Gloom. It's literally given me a headache just thinking about the amount of individual horror stories in the aftermath of the riots, and I very much doubt it's over yet. I'm tucked away in a quiet corner of Wales. Lucky me. Many friends of mine, and members of my family, are not so fortunate. And fuck that line of selfish thinking, many people I've never met too, but why should that make them less valuable? Homes destroyed, family pets trapped in blazes, jobs lost because businesses have been burned to the ground - apparently it's not enough to steal, the kids are angry enough and caught up on such a rush of adrenaline that they have to torch every place on their route of destruction. "We're showing the police and the rich people who've got businesses that we can do what we want" is the message.
Not that commentators are getting that message. The cuts, the cuts! Bullshit. The girls in that clip aren't even sure who the government is right now. They couldn't give a toss either. Why should they? This isn't the rioting of the angry, these kids don't have a cause, or aims. All they do have is a whole life of nothing better to aspire to than owning more clothes and phones and consoles, having a sesh and getting off their faces - all the better when you can get it all for free.
You don't fix that by sending in the army. Those are people who work literally fighting for their lives. The incendiary effect that it would have if some of these poor powerless little bastards, suddenly drunk on the attention of the world's media and the realisation that the police can't stop them, were killed by soldiers... it doesn't bear thinking about. Water cannons? Well. Water seems perfectly harmless until someone loses an eye. To be honest, and I do wish the talking heads on my tv would be honest about how little control they have, there isn't much more that can be done without getting far too heavy handed. The police are doing their best - hundreds arrested. It will calm down. In the meantime, the #riotcleanup hastag on twitter should give you some hope and some direction if you live somewhere that is affected. Take some responsibility and show love where it's needed. At the risk of being labelled a clueless hippy, I'm hearing far too much vitriol being levelled in every direction in all this and it's going to help nobody.
So what about after it has calmed down? How do we address the issues? You can't really fix the underlying causes by just throwing money at it, even if we had any. Sure, you need programs to train kids, give them some skills so that they can make an honest living. We have some of those, probably not enough. But you need something else. You need to remove the alternative. What we are dealing with is a society in which for a couple of generations now the most attractive option for those growing up with fuck all is criminality. Looking around me, all my life it's seemed the easiest, most lucrative thing for those on a low income to improve their situation is to start dealing drugs. The risk of a criminal record isn't enough to stop people tearing the streets apart by now, and I reckon it's at least partly because it hasn't been enough of a deterrent so far to stop them using drugs and/or the money they can get from dealing. It's understandable enough. Wouldn't you? Any attempt to escape the incredible stress of having no money to pay off bills and spiralling debts, while living in areas populated by people who are just as fucked up, and reacting in fucked up ways. Something our dear Prime Minister is probably never going to get his head around. I doubt he has a friend who spent a year struggling with addiction, running scared and refusing to get help because the illegality brings stigma and the possibility of losing their child. I bet he's never lived somewhere he has to work twice as hard as the cunts next door who seem to be having some kind of rave-up marathon, because they're dealing while he's feeling like more and more of a schmuck for getting a job.
So, let's do it. Let's make addicts patients, and dealers irrelevant and priced out of the market, so that criminality isn't the obvious option out of the hole people are in. Welsh Lib Dem policy is already to decriminalise drugs, for exactly these reasons. I probably won't be at federal conference this year because I can't afford it, but I think Ewan Hoyle is a brilliant man, and I am pretty psyched about his motion calling for a government backed inquiry. He's a lot more measured and succinct in his discussion than I am to boot: today he's said "It is important not only to examine the opportunities we haven't given youth, but also the hugely lucrative criminal opportunities we have. Removing the drug trade from criminal gangs would force many young people to seek legitimate employment elsewhere and be less likely to see criminal behaviour as acceptable or attractive. The culture of criminality likely stems from this massive market we have handed to criminal gangs that recruit footsoldiers, dealers and runners from the ranks of kids who should be studying, training, or practising skills."
It wouldn't do our looming economic crisis any harm, either. These figures I've seen come from Tom Lloyd, the former chief constable of Cambridgeshire police: "It's estimated that we spend about £10 billion a year on enforcing the drugs laws and that criminals make up to £6 billion profit a year. It is also estimated that up to 70% of acquisitive crime is committed by users seeking to fund their habits (ca. £16 billion)." If those are accurate, there should be more than enough to spare for rehabilitation projects and training schemes.