I hope I need not say that I am as appalled and bewildered by the recent violence and mass thieving as anyone else.
Radio, TV, the newspapers, blogs, and all other organs of communication are full of stories and comment. Many have already started the Blame Game, looking for people upon whom they can lay the responsibility. Politicians and the police are the candidates of choice and Boris Johnson has been castigated for not returning from holiday “to take charge” of the situation.
I say it is too soon to started blaming people. It is in fact too soon to really understand what is going on. The situation is unprecedented and it will take a long, cool look afterwards to disentangle all the contributing factors that have led to this disaster. We will eventually understand it and write the history of it. It is one of those events that, though fully explicable with the benefit of hindsight, could not have been foreseen. While the death of Mark Duggan provided the match that lit the touch-paper, it is not the cause of the looting and vandalism. That lies fairly and squarely with the criminal motivations of those who are performing the acts.
Because the event could not have been foreseen and because it is something new and extraordinary both in kind and in size, the police could not have been expected to know how to deal with it. They could never have been prepared for such an eventuality. They are having to learn how to deal with it as they go and there are signs that they are learning. In the circumstances, they deserve our praise, gratitude and support.
From the reports that I have seen, it appears that criminal gangs that have hitherto kept themselves largely to themselves, engaging in drug dealing, petty theft and internecine gang wars, have erupted into a situation of instability whose general chaos allows them to act openly and with minimal risk of arrest. Able to communicate via Blackberry Messenger, they can choose their targets at random and summon their troops to them, leaving the police to follow as best they can.
Around these is a nebulous cloud of opportunists who join in the looting and engage in vandalism and attacks on the police on their own account. From the pictures and video footage, I would guess that while a lot of these people know exactly what they are up to, many others are ignorant and naive folk who barely understand the seriousness of what they are participating in. Some will inevitably be arrested and brought to trial and will be shocked when the punishment handed down suddenly brings home to them the gravity of what they have done.
The problem is that these opportunists cause a lot of damage and pose a huge risk to security so that the police have to take action to mitigate the effects of their behaviour. This then distracts them from going after the real villains who are at the heart of the trouble.
I read a blog post earlier today that said, in effect, “I am a Londoner but now I am ashamed to be a Londoner. London is now a place I do not recognize, that I am ashamed of and where I do not want to live.” My answer to that is that I too am a Londoner. I was not born here but I came here by choice and I have lived some of my most important years here. I call myself a Londoner and I am proud to be so. I love London and am proud of my city. I will not allow a few gangs of violent pathological fools to disturb my love of London or my confidence in its people and in its future.
London has been through worse than this. I do not need to recite its history for you to understand that: the facts are well known enough. Fire, plague and Blitz are woven into the fabric of London, into the stones we walk on and into the walls that line our way. They helped to make her what she is and never managed to destroy her. These idiots will not do so, either. They will enjoy a brief flash of triumph and then be swept away along with the cinders and broken glass.
I don’t care whether or not Boris Johnson returns from holiday to make a few speeches, hold a few press conferences and to give instructions that are already being performed. Johnson is not London. We are London and will not give up on London.
So no, I am not ashamed of London and London still is where I want to live, where I am proud to live. Terrible as these events are, they will pass and London will recover its aplomb and be what she always has been. London deserves far better of us than that we lose our nerve and despair of her now.