Wednesday, August 31, 2011 

The state of music in 2011 and the Mercury.

Music it seems goes in cycles. Back in the late 90s, with Britpop (a term which now conjures up only sniggers) dying out and indie in general flat-lining, it was claimed that decks were selling in higher numbers than guitars. How accurate that story was is difficult to ascertain now, but for a time it did seem as though dance music had taken over: clubs like Gatecrasher and Cream had become brands in their own right, a purpose built superclub called Home was about to open, superstar DJs could demand fees raising from the high tens of thousands up to the hundreds for New Year's Eve appearances, and trance and UK garage were dominating the charts and the airwaves.

Predictably, the bubble collapsed. Gatecrasher just about reinvented itself, while Cream now only holds occasional events and the yearly branded festival; Home was shut down almost as soon as it opened; trance became stale and cheesy very quickly indeed, while UK garage, which became associated in the mainstream media both rightly and wrongly with the excesses of certain members of the So Solid Crew and others, collapsed under its own contradictions and diversified. From the ashes of garage grime and dubstep have emerged, the latter of which is now experiencing its own, most likely fleeting commercial success and (fairly) mass popularity, while grime, once prompting articles asking why it was that certain MCs were failing to receive cross-over success has spawned a whole host of stars, even if the music they're making now has very little in common with that played by the genre's specialists either on Kiss or Rinse FM.

The puncturing of indie is reflected in this year's nominations for the Mercury music prize. It was already apparent late last year that a crash was in evidence, with labels being unprepared to sign up bands or artists whose chances of success were anything other than relatively certain, yet in last year's list you could point to a definite four with such pretensions, possibly even six if you were being slightly looser in your definition. This year there's Elbow, PJ Harvey and Everything Everything alongside King Creosote and Jon Hopkins if you're being charitable. Looking through the albums I've bought over the past year, it seems the only debut record I've bought from a UK indie band is Hunger by Frankie and the Heartstrings, which is decent rather than outstanding. It could be as much a sign of my changing taste as it is a dearth of decent up and comers, as well as the sad decline of the album as a format, and it's worth noting that Arctic Monkeys' fourth album went straight to number one, something certainly not assured, yet the lull is still worrying.

Like with last year then, this year's Mercury line-up is fairly weak. Then there were three nominees who would have been worthy winners; this year there are two, although to be fair the others on the list are of a higher overall quality than last year's bunch. PJ Harvey's album is deserving of all the plaudits its received; it's one of those rare works that genuinely sounds like nothing else out at the same time, a little like These New Puritans' Hidden from last year which was mystifyingly overlooked. Having predicted last year that the XX wouldn't win as they were the favourites and the obvious choice, I'm not going to make the same mistake this year and so am going to assume Harvey already has it sown up. James Blake's self-titled debut would though also be a fine choice, and describing it as coffee-table dubstep as the Guardian derisively does is both patronising and deeply unfair, not least because the vast majority of the album is as far removed from most of the genre and Blake's earlier work as it's possible to imagine. The manipulation of his voice is there, as is the often cavernous sub-bass, yet it's the subtlety and minimalism of the beats combined with the space he leaves between the vocals and the music which marks this out as something truly special: at times it resembles post-rock just as much as it does "post-dubstep".

The rest of the field is a decidedly mixed bag. Elbow seem to have made the list again purely on the basis that everyone now loves them, as Build a Rocket Boys! is merely a decent album rather than in the top 10 of the year. Tinie Tempah seems to have been similarly included on the basis that there has to be one out and out pop record on the list, or at least one hopes, while Gwilym Simcock also takes his place as the token jazz entry, something which must be a curse as much as a blessing. Anna Calvi I pledge to investigate further, as all the critics seem to agree on how good she is, while King Creosote and Jon Hopkins definitely deserve recognition if nothing else for their past work. Ghostpoet hopefully won't be the next Speeche Debelle, despite his album being far better than hers was: he only seems likely to improve. Also an odd choice is Metronomy, whose first two albums were far superior to their nominated The English Riveria; more accessible is not synonymous with better.

Which leaves us with Everything Everything, Adele and Katy B. Adele's seeming stranglehold over the radio, the charts and everything else is easy to explain: her music is dull as dishwater, and in a country which prizes the bland as being just as good as brilliance it fills a hole. Someone Like You is a classic of the form: just a piano and her voice, similar in execution to Ellie Goulding's ubiquitous cover of Your Song last Christmas, just with her earnestness in place of Taupin's subtlety. If 21 wins then there really doesn't seem to be any point whatsoever to the Mercury. Everything Everything are not quite that bad, but seem to have missed the boat somewhat on the spiky indie front, nor are they a patch on their far superior competitors, whether they be the Futureheads or Young Knives. Having tore into Katy B somewhat in the most disappointing music of last year, it's heartening to report that her debut album is a vast improvement over the vocals she supplied for the two Magnetic Man tracks, mainly down to how most of the production for On a Mission was supplied by Rinse's Geeneus, with Zinc helping out. Her voice still isn't the strongest, although that's arguably an asset when everyone else is currently belting it out, and her lyrics could use more than a little work (Easy Please Me is at times cringe-inducing) but she's by far the most credible crossover pop success from dubstep/current bass music, down to how Geeneus and Zinc's production looks back to the 90s as much as it does to now.

Doubtless in a couple of years' time when the likes of Skrillex and Nero have thankfully disappeared and we're back to suffering from an overload of indie bands who all sound the same and all have the same attitude we'll be reporting on the demise of the DJ yet again. For now though we're stuck with it; the least the judges on the Mercury could do is recognise James Blake's album as a summation of the year's best music.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011 

So who will protect the civilians of Sirte?

Compare and contrast. From March, and which has since been used as the primary justification for why intervention in Libya was needed urgently:

Muammar Gaddafi told Libyan rebels on Thursday his armed forces were coming to their capital Benghazi tonight and would not show any mercy to fighters who resisted them.

In a radio address, he told Benghazi residents that soldiers would search every house in the city and people who had no arms had no reason to fear.

"It's over ... We are coming tonight," he said. "You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets."

...

In the speech, the Libyan leader denounced the rebels and said: "We will show no mercy and no pity to them".

He also told his troops not to pursue any rebels who drop their guns and flee when government forces reach the city.


From today:

Libya's interim leaders have given pro-Gaddafi forces until Saturday to surrender or face military force.

