Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another thing I love about Britain - hypocrisy!

Politicians have waxed lyrical about the "evident criminality" of the rioters and looters who took part in disturbances in London and many other English cities last week. They have also demanded the most severe penalties.

The legislature and the judiciary are (supposedly) separate bodies in the U.K. It is not, as one columnist put it, for politicians to cheer or boo the decisions of the supposedly independent judges and magistrates. This did not seem to constrain anyone. Indeed, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service went out of its way to clarify the position:

"Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary," it said. (But) "... justices' clerks and legal advisers in magistrates courts have a responsibility to give advice to magistrates on sentencing guidelines .... Accordingly magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder."

So that is clear then. The judiciary and magistrates are independent. On the other hand all their professional advisers are telling them to ratchet up the sentences they give and send offenders to the Crown Courts if magistrates' powers seem insufficient. This advice reflects the vengeful ambitions of the politicians (led by the Prime Minister).

From the Guardian, 16th. August: "The Chair of Camberwell Green magistrates' court, Novello Noades, went so far as to claim that the court had been given a government "directive" that anyone involved in the rioting be given a custodial sentence. She later retracted her statement and said that she was mortified to have used the term 'directive'."

Whatever you call it, the 'directive' has had its effect and the results of this advice from the politicians have been ludicrous. It would be a laughable situation were the sentences imposed not so extreme that they will wreck the lives of some young people and incite rather than deter active expressions of protest and dissent.

A youth was sent to prison for six months for stealing bottled water valued at £3.50. Two others were sent to prison for four years each (FOUR YEARS) for posting riotous suggestions on Facebook (though absolutely no one responded and one of them took the suggestions down as soon as he sobered up.)

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was - for once - completely right when he stated (before he came into office) that austerity policies and excessive deflationary pressures would lead to riots. These were his words before the last election, which Gary Younge recalled in an excellent article in the Guardian on Monday 15th. August:

"Imagine the Conservatives ... get an absolute majority, on 25% of the eligible votes .... They then turn around in the next week or two and say we're going to chuck up VAT to 20%, we're going to start cutting teachers, cutting the police, and the wage bill in the public sector. I think if you're not careful in that situation ... you'd get Greek-style unrest."

The Tories got 23% of the eligible vote.

Nick Clegg and his party have actively supported cutting teachers' pay, cutting the numbers of the police and axing the wage bill in the public sector.

Result? Unsurprisingly?

".... Greek-style unrest."

Given how much politicians pocketed before the expenses scandal and the autocratic disdain with which they paid back the money (without remorse) when forced to do so, it does not behove them to call for poor people to be sent to prison for ludicrously long periods.

Most of the politicians stole much more than £3.50.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The riots and the death of Mark Duggan

It seems a long time since Murdoch and the News of the World were the most important things going on in the world - yet it is only a few weeks. In the last seven days, Britain has been rocked by the unexpected and amazingly destructive riots that have taken place in many English cities.

The riots started in Tottenham in London where a young black man was killed by the police in circumstances which the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission have successfully made suspicious. The first accounts of the incident were (probably deliberately) intended to mislead. This was the Guardian internet headline, over an article by Paul Lewis and Sandra Laville dated 13 August:

Mark Duggan death: IPCC says it inadvertently misled media

Police watchdog says it led media to believe shots were exchanged but Duggan was carrying gun that was never used

The text of the internet version of this article is at:


It is very convenient, if the police shoot a man hastily, mistakenly or by accident, to discover a gun in his pocket or near his cold dead fingers. American cops used to carry unidentifiable 'throwdown' weapons for just this purpose.

The weapon that Mark Duggan is said to have been carrying has variously been described as a converted starting pistol or a replica gun converted to fire real bullets. There was, it has been said, just one bullet in it.

If Duggan was, as the police allege, a major drug dealer and pusher, could he not have got himself a more impressive weapon? And should he not have been in a luxurious Range Rover rather than a mini-cab when he was shot?

The whole thing stinks. And it was to find out what the police would say about it that a protest march led by Duggan's family members went to the police station on Friday 6th. August.

They were kept waiting for, it seems, five hours. No one would come out and tell them what was going on, what the IPCC were doing or why the police had shot Duggan. Instead, the trail was muddied into obscurity by the misleading statements about Duggan opening fire on the police which are reported above.

That was when a peaceful demonstration turned into a riot; when supporters of the family of a man murdered or at least killed by the police sought a peaceful explanation for his death and, failing to find it, tore bits of their own community apart in protest. And a ready well of frustration in other areas, in other cities, flooded the streets with copycat violence as a result.

As I texted to a friend later, when a Cabinet full of millionaire old Etonians informs a whole nation that it is to be impoverished, that the young now have no hope and the old have no security, it is hardly surprising when mindless mob violence born of anger and frustration erupts onto our streets.

P.S. To my surprise, I find the Daily Telegraph's Chief Political Correspondent, Peter Oborne, expressing views very similar to those in my last paragraph in an excellent recent 'think piece'. You can read his views at this addresss: