinet secretary nor the prime minister have been keen to pass any issue to the independent adviser. Indeed, David Cameron has never referred a single case, making one wonder how Allan spends his days.

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Filed under Corruption, Elections, Justice, Riots, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

Olympic spending 2012

David Edgar wrote five years ago:

Take care. In reading this article, you may be in receipt of stolen goods. In fact, the organising committee for a certain upcoming sporting event has decided it would be “disproportionate” to prosecute the author of a book called Olympic Mind Games for breach of copy-right. But, under no less than two acts of parliament, it could if it wanted to.

When it discovered that Robert Ronson’s children’s science-fiction novel was to be published, the organising committee for the previously mentioned happening sent him an email asking that he should use neither the O-word nor the expressions “London 2012, or 2012 etc” in the title. The committee was able to do so under statutes passed in 1995 and 2006, which in effect turn all the elements of its title into a trademark.

As Fleet Street Fox reminded us last week, back in 2005 the Olympics was going to cost us £2bn.

wo years later it was upped to about £9bn and a year after that the bottom fell out of the world financial markets.

This was of course no reason to scale back, and today the costs are around £12bn with a strong likelihood that with police, security and transport costs the final total will be nearer £24bn.

To put that into perspective that’s 800million trips to the local leisure centre for a £3 swim. It’s 240 hospitals, roughly, or 20m nurses on a starting salary of £12,000.

This Thursday, according to the ancient traditions of a bygone regime Continue reading

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The judiciary is playing Daily Mail politics

On 8th August, Gordon Thompson was with a group of rioters who broke into Reeves Furniture Store, Croydon. While they were there, he stole a laptop. As they left, he was heard to say: “Let’s burn the place”, and asked, “Who’s got a lighter?” Someone handed him a lighter, he lit it, and set fire to a sofa in the window display.

Furniture is flammable. The whole building burned to the ground. Thompson was arrested when he was identified from a picture on the front page of the Croydon Advertiser. He claimed he was planning to turn himself in: he initially denied arson but in court he pleaded guilty to burglary and “arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered”.

That crime – burning a 19th-century business to the ground – was one of the most spectacular crimes of the London riots last August. Continue reading


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For Greece, the nightmare will never end

Thirty years ago, Greece joined the European Union. Fifteen years ago, at a science-fiction convention in Chicago, I was staying in a huge flat near the Loop which had been turned into a kind of dormitory for all three of the flatmate’s SFnal friends: I was the only Brit in the mix, and indeed the only European. A woman I knew came into the main living room and asked the room generally “Who on EARTH has Greek toothpaste?”

I waved my hand. (My toothpaste in fact had writing on the tube in all the languages of the European Union, but the Greek lettering was the most conspicuous.) Everyone looked at me.

Why do you have Greek toothpaste?” she asked me.

“I am a citizen of Europe,” I told her happily, and that silenced all the North Americans in the room.

I have been seeing cheerful headlines around the news quite a lot, declaring that the Greek Parliament’s vote to accept the bailout means the “long nightmare is over”, that Greece is “rescued” at last. This is nonsense.
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Filed under Justice, Poverty, Riots

What do the rioters deserve?

I’m walking from my home to the bus stop, about five minutes away. It’s dark. There’s a group of youngsters walking towards me. One or two of them are taller than me, but all of them are under fifteen, and the youngest and smallest is probably about ten or eleven. As I pass them, one of the biggest boys grabs the youngest boy and shoves him hard, so that he’s thrown against me. I’m solid and steady enough on my feet that the boy doesn’t knock me over, but I’m startled and angry and I yell at them. They laugh.

Search “rioters” on the government’s e-petitions site, and you get about 150 petitions, many of which of course have just one signature – the person who proposed it. Probably the majority of petitions accepted have less than ten signatures. Notoriously, one petition has over two hundred thousand – the one demanding London rioters have their benefits removed. Out of all of those petitions, I counted nine that were for mercy and justice: all the rest demanded that rioters should be stringently punished, with mandatory sentences of two years in prison (the British prison system is about 200 places from being completely full: take a look at this if you want to know what a prison system based on mandatory minimums looks like), with removal of benefits from the parents of rioters, giving the police powers to use tear gas on rioters, and of course, a handful of people who want to bring back flogging and don’t care who knows it. (Only two petitions for justice and mercy looked like they had some chance: Homelessness – Not in my name and Do NOT remove all the benefits of convicted London rioters – so I urge you to go sign those.)

That incident with the group of youngsters was just the start. Have you ever had a raw egg dropped on you from a fourth-floor flat? It doesn’t do any lasting harm – the shell smashes on impact – but it stings, and of course, it makes a godawful mess. I had stones thrown at me and once an apple. (The stones were small ones.)  The gang was notorious around the neighbourhood, I discovered – the local police had set up a “special task force” to deal with the problem. They lived in the Fort House housing estate – an ugly block of flats in Leith, now scheduled for demolition. Many of the families there were on benefits, most of the flats were owned by the council.