...

Speaking at a news conference in Benghazi, Mr Jalil said that if there was no "peaceful indication" by Saturday that Gaddafi-loyalists intended to surrender, "we will decide this manner militarily".

"We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer," he said.

The NTC's military chief, Col Ahmed Omar Bani, said: "Zero hour is quickly approaching... So far we have been given no indication of a peaceful surrender."

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the deadline, saying: "I think it's the right thing to do, to say to the forces loyal to the remnants of the Gaddafi regime: here is the opportunity to lay down your arms, to consider your situation."


And if you don't, then get ready to be "protected".

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How broadsheet football journalism works.

Last Thursday:



Today:

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Monday, August 29, 2011 

Back to the old skool.


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Saturday, August 27, 2011 

Full attention.


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Friday, August 26, 2011 

British planes bomb bunker as focus shifts to Sirte.

NATO has denied that the attack on Gaddafi's bunker in Sirte was an attempt to assassinate the fugitive leader. The defence secretary, Dr. Farmer Palmer, said: "Ee wuz wurryin moy civilians." He then aimed a shotgun at journalists and added: "Now get orff moy laand."

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 

In which I admit to talking crap redux.

One of the not so great spectacles of the last few months has been seeing those who should know better and those who have no shame variously passing judgement on Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It's one of those cases where you can safely say that individuals on all sides share guilt: those in France, whether they be the philosopher buffoon Bernard-Henri Levy who sprang to DSK's offence in the way only a puffed up windbag can, or the others who assumed guilt based on DSK's only now reported serial womanising. Unfortunately, we can't even feel desperately sorry for Nafissatou Diallo: besides her lack of reliability as a witness based on dishonesty over her past, she was advised abysmally, as exemplified by the exclusive interviews she gave which only undermined her case yet further. In an ideal world, she would have had her day in court and a jury would have decided whose version of events to believe based on all the evidence. This is not an ideal world.

Deciding who's guilty and who isn't based on media reporting, or worse, on someone's past record, is daft. In the spirit of DSK then and in the second sort of mea culpa of the week, the acquittal of Learco Chindamo is welcome and refreshing news. Chindamo had not only been charged with the robbery of a man at a cashpoint, only four months after being released on parole, having served 14 years for the murder of the headteacher Philip Lawrence, it was also alleged he had intimidated the man by referring to the murder, something which suggested all those who had testified as to his changed, remorseful nature had been misled. OK, I didn't pass judgement based on his arrest, having believed such accounts, but all the same I felt the need to draw further attention to it before justice was done.

In a way, it does in fact show just how the justice system works when someone sentenced to life and released is then accused of a further crime: Chindamo has spent the entire time since he was arrested back in prison, and three previous trials collapsed for various reasons before he was finally acquitted yesterday, when it's unlikely the Crown Prosecution Service would have felt it was in the public interest for such expense and time to be spent trying a relatively minor crime had it involved those without such serious prior convictions. He will now have to go in front of the parole board again before he can be released, something unlikely to be a formality. As Frances Lawrence said, it can only be hoped that he has a happier, calmer and more productive future ahead of him.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 

A strange business.

News International is a strange business. Not only did it immediately offer a year's salary to an employee who had been imprisoned as a result of his work as a leaving the firm present, when the company would have clearly been entirely within its rights to fire him with no recompense whatsoever for gross misconduct, it was also generous enough to give the senior manager who resigned for failing to notice that employee had been breaking the law 2 years' pay, 3 years of health insurance cover, and his company car. We aren't talking relatively piffling sums here either, the sort that any medium to large business would pay, rather than potentially involve themselves in expensive, protracted legal battles: Clive Goodman walked away with £240,000, while at the very least Andy Coulson received £600,000, albeit in instalments.

Apart from raising the question of whether Coulson really did resign of his own volition, or whether he was told very politely and sweetly that it was best that he went and that in return for going he would be very well looked after, it also reopens the whole reasoning behind why Coulson was hired by David Cameron in the first place. After all, there was no indication that Coulson had any great interest in politics beyond the basics, let alone that he had the potential to be a good director of communications for the Conservatives: as with Piers Morgan and the now editor of the Sun, Dominic Mohan, his speciality had been showbiz, having edited the Sun's Bizarre pages. Alastair Campbell, who we must inevitably compare Coulson with, was the political editor of Today when Tony Blair asked him to become his press secretary. Why then was George Osborne so smitten with Andy's prowess, especially considering how he'd tried to link Osborne with a prostitute and past cocaine usage?

The answer to which ought to be obvious by now: Coulson's main role was to get the Murdoch press back on the side of the Tories, and the idea was that from there everything else would follow. If Dan Sabbagh's report is right, then Coulson even let some at Conservative Central Office know that he was still being paid and receiving perks from the Murdochs, although he obviously couldn't put that down in the Commons register for MP-sponsored passes, as it would blow the entire charade.

We are then back once again in the realm of plausible deniability: no one in the Conservatives possibly knew Coulson was continuing to receive severance pay, let alone David Cameron, except for those it seems who tipped off Robert Peston, who in this instance doesn't seem to have received the story from
his friend at NI, Will Lewis. They simply hired Coulson for his expertise, and the worst Cameron and his party can be accused of is that they believed Coulson when he told them he knew absolutely nothing about anything. And how lucky and pleasant for the Conservatives that what would otherwise been the main story of the week and yet another detail for the inquiry to look into has been rightly, it should be stressed, buried by the happy scenes in Libya. At some point Cameron's mixture of luck and chutzpah over Coulson is going to run out. But not yet.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011 

It's coming right for us!


I know I shouldn't be surprised when the entire campaign in Libya
has been built around the lie of being purely about "protecting civilians", yet it was still fairly staggering when it was decided that Gaddafi's compound should be pounded one final time today from the air (note the non-denial denial and later reports from the BBC that the rebels drew back while the air strike(s) were carried out). Even if we take at face value the continued, increasingly hilarious explanations over the last few months for bombing various buildings not immediately obvious for their potential to be used to target civilians as they were "command and control centres" for Gaddafi's forces, then it can hardly be claimed that Bab al-Aziziya was still functioning as such today. It was instead under siege from the rebels, while the heaviest weaponry those had inside was reported to be Grad missiles, which were being fired at the attackers, not at civilian targets. Why then bomb it again unless the purpose was to "soften it up" further and avoid any embarrassing, lengthy stand-off which would temporarily at least deny the rebels their most symbolic, television friendly victory yet?

