Friday, 12 August 2011

The riots, what they mean and what they don't

I have had loads of discussions online and offline about events across the country last week (if you talk politics with just politicians you become islolated).  Monday night in particular was horrific - I was actually at the quiz in The George in Whittlesey whilst events were unwinding on the television there, and it was quite surreal how the quiz slowly started to take second place to what we were seeing on the screen.

My first comment is about policing.  It is quite clear to me that initially the police failed us as members of the public.  The response was feeble and only improved after, it seems, David Cameron got involved and gave them what for.  That's not about the officers on the ground it is about the leadership.

The police do not lack the tools to crack down on protestors and looters, they lacked the leadership to make it happen.  When people blame Tory cuts etc. they need to recognise that the failed leadership derives from the culture of 13 years of Labour rule which will take time to drive out of our system.   The issue was not about police numbers, the issue was about leadership and direction.  When Labour pretend the police issue is about cuts, it is an argument of convenience.

Similar can be said about many (not all) Labour politicians rants about the causes of the riots. Riots in modern, free countries are not caused by EMA or tuition fees.  They are caused by irresponsibility, bad parenting and a lack of respect.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Those politicians like Ken Livingstone and Harriet Harman who try to blame cuts are not explaining the reasons, they are excusing criminality.

There are plenty of families in difficult circumstances who will have kept their children in, will not have allowed them to take part in this activity and who would have been horrified to discover they had.  The difference between the dos and do nots in these circumstances is not about material possession, nor is it about education - it is about respect, a sense of responsibility and good parenting.

Anyone that knows me and my politics knows that I am passionate about the issue of deprivation.  I recognise  how tough deprivation is - I saw it in Nottingham as a parliamentary candidate and I saw the dire housing estates that people are being asked to live in - and yet were paying rent to a Housing Provider with a recent history of corrupt practice; I know that deprived communities need support.  But the evidence of the last week also proves something that people like Iain Duncan Smith have been saying for years - that improvement has to be driven from the bottom-up not from the top down - for many individuals one handout leads to an expectation of more, it is not a recognition of the need to improve your circumstances.   In this respect we need to nurture the spirit that came out of the cleanup campaigns to drive change.   We also need a ramping up of parenting programmes - with an expectation that any parent who is labelled as "failing" or in danger of failing will attend, at the same time making sure that our law is changed so that failed parents take legal responsibility for the crimes committed by the children that they are failing - helping parents by giving them the skills whilst making them personally accountable for their failures has huge potential and it enforces responsibility in two directions - but it has to be got right and the intervention has to be early.  Sure Start Children's Centres have huge potential here and local Authorities have a responsibility to ensure they are a priority (note the word Local Authorities here - that's the age we live in - it's down to them not Government - and down to you to hold them to account if they don't do it).

One other thing people need to recognise is that jobs will only come to a community or a location if those communities prove they are ready for them and will respond positively to them.  The rioters who use lack of jobs as an excuse (excuse not reason), have done a huge amount to ensure that employers won't move into their area.

I want to finish by talking about the economy.  We need to make people aware of the danger of the Ken Livingstone's of this world who cannot see beyond their nose economically.  We live in difficult times - the same week riots were taking place in England world stock markets were in turmoil, largely because of a sovereign debt crisis in the EU (i.e. Governments in the EU have borrowed too much money).  In Britain we stand almost alone in our recognition of what this means and have a Government with the foresight to deal with it.  The US recently raised the limit on the amount they could borrow, the result was a lowering in confidence in their ability to pay the debt back and a reduction in their credit rating - which could result in higher interest payments on their debt.  Similar is being predicted by some for France and Germany.   The same company that lowered the US credit rating made a clear statement that Britain was safe whilst it remained committed to dealing with its problems.   What does that mean - and why is that relevant to the riots of last week?   Because a lower credit rating means higher interest rates and higher repayments - which means more taxation and even less money to spend on state infrastructure.   Ignoring the problem now will mean greater cost down the line and even greater cuts.

Could we tax the rich more?  Possibly, but it raises very little additional tax and the evidence suggests that overdoing it stifles investment.

I also want to make the point that responsibility has to come from every direction.  The incessant and irresponsible marketing, the obsession with the bottom line, despite the consequences, which we are seeing in business also has to change.  Business growth has to come from beating the competition, from being innovative and leading edge and from expanding your business base, not from using subtle or not-so-subtle marketing techniques that squeeze more and more money out of the same people.  Businesses need to be responsible as much as individuals do.

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