August 16, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

 

Bill Esterson

 

The riots across our country have been a shock to most people and a reminder of the disgraceful behaviour of some. The appalling attacks on people’s homes, on small businesses and the murders of  several people have rightly been condemned by the vast majority of law abiding citizens.

 There have been many explanations for the riots and it is vital that those who were involved suffer the consequences of their actions. That’s why it is right that the police find every single person and the courts make sure those people are convicted.

It is important to remember also that we should not stigmatise all young people. Many young people helped with the clear up and the vast majority are as horrified by what happened as the rest of us. It is important that we look after the law abiding majority and make sure that those young people have the support they need to do well in life. That way, they are in a strong position to oppose the actions of the small, disgraceful minority who were involved and to show those people that rioting and attacking their own community is not the answer to whatever problems they feel they face. Many young people grow up in families and in communities where times are difficult.

Many people manage to overcome the difficulties they face. We need to support young people so that they can succeed. That means the government should reconsider cuts to EMA and to youth services, so that the law abiding majority can see that they do have the support of the rest of society and that they are right to have nothing to do with those who do riot.

In truth, I don’t know why people rioted. There were many reasons, I suspect. When the riots started, it was assumed by many people that those involved were mainly people who were out of work or who lived on benefits or that they were young people who were outside the mainstream of society. Terms like “underclass” have been used to describe those involved. Some of the people who have attacked and looted have been people who see themselves as having been left out of society.

 

But there are many others who have been convicted by the courts who have good jobs or who are studying. Some of those involved say that they are taking their lead from the behaviour of the banks and from those who take what they can at the top of our society.

 

Equally, there are people on benefits who claim benefits fraudulently, like the man in Maghull who claimed £20,000 in disability benefits and was rumbled playing golf despite his supposed inability to walk unaided.

 

There is an unfairness about a society where bankers can pay themselves millions after they have caused a financial crisis that the rest of us are having to pay for and where businesses like Vodafone and Top Shop can avoid billions in tax.

 

There is an unfairness about society where some newspapers can find out what we are all saying on our mobile phones so they can make money.

 

And there is an unfairness when people can claim benefits by pulling the wool over a doctor’s eyes as part of their claim to the detriment of those who need their benefits and who are disabled.

 

Attempts to say why the riots happened have included the lack of fairness, poor parenting and cuts in services. I suspect that people had different reasons for being involved. The organised groups who used vans to empty shops were seasoned criminals. Others were opportunists and some of the violence was carried out by the same sort of people who used to go to football for the hooliganism. All were criminals and need to be dealt with accordingly.

 

However, understanding the riots may help prevent them in future and deal with any underlying causes. I have mentioned that we need to address the unfair society and we should do that regardless of whether there are riots. But if we are to understand why we had a week of riots across England, we need a full public enquiry, with representatives from across society giving the evidence.

 

I was surprised that Mr Cameron rejected calls from Labour MPs to hold such an enquiry and I hope he changes his mind. Without a proper enquiry, we are unlikely to learn the right lessons. There were enquiries after the riots in the 1980s from which lessons were learned and applied.

 

In the House of Commons, I asked the Prime Minister to reconsider his plans to cut the numbers of police. The Home Secretary, Teresa May says that it was only when huge numbers of police were on the streets that the rioting stopped. That is true. But why, oh why does the government not see that it has to reverse the police cuts?

 

Merseyside Police expect to lose 880 police officers and 1,000 police staff. Once those officers are gone it will be that much harder to put the number of officers on the street that were needed to stop the violence. A similar point should be made on behalf of the fire service and the courts service both of which face massive cuts and have had to perform close to breaking point to cope with what happened.

 

We need to learn what caused the riots by having a proper enquiry. We need the police, fire and court service cuts to be reversed. I will be pressing the government on these points over the coming weeks and when parliament returns.