Whether or not the bombing did the trick or Gaddafi's remaining loyalists did a runner seems uncertain, as reports conflict on whether the cameras stayed away from the unwelcome sight of bodies or if there simply wasn't that many once they got inside. Either way, it's hardly a good sign that we couldn't even trust one of the final supposed acts to the rebels: still NATO had to come in and do much of the heavy lifting. Flying Rodent meanwhile sums up the last five months and where we might go from here in his inimitable style:

Recall - the UK, US and France supposedly went to the UN to seek permission to create a No-Fly Zone, yet miraculously emerged with wide-ranging powers to take any measures necessary to "protect civilians". You've just seen six months of solid, dedicated "protection", which in reality meant "Intervening on one side in a civil war".

For all the Responsibility-To-Protect rah-rah, we've just demonstrated to the world for the third time in a decade that we intentionally and brazenly lie to the entire planet about humanitarianism for months on end in pursuit of entirely political goals. Nato has spent six months explaining that it isn't seeking regime change in Libya while straining as hard as it could to do exactly the opposite.

...

Well. If you, like me, were flabbergasted that Britain stampeded to involve itself in another serious conflict, just years after presiding over one of the nastiest mass-murder sprees in recent history, then steel yourselves for sequels. It took decades of boo-hoo propaganda and flag-waving for the Yanks to get over the disaster of Vietnam - it's taken us about a tenth of the time and none of the self-reflection to dick off one of our most inglorious warfaring episodes to dive into what could be a whole series of new ones.

Seriously, y'all. If we were that belligerent, that eager to dive into this war after one of the most horrifying military fuck-ups in our history, imagine how can-do chaps we're going to be for the next decade. Excellent news for Libyans means interesting times ahead for British squaddies, I think. War is the new normal.

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Monday, August 22, 2011 

The downfall.

As was always going to happen, there's both a lot of finger-wagging and a fair few mea culpas flying around as Tripoli is in the process of falling. When the end came, it happened suddenly, to the surprise of pretty much all of us: at the beginning of last week there was no indication whatsoever that within 7 days Libya's capital would be all but in the hands of the rebels. There had been advances from the west towards Tripoli, but elsewhere the disparate groupings of what some have been calling the Free Libya Forces still seemed to be either bogged down or unwilling to advance even under the cover of NATO bombing. We will doubtless learn in the coming days exactly what triggered the downfall, how the roads to Tripoli seemed to clear over the weekend and how Gaddafi's loyalists mostly ebbed away.

For now though we should obviously welcome the fall of another tyrant who oppressed his people for far too long. The difficulty, as it always was, is in what comes next. Our policy towards the National Transitional Council has from the outset been one of hope, putting our faith in defectors and unknowns. Recognising the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya just less than a month ago immediately blew up in our faces when the defector Abdul Fatah Younis was murdered, prompting its head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil to sack the entire cabinet. At the moment then someone with little to no authority outside Benghazi and without any colleagues is the interim government in waiting. Quite what the reception will be should he turn up in Tripoli is uncertain; those elements among the rebels who have long refused to be controlled from Benghazi and who have fought their own battles across the country are going to want their sacrifices to be recognised immediately.

This said, I think it's incredibly doubtful that there'll be any significant bloodletting or infighting, at least initially. Unquantifiable though is just how many Gaddafi loyalists/supporters/diehards remain, and there has to be a reasonable number, otherwise the fighting would have pretty much ceased today except for those protecting the leader himself. Instead it's continuing, including outside Tripoli, which in itself is surprising. Whether it will fizzle out when Gaddafi is captured or killed may well be the litmus test. Also unpredictable is whether in the initial vacuum Islamists could take advantage, as al-Zarqawi's group and Ansar al-Islam swiftly did in Iraq. The key differences are that there are no foreign ground forces to target, nor were there any groups on the ground already, excepting the veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq which used to make up the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, some of whom joined the rebels.

We are though in a situation which is completely different to that in Egypt especially, and somewhat to that in Tunisia. There the state remained; it was the governments that were overthrown, with the police and civil service staying in place (in Tunisia the army largely took over the role of policing). In Tripoli it's far too early to tell whether the police will return to the streets, nor whether they will be supported by the public. Likewise, it's hard to see it simply being a quick handover from the remnants of the Gaddafi regime to the TNC's interim government. Already some are predicting that peacekeepers might be necessary, if only for a short time; it hopefully won't come to that, although it would be foolish to rule anything in or out at that moment. It again may well be depend on how long this apparent impasse remains, on how determined the loyalists are to continue to fight and on just how they imagine they'll be treated by those they've spent the last few months repressing and killing. It'll quickly become clear just how much planning really has been done by ourselves and others within NATO, and how we'll be helping those we've been fighting on the side of for the last five months.

For despite everything, that is what our intervention has been about: the overthrow of Gaddafi. Ever since the UN resolution was passed, which expressly called for a ceasefire and negotiations, not an operation where we would act as the air force of the rebels, that was the ultimate aim. It was with the very best of intentions, yet it was also an abuse of the UN's authority. True, it was partly about drafting a resolution which wouldn't be vetoed by either China or Russia, fearing that an open intervention to overthrow Gaddafi could then eventually be used to put a stop to their own repressive activities in Tibet or Chechnya, but it was also dishonest, and damages the prospect of the responsibility to protect being invoked when an actual genocide or far worse human rights abuses than the threat of going from house to house in Benghazi occur. At the time we intervened at worst around 2,000 people had been killed following Gaddafi's crackdowns; 10,000+ is now the best estimate. Around 2,200 have also now been killed in Syria, where UN condemnation has been so slight as to be non-existent, partially because of the way in which we chose to interpret UNSC 1973, i.e. it allowed us to do almost whatever the hell we said it did.

Moreover, it was through this fundamental failure to be fully honest that politicians weren't able to give an indication of how long the mission was going to take, meaning some got the idea that it would be a matter of weeks rather than the 5 months and counting it's been, at a cost far higher than was also first suggested. Luckily for the government, despite the stalemate (and please Juan Cole, I hugely admire you, but for a long time it was stalemate) it's worked out reasonably well. The cost hasn't been too high, all the opposition parties stayed on side, and a far from benign dictator, even one who was nominally on our side, has been deposed. The opportunities for businesses, especially the ones the government sucks up to the most and vice versa, are massive, with there already being talk of gas pipelines into Europe. A new government which is both grateful and massively owes us would hardly have been excluded from the calculations prior to our deciding to ready the bombs, even if this was never a war for oil or resources. True, the same was meant to be the case in Iraq, and it didn't exactly go as planned.

