Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 11/08/11

I Predict...

...The thoroughly, tediously Predictable.

Once events in Tottenham and elsewhere had kicked off, there was only ever going to be one set of responses from those in power.

In contrast to recent events in a civilised country - Norway, the horror of which puts a bit of freewheeling entrepreneurialism in the cities of England in the shade, and which led to the people and government of that land stiffening their resolve in defence of human (and humane) values - the reaction (a most appropriate word in the context) of our self-styled leaders here has been the standard, tabloid-driven, knee-jerk sanctimony.

And so we have the sight of those who have been stewards of the acquisitive, grab-what-you-can-and-fuck-you economic and social system (not just the Bullingdon Boys, but their predecessors from the National Union of Students' Alumni Association) saying that the actions of recent nights and days is 'sickening' and 'intolerable', and against which the smack of firm retribution must be heard and felt; rent-a-gob Tory MPs calling for water cannon, plastic bullets (or, to use the euphemism, 'baton rounds'), and even rounding people up and imprisoning them in sports stadia (© Augusto Pinochet, 1973), making sure that the spirits of Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Peter Bruinvels and David Evans (those with memories going back to the 1980s will recall those names with the same shudder that one would feel from finding half a caterpillar in one's salad) are properly appeased; we have had - given in all seriousness, apparently - the suggestion that Twitter should be taken down (perhaps it should, but not for this reason) and that even more power should be given to largely unaccountable bodies to operate what is, in essence, censorship over the Internet. They should ask a certain ex-dictator currently taking part in his own trial from a recumbent position in Cairo how well that is likely to work.

We have also had what has now become the standard response from senior Labour politicians - a mixture of mild hand-wringing (tempered by the knowledge that they had thirteen years seriously to address the economic and social problems of England's cities without ever being keen to do so) and desperate attempts to outflank the Conservatives from the right.

We have had the risible (to anyone with a sense of perspective, let alone one of irony) invocation of the 'Spirit Of The Blitz™', supposedly epitomised by people cleaning up the streets after the unrest; conveniently forgetting that they were doing so because they knew that - were it left to what are termed, with ever-rising inaccuracy, the 'responsible bodies' - it wouldn't get done at all.

In short, we have had - greatly in contrast to the Norwegian example - hypocrisy, manufactured outrage and a sort of blood-lust all combined. The English will tell you that they are the most tolerant people in the world, but it doesn't take much to make eighty percent of the population of that land belch out what amounts to one long stream of bile unworthy even of the Daily Mail.

What we are also already seeing are the hundreds being herded through specially-convened courts, processed as nothing more than so many cattle, subject to what amounts to little more than summary justice in a time of heightened emotions (real or appliqué), being given - without much in the way of due process - prison sentences which are just long enough to destroy any hopes they may have had of future education or employment; or imprisoned without trial (the euphemism in this case being 'remanded in custody') to await either trial or the prospect of even longer sentences pour encourager les autres within a system which is already just about beyond bursting point. We are seeing people, some of whom are - legally - children being arrested, detained, imprisoned without trial simply for something they put on their Facebook page.

And many of those who do get the nearest to what we have nowadays to a fair trial will face the charge of 'violent disorder', the charge du jour of the Crown Prosecution Service; convenient because - if you examine the wording of the law on the matter - practically anyone can be done for practically anything at practically anytime under its rubric, provided an equally vague basic criterion is passed. Convenient also because it carries a maximum sentence higher than that of any public order offence other than Riot (which the Police prefer not to have used because it opens them up to legal and financial liabilities). So we will see in the coming weeks and months people whose offences, had they been committed on a typical Friday night in any city or large town, would have merited no more than six months inside getting instead sentences of three to five years, with all that that implies for their own futures and for the future of the society into which they will, eventually, be released.

More repulsively and rebarbatively still, we have council leaders - particularly those in notoriously corrupt councils such as Westminster and Nottingham - stating quite clearly that they are eager and willing to evict entire families from their homes if one member of that family is convicted in connection with this week's évènements. In addition, an online petition demanding that anyone involved be deprived of any assistance from the welfare system has reached one hundred thousand signatures within hours. For what better way can there possibly be of teaching these dreadful people the error of their ways and leading them in the paths of officially-sanctioned and market-approved righteousness than by making their parents and kid siblings homeless and by limiting their own future prospects to those of either beggary or more crime? Especially as sixty per cent of employers simply will not under any circumstances employ ex-prisoners.

And in all of this, the background to what has happened - the years of neglect, the out-of-control thuggishness of the Police (especially the Met), the egregious callousness of a system which tells millions of people from every billboard and commercial that they are nothing without such-and-such a product, whilst at the same time gaming the system to make it impossible for them (legally) to get it - all of this goes deliberately unexamined. This is partly because of a lingering sense of shame, of the type which leads 'respectable' families to have their elderly, demented relatives shunted away in a (privatised) care home somewhere rather than look after them themselves, and thereby avoid the awful truth that Granny pisses herself twice a day and thinks she's still in the WAAF; it would give too much away about their own frailty and callousness, and would detract from their own self-image. But mostly because of a condign refusal to see that the emperor is not only naked, but is waving his dick about in a scandalously perverted manner in order to create fear, panic and self-subjugation in the eyes of his subjects.

For this is where the Anglo-American form of capitalism always has and always will lead. To the fortunate few - the born-to-it, the sociopathic, the downright lucky - the spoils at all times, good or bad. To most of the rest, the constant struggle to keep their heads above water, their families off the street. To the remainder, a large, institutional "fuck off!"; a mere existence, ignored unless it becomes necessary (as it always does) for those in the first group to provide a convenient scapegoat for those in the second to regard with scorn, dismissiveness or just simple, outright hate. Be it in Detroit or Deptford, Santiago or Salford, the poor ye shall always have with you, because it's nice to be able to have someone else to blame for your own cupidity and cowardice.

And so the prospect faces us of a society falling into a pattern whereby the top conducts a war against the bottom, using the powers - economic, political, communicational - which Topside (to use Priestley's formulation) believes are its birthright exclusively to use; and where the bottom, when finally roused from its television-and-cheap-booze-fuelled stupor sufficiently to rise up - however ineptly or misdirectedly - to at least remind Topside that tumbrils can be knocked together in a couple of hours or so, can be invoked as a collective folk devil to engage the 'squeezed middle' (an appallingly unsonorous phrase which could only have originated with a third-rate academic attached to a think-tank) and its own attendant paranoias.

We seem to be unable to learn from history, and therefore are doomed to repeat it. The first time was tragedy; the second time may be an ITV comedy series - badly-made, not remotely amusing, and doomed to failure.