Today I have the pleasure of being at a conference organised by the Guardian and the LSE on the Summer Riots. One thing that strikes me and that I want to comment on is that there seems to be a narrative about the violence and looting being ‘just criminality’ and sign of a ‘bad parenting’ and ‘feral youths’. What is disturbing is that this is not just the (perhaps excusable) knee-jerk reaction after the events but seems to be the considered opinion of Theresa May, our home secretary. While she is talking about the ‘taking a more comprehensive view of all the evidence’, she presents to the conference her own conclusion that matches the line I described above.
No wonder the friendly crowd at the LSE is beginning to heckle… She moves on to talk about aspects of policing only to come back to the storyline about ‘career criminals’ and ‘proper punishment’. Well, I was going to write about the subsequent discussions with the home secretary but guess what - she left the room as soon as she had spoken the last word… As far as I am aware she was also not present before her speech to listen to the previous presentations. So much for her engaging with the whole corpus of evidence.
The view she presents, incidentally, is precisely the kind of view challenged not just by the Guardian/LSE study but also in a book by my St Andrews colleague Steve Reicher and Cliff Stott of the University of Liverpool. Fortunately, her appearance was followed by an excellent panel discussion that provided a much more considered and careful analysis of what has been going on. I have to say that I am not only impressed with the individual panelists but also with the composition of the panel that worked very well.
Update: Video of Theresa May’s talk is now available on the Guardian website. Unfortunately not the complete speech.
Now, Ed Milliband is on - called Theresa May “a good warm up act” ;o) In contrast to her he is actually going to take questions after his talk… Apart from having a good opening line, Ed impressed me by being one of the few people tying the riots back to wider social issues - and by drawing some sensible conclusions from this. For example, he suggested that youth services should be statutory so that they would be protected from cuts. Not sure what he said can be seen as an early pledge for his election campaign as someone on Twitter suggested but it is good to see thoughts going in the right direction.
Update: Video of Ed Miliband’s talk is now also on the Guardian website. Actually, it was him suggesting the bit about youth services was a preview of the next Labour manifesto…