Libya though as everyone rightly keeps saying is not Iraq. Those of us who opposed that war and were chided in the immediate aftermath were only later somewhat vindicated. The circumstances here were completely different; the first main objection was that a no fly zone would be ineffective, and while it initially saved Benghazi, for a long period it didn't provide much protection elsewhere until the rebels started working better with NATO. Second was that this was a misuse of the responsibility to protect and that Gaddafi wouldn't carry through on his word in Benghazi. He probably would have done, yet it still most likely wouldn't have amounted to genocide or anything approaching it. If we're going to act militarily to prevent the deaths of the high hundreds to low thousands, where does it end and why some places rather than others? Those being attacked in Syria are asking exactly that. Third is that we didn't know what would come afterwards, and hadn't planned properly for it. Since then the planning has been more public, but it's far too early to tell what will happen next and whether it works out and how effective it was.

Reading back the piece I wrote on the night the UN resolution was passed, it holds up fairly well. Some parts of it were over-optimistic: our intervention was never going to transform attitudes towards the West except in Libya itself; at best the outcome may now take the edge off some of the worst denunciations elsewhere. It also didn't really encourage the uprisings elsewhere; they had their own momentum, or lack thereof. The fall of Gaddafi could yet encourage a resurgence, and will give hope that other dictators responding to peaceful protest with bullets and tanks can be brought down; it may also sadly suggest to those in Syria that they're unlikely to get anywhere without force being threatened by the West, something which is almost certainly not going to be forthcoming. Overall, the intervention in Libya has for now been a good thing; if it remains that way, and it remains a big if, those of us who opposed it have a new case study for next time. We will also have our consciences to examine.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011 

Floating zero.


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Friday, August 19, 2011 

100 years ago...

Not entirely analogous to the last couple of weeks, but it's always worth returning to William Rees-Mogg's most famous editorial:

Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?

Mr. JAGGER has been sentenced to impris
onment for three months. He is appealing against conviction and sentence, and has been granted bail until the hearing of the appeal later in the year. In the meantime, the sentence of imprisonment is bound to be widely discussed by the public. And the circumstances are sufficiently unusual to warrant such discussion in the public interest.

Mr. JAGGER was charged with being in possession of four tablets containing amphetamine sulphate and methyl amphetamine hydrochloride; these tablets had been bought, perfectly legally, in Italy, and brought back to this country. They are not a highly dangerous drug, or in a proper dosage a dangerous drug at all. They are of the benzedrine type and the Italian manufacturers recommend them both as a stimulant and as a remedy for travel sickness.

In Britain it is an offence to possess these drugs without a doctor's prescription. Mr. JAGGER's doctor says that he knew and had authorized their use, but he did not give a prescription for them as indeed they had already been purchased. His evidence was not challenged. This was therefore an offence of a technical character, which before this case drew the point to public attention any honest man might have been liable to commit. If after his visit to the POPE the ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY had bought proprietary airsickness pills on Rome airport, and imported the unused tablets into Britain on his return, he would have risked committing precisely the same offence. No one who has ever travelled and bought proprietary drugs abroad can be sure that he has not broken the law.

JUDGE BLOCK directed the jury that the approval of a doctor was not a defence in law to the charge of possessing drugs without a prescription, and the jury convicted. Mr. JAGGER was not charged with complicity in any other drug offence that occurred in the same house. They were separate cases, and no evidence was produced to suggest that he knew that Mr. FRASER had heroin tablets or that the vanishing Mr. SNEIDERMANN had cannabis resin. It is indeed no offence to be in the same building or the same company as people possessing or even using drugs, nor could it reasonably be made an offence. The drugs which Mr. JAGGER had in his possession must therefore be treated on their own, as a separate issue from the other drugs that other people may have had in their possession at the same time. It may be difficult for lay opinion to make this distinction clearly, but obviously justice cannot be done if one man is to be punished for a purely contingent association with someone else's offence.

We have, therefore, a conviction against Mr. JAGGER purely on the grounds that he possessed four Italian pep pills, quite legally bought but not illegally imported without a prescription. Four is not a large number. This is not the quantity which a pusher of drugs would have on him, nor even the quantity one would expect in an addict. In any case Mr. JAGGER's career is obviously one that does involve great personal strain and exhaustion; his doctor says that he approved the occasional use of these drugs, and it seems likely that similar drugs would have been prescribed if there was a need for them. Millions of similar drugs are prescribed in Britain every year, and for a variety of conditions.

One has to ask, therefore, how it is that this technical offence, divorced as it must be from other people's offences, was thought to deserve the penalty of imprisonment. In the courts at large it is most uncommon for imprisonment to be imposed on first offenders where the drugs are not major drugs of addiction and there is no question of drug traffic. The normal penalty is probation, and the purpose of probation is to encourage the offender to develop his career and to avoid the drug risks in the future. It is surprising therefore that JUDGE BLOCK should have decided to sentence Mr. JAGGER to imprisonment, and particularly surprising as Mr. JAGGER's is about as mild a drug case as can evr have been brought before the Courts.

It would be wrong to speculate on the JUDGE's reasons, which we do not know. It is, however, possible to consider the public reaction. There are many people who take a primitive view of the matter, what one might call a pre-legal view of the matter. They consider that Mr. JAGGER has "got what was coming to him". They resent the anarchic quality of the Rolling Stones' performances, dislike their songs, dislike their influence on teenagers and broadly suspect them of decadence, a word used by MISS MONICA FURLONG in the 'Daily Mail'.

As a sociological concern this may be reasonable enough, and at an emotional level it is very understandable, but it has nothing to do with the case. One has to ask a different question: has Mr. JAGGER received the same treatment as he would have received if he had not been a famous figure, with all the criticism and resentment his celebrity has aroused? If a promising undergraduate had come back from a summer visit to Italy with four pep pills in his pocket would it have been thought right to ruin his career by sending him to prison for three months? Would it also have been thought necessary to display him in handcuffed to the public?

