The old left have tried to use this violence for political gain

Mike Freer MP criticises the likes of Ken Livingstone who, he argues, has tried to use the riots for political gain

Stuck in the 1980s?
Mike Freer MP
On 11 August 2011 12:38

Ken Livingstone, and other old left-wingers, have seized on the fear of Londoners in an attempt to excuse the rioters of blame and shift it instead on to the Coalition Government’s cuts. This ill-judged attempt at electioneering took place whilst the violence was reaching its zenith.

Livingstone and his comrades' comments always follow the same pattern. ‘People have had their homes and businesses damaged and destroyed - there can be no justification for that’ wrote Ken shortly after the first night of violence. He should have stopped there, but inevitably there follows a ‘but’. In the same piece he writes, ‘The economic stagnation and cuts being imposed by the Tory Government inevitably create social division’ and later added that rioters ‘feel no-one at the top of society, in Government or City Hall, cares about them or speaks for them.’

Harriet Harman has attempted to make a similar point, mentioning budget cuts whilst condemning the riots, yet never explicitly linking the two. The cynicism behind this double-speak will not go unnoticed.

The logic behind looters carrying flat screen TVs and burning businesses is so warped in the old left's mind, that it is difficult to engage with. Let us consider who was carrying out these criminal acts. According to media reports those arrested include a primary school teaching assistant, university students, a forklift truck driver and an opera house steward. My colleague Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North, personally witnessed rioters driving from one trouble spot to another in Golf GTIs

This criminality was not exclusively carried out by the unemployed urban poor. Areas that have found themselves under attack such as Ealing are not pockets of deprivation. These are not the actions of politically motivated protestors.

Livingstone’s attempt to blame budget cuts, whilst politically convenient for him, fails to even add up.  Local authority cuts have only just begun, as have new rules on benefits – does he really believe that there could be such a widespread reaction so quickly? 

The left bleat about youth provision and yet nearly all of those arrested are well over the age at which they could attend a youth club. These disturbances come after thirteen years of Labour rule and fifteen months of the Coalition, but we are expected to believe that, even though overall public spending has yet to fall, this is all because of the actions taken in the past few weeks.

Labour’s mayoral candidate of course ignores the enormous sums of public money that have been spent in places like Tottenham in the last thirty years and the fact that public spending now costs over fifty percent of our country’s national income. But this is not simply about money. Youth unemployment in somewhere like the London Borough of Haringey, of which Tottenham forms a part, rose during the noughties economic boom, and remains at the same level now as it was in 2003, despite the credit crunch.

For Livingstone it is as if the last thirty years didn’t happen, as if the ghost of the 1980s stalks him. In the article I quoted at the beginning of this piece he adds the odd sentence ‘we do not want to go back to the 1980s’The reaction of London Labour MPs that I would place on the left of the party show how stuck Livingstone is in the past. David Lammy (Tottenham) and Diane Abbott (Hackney North) both saw severe violence in their constituencies. Both unequivocally condemned the violence and recognised it as a criminal attack on their community. They did not try to resurrect the ghosts of community disorder from thirty years ago.

The cause of the riots will be exhaustingly explored over the coming weeks. Discussions must be based on evidence and careful examination, not on political prejudice and nor be cynically exploited for political gain. As a country we have to examine issues of societal breakdown, parental responsibility, education and the benefit system. We need to look at how we have allowed people to have rights without responsibilities; we need to look at breaking the cycle of benefit dependency and above all the view that it is possible to have something for nothing. The full force of the law must mean an end to soft sentencing. If we want work to pay we must make sure crime doesn’t.

Mike Freer MP is the Member of UK Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green. He tweets at @mikefreermp

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