The riots have been and gone but the political aftermath is in full swing. The most interesting aspect is how our dear prime minister, David “Call me Dave” Cameron, has reacted. He’s performed pretty badly, all things considered. Yes, I’ll be up front, I’m not his number 1 fan, but I don’t think he’s as awful as many people do. He is charismatic and fairly progressive. He’s not so charismatic as to be robotic and artificial like, say, Obama, he’s much more natural and appears much more genuine. He could be much worse. But he’s not performed very well. His presentation has faltered a little over the last week as he goes through spates of looking bewildered, confused and out of his depth, and seems to have dropped the progressiveness and defaulted back to some good old fashioned right wing authoritarianism.
A few months ago there was a bit of a furore that Dave and co were considering slashing prison sentences to deal with the fact that our prisons are overpopulated and we lack the infrastructure to keep people locked up for long. This problem has been well known for years now. We have “open prisons” and we’re supposed to act surprised when someone escapes from (i.e. walks out of) one. But you’ll be pleased to know that due to Dave’s hard-line stance on rioting our prison population jumped by half a percent last week. Which is a massive increase; at such a rate, it would rise 25% per year. If Dave was proposing funding the prison service via his own rather substantial pockets then this might not be so noteworthy, but he is now wasting a lot of money in keeping people locked up who, had they committed their crimes a day earlier or later, may have faced a caution, fine, or at worst, suspended sentence. Governments do waste money of course, this is a fact of life, but Dave complained incessantly about the wasteful spending of the previous government and has stressed the importance of the economy to justify some rather unpopular cuts to useful services. Whether he is right or wrong on any particular issue is besides the point; he is temperamental and discards his grand strategy at a moment’s notice to try to score some points with, well, let’s be blunt, low-IQ bloodthirsty tabloid readers.
This kind of inconsistency shows elsewhere. A few weeks ago when defending his hiring of Andy Coulson he kept saying “everyone deserves a second chance”. Last week he immediately discarded this idea and went straight for ZERO TOLERANCE for everyone. TOLERATE NO ONE. Has your brother stolen a packet of crisps? WELL I’M GOING TO KICK YOU OUT OF YOUR HOUSE THEN. It is ludicrous quasi-legal unethitcal hyperbole and completely at odds with what he was saying only a few weeks ago about second chances. These people are on their zeroth chance. Then we also have other minor points like his refusal to cut his holiday short to deal with the riots, only to cut his holiday short to deal with the riots.
After it all settled down, Dave started getting a lot of flak from the police, who felt that the government had not helped them very much, and was unfairly taking credit for what the police felt was their own work in restoring order. I have already mentioned that Dave wants to hire the American super-cop to tackle gangs, but it is pure speculation that gangs orchestrated any part of the riots. In essence, Dave fabricated a description to a fictional problem, then chose a gimmicky solution that was quickly rejected by those who are more qualified on the matter than he.
Dave et al have now responded with AUTHORITARIANISM. We must look at closing down Twitter! We must do something about BlackBerry messenger! We must see about curfews! This is exactly what the previous labour government did: “uh oh, something might happen, let’s be more authoritarian!”, and Dave often observed how sinister it all was during his election campaign. It seems to be just an auto-pilot response for any government who feels scared by something, who feels that they are being undermined by something. A secure government does not need to be authoritarian. An authoritarian government is scared that they are not in control, and they do themselves a disservice by announcing it to the populace.
The sentences are becoming yet more hyperbolic. The harshest sentences have gone to two people who did nothing more than post on Facebook. They didn’t incite a riot (fair enough, they said something from which could be inferred that they tried — however, people say hundreds of stupid meaningless things every day in passing, I know I do, and it’s very hard to infer intent from a sentence written on Facebook), nor did they take part in it. And yet, these two have so far had it much worse than people who physically caused destruction. Dave has defended this! Eric Pickles* says people would be “rightly alarmed” if they “got off with a slap on the wrist”. I am “rightly alarmed” that the longest sentences handed out have been for people who didn’t actually do anything. I am not saying that they don’t deserve punishment (I have no strong opinion on the matter right now), but the fact they have taken it the heaviest is non-sequitur.
Maybe the stupid hyperbole just reflects general public mood. I don’t know. But I do think it is important to note that Dave has very quickly reverted to authoritarianism when presented with a vaguely difficult situation, and he has felt is most important to make a display of strength than to do anything constructive about solving the problems that led to the situation in the first place.
To me, Dave is a man who does not really know what he is doing right now.
*He came on TV earlier and my sister hilariously declared “it’s Pickles!”.