There are cases in which a single figure becomes the focus for public concern about some aspect of public morality. The Stephen Ward case, with its dubious evidence and questionable verdict, was one of them, and that verdict killed STEPHEN WARD. There are elements of the same emotions in the reactions to this case. If we are going to make any case a symbol of the conflict between the sound traditional values of Britain and the new hedonism, then we must be sure that the sound traditional values include those of tolerance and equity. It should be the particular quality of British justice to ensure that Mr. JAGGER is treated exactly the same as anyone else, no better and no worse. There must remain a suspicion in this case that Mr. JAGGER received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011 

2031 here we come.

Much as this blog has always been against the tendency to split the whole population of a nation down the middle into two distinct groups in the past, I'm finding it hard to see such nuances when it comes to the sentences given to the "Facebook rioters". You have those who think that four years in prison for making events pages on a social networking website for riots which were never going to take place is ridiculously harsh, and then you have vindictive wankers who have obviously never done anything stupid in their entire lives who think it's perfectly acceptable.

The ostensible reason why Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan have received what seem such disproportionate terms of imprisonment is that inciting a riot, even if it doesn't take place or was never intended as anything other than a joke, is regarded as a more serious offence than the violent disorder which would result from it. This is underlined by the ranges set out by Judge Andrew Gilbart in his remarks before sentencing the first batch of those who pleaded guilty to taking part in the rioting in Manchester and Salford: he argues "that the context in which the offences of the night of 9th of August were committed takes them completely outside the usual context of criminality", and so feels likewise that the normal sentencing guidelines "are of much less weight in the context of the current case, and can properly be departed from". His starting point for "organisers of riots or commerical burglaries" after trial is 8 years upwards.

Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan then if anything seem to have got off relatively lightly, such is the climate that has descended. Judge Elgar Edwards, who sentenced both men, described their offences as happening at a time of "collective insanity", before going to err, describe what Blackshaw did as an "evil act". Perhaps though we shouldn't be so surprised: we've seen with the #twitterjoketrial that judges and the authorities don't take kindly to what seem to online dwellers like ourselves self-evidently mocking messages, regardless of the hints of menace they have in them. This was of a different scale, and added to the general level of unease which communities all around the country were going through, with the police turning up at Blackshaw's proposed location, yet it's both the lack of consistency between the terrible crimes you can commit and get 4 years for and the knowledge that there were plenty of other people out there on Facebook and Twitter spreading rumour and panic causing much the same fear and uncertainty without so much as being lectured for doing so that makes it stick in the craw so much.

Not that there's much consistency either in the sentences which have been handed down for those taking part in the actual looting. Gilbart gave Linda Mary Boyd, the woman who picked up a bag containing stolen alcohol, cigarettes and a mobile phone ten months suspended for two years. He judged her to be unlike the others he was sentencing, despite Boyd having a long record of petty offending. Such considerations were not given by Judge Robert Atherton, who sets out how he "respectfully agrees with the ranges" outlined by Gilbart, to Conrad McGrath, a 21-year-old student who previously seems to have had an entirely clean record. Arrested after being seen in a looted Tesco Express, Atherton sentenced him to 16 months for burglary (PDF). Even when taking everything into account, including McGrath's stupidity and his role in the wider unrest, it seems an overly harsh punishment for a first-time offender who didn't actually steal anything. A twelve month suspended sentence, which involved perhaps a curfew and also a form of restorative justice would surely both serve the stated parameters of "sending a message" while also acting as an effective punishment.

The Heresiarch asks:

That being the case, is it really fair to hand out exemplary sentences to rioters who were merely acting in accordance with human nature, who are not actually violent criminals? And is such sentencing policy good either for them or for society?

He goes on to suggest it is. I'm not so sure. While the public mood is undoubtedly in favour of the harsh penalties being handed down, and some of those involved truly are deserving of what they have coming their way, our prisons are not exactly renowned for their work in reducing recidivism, while the current overcrowding is hardly going to improve the conditions for those first time offenders finding themselves in a circle of hell as a result of a few hours of madness. It's also dubious that the fear of such punishments can ever overcome the peer pressure of the mob when you're caught up in it.

Moreover, all the signs are that last week's events are another one-off which we'll end up looking back at in a similar way to the race riots 10 years ago and the disturbances in the 80s: memories fade quickly, while the young often have only the most superficial knowledge of events during their early childhood. It's safe to bet that plenty of those under 21 had very little to no knowledge whatsoever of the Toxteth, Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots of the 80s. Exemplary sentences only stay that way as long as they can be recalled. Come the 2031 riots, those on all sides will doubtless make the same arguments all over again.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011 

How soon we forget.

Further to Bagehot's piece in the Economist, linked to by 5CC, on how we've been here before, here's a brief history of rioting from the latest Private Eye:


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And the award for least enticing opening sentence goes to...

Reading about the riots as they affected London, I kept thinking of my historical railway atlas.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011 

Not quite the ocular proof. Yet.

There is a danger of putting a little too much emphasis on the Clive Goodman letter, released today by the culture committee, not least because it's the testimony of only one person, and also as it was doubtless an attempt by Goodman to try and get as much as he could out of News International. Even if he had been given assurances by Tom Crone and Andy Coulson that he could return to his job as long as he didn't implicate anyone else, the simple fact that both he and Mulcaire were imprisoned, with Coulson resigning, meant it was ludicrous to expect things could return to normal once he'd served his time. Suggestive of a cover-up as it is, if we were to see similar allegations from Glenn Mulcaire then it would give even more weight to what has long been suspected.

What it does demonstrate is that the "one rogue reporter" defence was always nonsense. If this had been a simple case of just Goodman and Mulcaire resorting to illegal methods, then both would have been dismissed immediately for gross misconduct and not paid a penny, regardless of "how many unblemished and frequently distinguished years of service to the News of the World" (PDF, page 37) Goodman had provided. Instead Les Hinton promised him a year's salary straight away, the hardly inconsiderable sum of £90,000, and expresses how "deeply sorry" he is at having to dismiss him. In the event, Goodman's appeals resulted in him not just taking home £90,000, but a further £150,000. Not many companies with nothing to hide would give such enormous settlements to employees convicted of a crime committed in their line of work.

Just as damning is the evidence given by Harbottle and Lewis, the law firm which it seems was more than slightly erroneously cited by both Murdochs as having partially given them the impression that phone hacking didn't extend beyond Goodman. In fact, as they painstakingly set out, their role was simply to investigate the accusations made by Goodman in his response to Hinton that his actions were carried out with the "full knowledge and support" of others on the paper. This investigation amounted to a simple trawl through emails which News International themselves provided, some of which were cut off and had attachments which couldn't be opened. Even when provided with hard copies of some of the messages there were some that remained only stubs. Their draft confirming that they had not found any evidence to substantiate Goodman's claims was then substantially altered in discussions between H&L and NI's Jon Chapman, including dropping the reference to the emails covering only a specific period (page 8). We also now know that even if the emails didn't contain any evidence relating to phone hacking, they did contain evidence which Ken Macdonald considered to suggest the News of the World had made payments to police officers, something which H&L stresses it could not report to the Met due to their legal obligations to NI (page 20).

While this isn't then quite the ocular proof of NI employees lying to all and sundry for years, nor the letter which will result in Andy Coulson being charged with perjury, it does narrow NI's defence and options even further. The truth will eventually out.

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Slightly shorter Melanie Phillips.

In recent weeks, having unfortunately been quoted approvingly by a mass-murderer, I have been responding to wicked smears on my character in my usual understated fashion. Numerous as these verbal pogroms have been, they have been nothing compared to the literally dozens of messages of support I've received.

This support has underlined what I know already - that rather than telling people what to think, I articulate and reflect what dozens of people too stupid or lazy to write their own 1,000 word essays on the downfall of Western civilisation and the rise of Islam at some level already know. In other words, I live on Planet Reality.

It therefore follows that every single one of my critics live on Planet Dhimmistan. My supporters clearly see that when I'm criticised, they are also being attacked and smeared. By disagreeing with me, my critics threaten the well-being and indeed the very survival of Planet Reality.

I am now adjourning to my yearly sabbatical in the Priory. I wish everyone a very good and peaceful summer. Except the Muslims.

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Monday, August 15, 2011 

Shorter David Cameron.

It is time to take stock. It's clear that over the last few days, through a mixture of blaming the police and failing to talk to almost any real people where the rioting took place in case they heckled me like they did Bozza that I've begun to look out of touch.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Look, here I am on the mean streets of Witney with grafitti art as a backdrop. It even has hoodies. I mean business, and we must mean business. However, we musn't oversimplify. This is why everything I'm about to blame could have been come up with by a speak your weight machine ingeniously converted to giving right-wing political opinions.

Moral relativism. Political correctness. Greed. Irresponsibility. Children without fathers. Schools without the birch and fagging. Rights without responsibilities. The state incentivising such behaviour. Police officers not being on every street corner because of Labour's barmy bureaucracy. Parents who fail to keep their children under lock and key every minute of the day. A welfare system that encourages laziness, arson and wearing your jean waistband around your testicles. The human rights
act. Health and safety. Helen Flanagan. Gordon Brown. Chocolates next to the tills at supermarkets. Lady GaGa. Grand Theft Auto.

Happily, even though I hadn't so much as mentioned the broken society since I almost won the election, the government was already providing the panacea to all of these problems. Some of the solutions are simple, like reforming the welfare system until no one can claim anything and handing the control of police locally to politically motivated monomaniacs. Introducing a voluntary national citizen service so those who already have their Duke of Edinburgh gold award can add another line to their CVs is something I'm incredibly passionate about. Deporting all of those 350,000 "problem" families to the Isle of Man. The more complicated stuff we can get Steve to blue-sky brainstorm.

Let me be clear then. The government can't do all of this on its own. Especially considering the global economy has imploded again and we're potless. We are in all this together. That's why it took a journalist to remind me to ask the audience what they thought. They agreed with me. Funny that.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011 

Breakbeat science.


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Friday, August 12, 2011 

Not quite apropos of nothing.

I think we should shut Louise Mensch down.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011 

The tone is set and the blame game truly begins.

When you're in politics, it's a fairly dangerous game to start blaming the police. Not only are they almost certainly more popular than you are, even in the aftermath of the worst breakdown of law and order in the capital in recent memory, they're also the last people you want to get on the wrong side of. Jacqui Smith succeeded in annoying them so much they marched on parliament. Anyone remember what happened to her?

It's curious then that both David Cameron and Theresa May did just that in today's recall of parliament, later joined in their certainty by clapping seals on the backbenches. Just as bizarre is that it makes a libertarian lefty like myself, not exactly a noted cheerleader for our fearless feds, want to defend them. Even if we take at face value the apparent admittance by the Met that they treated the rioting which broke out on Saturday in Tottenham initially as a public order issue rather than a criminal one, there was perfectly good reasoning behind that: heavy-handed tactics that night would have almost certainly made the situation worse. Their real error was the failure to acknowledge the protest by Mark Duggan's friends and family quickly enough at a senior level.

Even when the copycat violence broke out on Sunday, it still wasn't clear or predictable that pockets of the capital would the next night be in flames. As I somewhat argued two days ago and John B sets out in more detail, the main failure was that the police simply couldn't keep up, nor did they properly understood quite what was happening. Considering few of the rest of us did either until the day after, this is hardly something they can be pilloried for. It also saw something probably unprecedented in terms of rioting, rather than political protest: the use of BlackBerry Messenger and texts (The use of Twitter and Facebook seems to have been pretty negligible as an organisational tool, as both are more or less wide open, although they were a few "inciting" through both) to publicise the targets, in some cases only a matter of minutes before they were then hit. At best the police had a couple of hours notice, and that was if someone bothered to forward the plans onto them. The riots in France back in 2005, the most similar recent outbreak of unrest to our own few days of looting also went "viral" but certainly didn't involve such flash-mobbing.

As the police were so overstretched and without major back-up, the decision in most cases not to intervene in the looting, while undeniably perplexing to the public, was a fairly sound one. There's bravery and preventing disorder, and then there's the distinct possibility of getting beaten to death by a group which outnumbers you by at least about 5 to 1. The efficacy of water cannon and tear gas against such mobile groups who aren't intent on reaching any particular area or repeatedly charging and attacking the police is also fairly negligible. 6,000 officers, normally more than enough to contain even a fairly prolonged outbreak of disorder, simply couldn't take back control. They couldn't however have possibly known things would get as bad as they would. Hindsight, as always, is a wonderful thing.

