By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
As the figure for arrests heads towards 3,000 and the British media follow the progress through the courts of the people charged, David Cameron has seized on the rioting, murder and arson as a golden opportunity to advance his personal agenda.
‘Mending broken Britain’ he calls it. In reality it’s an assault on what Conservatives castigate as ‘the liberal agenda’ which they believe reached its high point under 13 years of Labour.
There’ll be no inquiry into the rampage.
Cameron is certain of his own explanation of the turmoil in English cities, which posed the biggest challenge to police for 30 years.
He told the House of Commons on Thursday that it was “criminality, pure and simple”. He added: “And there’s absolutely no excuse for it.”
Neither he nor any of his baying right-wing backbenchers asked an obvious question, namely why were only English cities affected by this Labour-induced malaise?
How was it that the riot squad with ‘Heddlu’ [Police] stencilled on their stab vests could be confidently spared from Cardiff to deal with trouble in London? Why did poverty-stricken Glaswegians not wreck Sauchiehall Street?
To attempt to answer those questions would be to follow the same route as Cameron.The truth is that there is no agreed answer to those questions.
Even so, by Monday, Cameron had advanced from “criminality” to “moral collapse... sometimes incentivised by the state and its agencies” -- a dig at three Labour governments.
Although he refused an inquiry he is still pressing ahead with quick-fix solutions for causes not everyone agrees with. Or is he?
Cameron is first and foremost a PR man like Tony Blair on whom he so obviously models himself, a great man for the big occasion, for the parliamentary set-piece stage-managed by himself. Gesture politics is his forte.
He hasn’t quite sunk to Blair’s level of drivel such as fining miscreants on the spot and marching them to the cash machine.
Leaving aside whether it was a legal or workable notion, Blair’s assumption that ‘hoodies’ would have a credit card or a solvent bank account was laughable.
Cameron’s proposals, calculated to pacify his raging right-wingers are much more vindictive than Blair’s.
Evictions, cutting off benefits to people convicted of a criminal offence. Are they any more likely to come into force?
Ian Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, thinks so but the Lib Dems won’t have it. After all it is a coalition.
There are interesting politics going on here. If Lib Dems oppose what is at the moment a popular surge of revenge and vindictiveness they risk being seriously wrong-footed. Cameron clearly believes the riots are a heaven-sent opportunity to do just that and reverse a lot of Labour legislation besides.
While his talk of changes to benefits and evicting wrong-doers may be wind-baggery the most serious riots that anyone can remember give Cameron the chance to make changes to the Human Rights Act, undermine health and safety legislation, roll back ‘the state’ and blame Labour for creating the circumstances which bred the attitude of mind which led to the events on English streets.
In short the political consensus which existed during the Commons debate last week lasted precisely four days.
The mayhem in English cities was politicised on Monday with Ed Miliband making a speech in which he drew conclusions diametrically opposed to Cameron’s. Miliband has correctly identified Cameron’s real agenda as an attack on Labour’s legacy.
Cameron’s proposals are not intended to address the causes of the disturbances which have neither been established nor agreed.
Miliband is right that they are knee-jerk reactions to the dreadful scenes of last week. Furthermore, several of the proposals require legislation which would change the law and affect the whole of the UK thereby laying open the majority of people to dire consequences as a result of the criminal actions of a tiny minority of a population of 60 million.
It probably won’t happen. It’s populist rhetoric. It’s for the optics.
The real threat is long term. The sort of internal inquiry into government policies and agencies Cameron announced on Monday is his opportunity to bring in legislation to change fundamentally the role of the state in society.
Violence often has unintended consequences.