It’s mid-summer, in the middle of the school holidays. The playing fields are empty, apart from a few people walking their dogs. There has been no trouble here but in the distance, thick acrid smoke rises from the site of the Sony distribution centre on the outer reaches of Greater London. Today, at least, children cannot be children and the area’s youth appear to have been grounded.
There is no doubt that tonight will be a turning point. If trouble flares and the police fail to put it down quickly, the volume at which stronger action will be demanded from the public will not be able to be ignored by our hapless politicians. The scale of criminal activity seen last night in London must never be allowed to be seen again. If we lose control now, we risk London turning into New York as it was in the 1970s and early 80s. I don’t want to live in a city where you would rather run a red traffic signal because it is safer to do so than to stop. I don’t want to live in a city where if you walk 100 yards in the wrong direction, your life is seriously at risk. As bad as parts of London are, they are not that bad yet.
We must not be sucked in by left-wing bleeding-hearts like Gavin Knight in today’s Guardian. His contradictory head in the sand article plays down gang involvement in last night’s trouble. Be sure, the gangs were there. Orchestrating the riots? Probably not. Capitalising on them and testing the police response? Certainly. Knight should listen to his own “source close to the gang community”. Some of last night’s criminals were taking out cash dispensers, safes and tills. They were breaking into the bookies. Just as his source said that “senior gang members” would do.
I am not conservative with a large or small ‘c’ but sympathetically blaming “squeezed youth services”, “government cuts” and “deprivation” for what we saw last night, introduces the worst risk of all – a disaffected public turning towards right wing parties like UKIP or even worse, BNP. Law and order must be restored quickly and without apology. Then we must look again at where we went wrong with community engagement.