It's also ever so slightly rich for politicians, always so keen to express their admiration for the bravery of the police to then speak out of the other side of their mouth a matter of minutes later. Both May and Cameron were still on holiday on Monday; those who were doing their best in unbelievably difficult circumstances were out on the streets. Not that either of the former have been out on them much since: May even slinked away from Boris Johnson when he was heckled in Clapham. Since then the government, realising it appears to be on a hiding for nothing, has keep as low a profile as possible. Not a single government minister could find the time to appear on any of the major news programmes tonight, including Question Time, where the affable David Davis had to instead make the "brokeback" coalition's case.

Then again, it's probably best they don't try and defend the measures outlined by Cameron which are meant to stop a recurrence of the violence. Police already have powers similar to ones demanding individuals uncover their faces, and in any case it's rather difficult for a couple of beat coppers to deal with a whole group of people with masks on, let alone when they're already smashing windows. It also begins to defy belief when the ravings of right-wing backbenchers, suggesting the police spray rioters with indelible liquid making them easier to identify later are treated seriously; discarding or burning clothes is something those showered would never think of doing. Just to make things even more surreal, comfort was given to those who called for the army to be brought in, while social networking could also be temporarily shut down in such circumstances, something that certainly wouldn't cause further unnecessary panic or hinder the spread of reliable information on what was happening, as some police forces attempted to provide in real time this week.

Ed Miliband's statement was well considered on the whole, and a few lonely souls did suggest this wasn't just amorality run amok, but the tone does seem to have been set. 16 weeks in prison for a 21-year-old who said to police that he'd "smash you if you took your uniform off", an empty threat if there ever was one and something which he might have got a caution or a fine for at worst in normal circumstances seems ridiculously over-the-top even after this week's events. Pie boy got six weeks for assault, later reduced to four. If being a twat in public is going to get you four months inside, at least let's be consistent.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011 

Between the armchair generals and the stereotype sociologist.

I've been trying to think of somewhat mocking comparisons between the flood of comment on the riots we're now up to our neck in (and which I'm going to do the equivalent of pissing in, polluting while adding to it) and likewise exhibits in popular culture. At the one extreme, some of the response looks the equivalent pulling a Wooley, the SWAT team member at the beginning of the original Dawn of the Dead. While one of the very slight failings of the film is that it's never clear quite why a SWAT team is going after a gang of criminals when flesh-eating zombies are shambling everywhere, Wooley also isn't too bothered by this chain of events. For him it's the fact that "these low lifes" are living in these "big ass fancy hotels" which are "better than what he has". "You ain't gonna talk 'em out of here, you gotta blow 'em out! Blow their asses!"

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Eric Idle sociologist from the Hells Grannies sketch in Monty Python, so intent on giving his prescription of exactly why these "senile delinquents" have "rejected contemporary society" that he doesn't notice they've opened up a manhole in front of him. Being hoist by your own petard is though a universal danger: as always, pretty much everyone is explaining, rationalising, or rather saying they warned about this all along and it all happily fits their previous prejudices. Hell, I've done it the last couple of days. Melanie Phillips (and others) then think it's all down to absent fathers; Max Hastings in the Mail puts the onus on years of "liberal dogma"; Shaun Bailey says it's all down to responsibility (lack of) and a sense of entitlement, although only the sense of entitlement amongst a certain section; Seumas Milne sticks it all on greed and the rapaciousness of those at the top of society; and the Guardian's leader comment, which has been getting more shrill day by day, fingers both everything and nothing. No change there then.

It is though the ultimate way to play safe. And in truth, all of these explanations have something in them, (with the exception of Max "Hitler" Hastings doing the bidding of Paul Dacre), while also being fairly easy to knock down. Absent parents can have a major impact; they also, as Phillip Larkin will always remind us, fuck us up. Those preaching the virtues of the nuclear family ought to read Hayley Matthews' account of the riots in Salford, where parents with their kids in child seats in the back of cars screamed up and filled their boots (literally) with loot. It would be equally naive to dismiss the fact that in certain cases children are being brought up, either by single parents or not who aren't taught right from wrong, and have had everything given to them on a plate, whether by the state or trust fund, who feel aggrieved that they can't have everything right this instant. Again though, Matthews' account makes clear that certain authority figures do either make those who've taken part think twice, or at least temporarily ashamed of their actions: they might not fear the police, but seeing her dog collar alarmed and troubled them. If their parents had turned up, it's fair to say a good proportion of those taking part would have been shocked and despite what some have also pointed towards, been given at the least a sock round the ear.

The accounts then by those outside the usual commentariat are the ones which most often strike home or point out things those inside their own bubble haven't broached. Kevin Sampson makes the excellent point that it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, as many who've been on protests that have turned violent or nasty can also testify. These might not have been marches, but they also weren't highly organised actions, even if on the surface some of them look that way: opportunism by those along for the ride most definitely happened in numerous places. Those caught so far and being processed through the system look to have been the stragglers or those stupid (or brazen) enough to go unmasked, the ones who stole a couple of bottles of alcohol, shirts or who were in the shops when the mob had moved on. The shame and regret will have hit many of these later, as it will the parents disgusted to find their spoils, not knowing whether to risk turning over their offspring considering the exceptional penalties bound to be passed.

You also know there's a real reason to be worried when the inestimable FlyingRodent is concerned. His point that at the centre of what's happened are the petty criminals among the young, the ones normally involved in minor drug-dealing and causing occasional havoc in shopping centres is a sound one; some of those among them were smart enough to see an opening in London after the riot in Tottenham for larceny on a grander scale than what they're normally up to, and the bonus was that with the summer holidays they had gangs of otherwise bored acquaintances who could both help distract the police and who also then joined in. This was then copied by non-related but similar groupings in the other big cities, and err, Gloucester and a few other minor towns. Into the mix also came a good few adults, as we're also discovering. This isn't to deny that some of the rioting had a political undercurrent, and also that many of these youths, especially the ones on the outside looking in, don't see a future, feeling completely disconnected from their wider communities. Others though almost certainly knew and were friendly with those they came to steal from. Some just hate the police and other figures in authority, for both good and completely and utterly wrong reasons.