I had a visit by two coppers soon after I first reported an encounter, a few weeks after the incident of the boy being thrown at me – a kid yelling abuse at me in the street and then throwing eggs (either deliberately to miss, or else he had very bad aim). They told me about the special task force, and warned me, under no circumstances, strike any of them, do them any physical harm – they’re kids, you’re an adult, you will be in trouble. (This sounds more intimidating than it was, I realise on writing it down. They were very sympathetic, they assured me they understood it was infuriating and worrying, and they all but said they understood I would want to strike back – but don’t.)

This went on for well over a year. It seemed like it would never end. It was scary. It was infuriating. I learned to avoid certain places in my neighbourhood, learned that packs of kids can be outright frightening, got the local police on speed dial.

There was an awful thing that happened in the block of flats these kids lived in, a couple of years before this gang became notorious. The oldest of the gang would have been about 12 at the time. A woman died. She was on benefits, she was a drug addict, her only close family was her child, a a boy aged about three. One morning, as far as anyone can tell, she simply didn’t wake up. The door was locked, the boy couldn’t reach the lock. The boy survived alone in the flat with his dead mother for ten days before someone noticed and the boy was taken into care.

I don’t know where in the big block of flats that particular flat was. But I walk along the street beside this estate several times a day. For ten days I was less than a hundred yards from a child locked into a flat with the rotting corpse of his dead mother, and I did not know.

What does it do to a child to live somewhere where a thing like that can happen?

In London and in other places, when street violence broke out – windows smashed, police and sometimes bystanders attacked – there was looting. The bulk of it appears to have been done by professionals – masked to avoid CCTV evidence, loading quantities of saleable stuff into vans. The small stuff – the bottled water and doughnuts looting – seems to have been done largely by people who were as startled by the street violence as anyone, who simply saw an open shop and walked in. There’s a good case to be made they deserve more lenient sentencing, not exemplary sentencing: good characters caught up by the pressure of events.

Anyone who offers a simple cause or claims a simple solution to the riots is simple-minded. There are multiple, complex causes.

One of them, fairly obviously, is that the Metropolitan police have made themselves into a policing force distrusted with reason by black people (policing the most multicultural city in Europe, an institutionally-racist police force that notoriously categorises people as criminal suspects by the colour of their skin!) and the police response to the student protests earlier in the year demonstrated that in London at least, a peaceful crowd of kids demanding investment in their future is regarded by the London police force as the enemy to be rounded up and kettled – taught a lesson.

Another fairly obvious one: it is a truth universally accepted that young people today should expect to be worse-off than their parents – and this has been true for twenty years. Children should expect to be worse-off than their parents, who in turn expect to be worse-off than their grandparents. We are watching a regular and consistent transfer of wealth from the many to the few. An agitprop theatre group in the 1970s named itself 7:86 – 7% of the population own 86% of the wealth – and now it would have to call itself 0.5:99 and be mistaken for a broken clock.

The end of the story with the boys who were throwing eggs and yelling abuse? It was very Scottish, really.

The ringleader of the gang turned 16. In Scotland, with parental consent, a sixteen-year-old can leave school without waiting for June. The ringleader had multiple ASBOs and I for one had been indulging in Daily Mail type fantasies of hanging him up by his heels. The police got him a joinery apprenticeship. Six months later – which was when I saw the news story about him – he was gradually working all of his old ASBOs off and had got no new ones: the group he’d led had broken up and was causing no more trouble. I guess he must be about twenty now, and I hope that by the time he’s thirty-five, and a master joiner, he’ll think of the stupid things he did when he was a teenager with pity for the no-hoper kid he was.

I’ve told this story several times, to people who knew I was being harassed by this group and to others, and most of the time, people take that resolution as a happy ending. Only once, I got a reaction: It’s unfair that a boy who caused so much trouble got an apprenticeship, when there are so few and so many good kids who would like that opportunity.

Unfair? Did this boy deserve special treatment?

Please take a few moments to read these, while I think about it.

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. … Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

“God’s bodykin, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.”

“The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept: Those many had not dared to do that evil, If the first that did the edict infringe Had answer’d for his deed: now ’tis awake Takes note of what is done; and, like a prophet, Looks in a glass, that shows what future evils, Either new, or by remissness new-conceived, And so in progress to be hatch’d and born, Are now to have no successive degrees, But, ere they live, to end.”

No, the boy didn’t deserve to get a good apprenticeship. But I deserved for him to get it. As did his future victims, if he’d been left to go on as he was – ratcheting up the violence until he ended up in jail or worse.

So with the rioters. Get them to apprenticeships, further education, proper training: build a society which gives them hope that they can live as well or better than their parents: that’s the thrifty course of action. Spending money and resources on sending them to jail, tracking down their families and evicting them – that’s pure waste.

(You probably know who the first two speakers were: Gandalf and Hamlet. The third was Angelo, from Measure for Measure, a strange grim play about a man who prides himself on virtuous justice, who wishes to apply the law stringently and without mercy… topical chap, Shakespeare.)

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Filed under Epetitions, J. R. R. Tolkien, Riots, William Shakespeare