David Cameron's reaching for the illness definition is but an echo of Tony Blair's similar statements following the murder of James Bulger. Certain sections of our society do have very deep seated problems, but broken or sick? Some people are just thuggish pricks, as has been demonstrated to the world by the mugging of Asyraf Haziq, being ostensibly helped up only to have his backpack rifled through. They have unfortunately though always been with us, as have gangs of out of control teenagers, and no amount of lectures on morality or responsibility will have an instant impact, or get through to all of them.

However bad things were in London on Monday or elsewhere yesterday, this is not going to become a regular occurrence. There also, so far, doesn't seem to be any instant recourse to further legislation, although we still have the rest of the summer recess once parliament has had its say tomorrow to get through, and then the party conferences, where crackdowns could yet become the order of the day. What we are going to have though is intensified fear of and stigmatisation of teenagers, especially those who go about in hoods, thanks to the efforts of a tiny number of their peers and the foolishness of those who do know better in general. The hope has to be that the current mood soon lifts, and that those calling for the giving of a "free hand" to the police find themselves quickly back in the minority. The middle line between Wooley and the stereotype sociologist is the best place to remain until then.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011 

Fear and media overreaction has to be followed by reflection.

It's difficult to reach a conclusion other than it's going to be a bad day when it opens with Eamonn Holmes on Sky News essentially asking Kit Malthouse why the army aren't on the streets shooting people. When it ends with Kelvin MacKenzie on Newsnight, taking part in quite possibly the least enlightening debate in history also suggesting squaddies should be out fragging the underclass, even if only with rubber bullets, you know that one low has inexorably led to another.

Overreaction to what were unprecedented scenes last night across London was always likely. For the news networks rather than the usual suspects our febrile press to be the main culprits is still something to be surprised by. It's continuing even now, with what are likely to be events completely unconnected to the rioting reported as if they are further evidence of a situation still out of control. This hysterical atmosphere, not helped admittedly by the rise of social networks where rumour and invention are immediately reported and spread as fact, is undoubtedly scaring people who have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be frightened. I'm well outside London and away from the main flashpoints in the other major cities, and yet through word of mouth it was today spreading around that a major local supermarket had been set on fire, almost needless to say when it had not been. Likewise, every major town around the area except for ours was apparently facing down similar outbreaks of lawlessness, again it turned out completely erroneously.

This in turn has resulted in London essentially shutting down tonight and many businesses boarding their windows up, when it looks as if such desperate measures, although precautionary, were completely unnecessary. The violence in Manchester does look to have been serious, although even there it appears to have been localised to the main city centre, rather than in multiple areas. While it is indeed better to be safe than sorry, it always seemed likely that what happened last night was an aberration, a once in a generation outbreak of lawlessness perpetuated by the disaffected, those with a grievance and those simply out to take advantage. Like Sunny I might yet eat these words, but with the combination of the massive police presence, parents refusing to let their children out and the general sense of anger and outrage at what happened it was doubtful there would be a repeat performance. It could just be that it's a lull, and that at the weekend it could start up again, but even then you suspect the numbers of police out will be similar.

The police, having been caught out like everyone else are coming in for criticism which is unbelievably short-sighted and lacking in both humility and candour. Any police force in any major city in any democracy would have struggled to deal with the ultra-localised groups of rioters that were out yesterday, moving quickly both on public transport and in cars. They were stretched to the absolute limit, and knew full well that if they had intervened directly in the looting when they were so often so vastly outnumbered that not only did they risk making things even worse, if that's possible, they would be risking their lives for the sake of a few plasma televisions and shop windows. It requires tens of officers, organised and trained in dealing with mobs, to be able to stop such organised thieving, not the few who were being deployed in restrictive full riot gear. As hard as it is to for the shop owners and others to see their businesses being smashed and in some cases burned while the police stood off and watched, risking exacerbating things would have not helped anyone.

Similarly, those asking why water cannon and tear gas weren't made available or used to break up the looting are confusing their use against protests which often have one specific focal point, where demonstrators are usually attacking the police or trying to get somewhere, and the fast-moving attacks on property seen last night. Even if you soaked and hit/gassed a few of those taking part, the majority would manage to slink away quickly. Moreover, it wasn't just looters who were out last night; there were large numbers of onlookers, as the police themselves said, who risked getting caught up in it. Using the threat of baton rounds could arguably have been effective, which is why they were authorised for use today if they were needed, which they thankfully haven't been. Even then the problems are obvious: the last thing we need or want is the routine use of such crowd control methods, as could easily follow as a result. As has hopefully been demonstrated, the biggest deterrent is not just a temporary major police presence, but also the opprobrium of the community at large bearing down on those who felt temporarily empowered or free from the fear of the consequences of their actions.

The one thing the Met could be criticised for is their overly cautious approach today, urging businesses to close early and recommending the cancellation of tomorrow's England friendly, which if the general calm continues may look daft later. They have at least, unlike the politicians, been urging calm. Urging calm, unlike telling people not to panic which tends to have the opposite effect, seems uniquely British. David Cameron merely gave the impression through his Downing Street statement not of resolve, but of someone thoroughly pissed off that he'd had to come back from Tuscany to deal with the proles finally realising their lives are going to get worse and keep on getting worse. All of the Tories seemed perturbed that despite their predictions rioting had broken out; weren't the inner cities a problem that had been solved, or which could be left to fester without what happened there spreading to their own heartlands? They certainly hadn't bargained on anything like this impeding or questioning the imposition of austerity, which has still yet to properly kick in.

This isn't to suggest that this can be traced directly back to government policy, or excused or explained in such a simple way. It's apparent that some of the rioting, especially outside London, seems to have been conducted by the local hoodlums who the police regularly find themselves dealing with, who shouldn't be given even the slightest benefit of a political explanation for their actions. Some of what we've seen has though had its roots in the hopelessness which many are beginning to feel and which the latest economic figures and market crashes have brought home to them: that we're in a hole and regardless of which of the main three political parties is in power power, all are wedded to policies which are going to hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

As Kenan Malik has stated, there doesn't have to be contradiction between the competing claims that this is sheer criminality and that it has a root cause in social exclusion and wasted lives: those taking part are responding in the only way they know how to, which also has the benefit of grabbing attention whilst giving them the feeling of striking back through the acquisition of goods. The one message that has filtered down to them is that you should take what you can. They've followed it. Now the politicians have to find a way of reassuring an outraged middle class without further attacking and antagonising those they've all but abandoned. After the clean up must come the inquest.

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