Civil Unrest - Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts

Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts
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Civil Unrest

Civil Unrest: Written on 11 August 2011

My previous rant on this subject, just three days ago, seems to have had some effect. Senior government ministers have suddenly returned, albeit late and reluctantly, from their holidays. Should we all feel sorry for having disturbed them? It’s not a sense of duty that has prompted them to come home but the public and media clamour. So, now they are back, what are they going to do about the rash of civil unrest (aka riots and looting) – to say nothing of the financial crises and all the other urgent matters of state that did not go away during their holidays.

All the PM, Home Secretary and various Chief Constables ever seem to offer in their TV pronouncements, and when they meet the public in the troubled cities, are promises to “do whatever is necessary to make our cities and streets safe again". Have you ever stopped to wonder what that phrase actually means? Is it just a form of words spouted out to make it appear they have grasped the situation, or does it mean deployment of water cannon, tear gas, plastic bullets, tasers – even the Army? Ah no! They can’t deploy the Army because, as a result of the Government's cuts, there are hardly any servicemen left in UK who are not fully committed to Afghanistan and Libya (and, remind me please, how much those adventures have cost so far - and no end in sight!). Is it not amazing and worrying that, with the London Olympics less than a year away, we hear that the great majority of our policemen are not equipped with, let alone trained to use, riot gear?

I think the police deserve our praise and admiration for the way they've carried out their duties in the most challenging of circumstances but what's going to happen to the hundreds of ‘rioters’ who have already been arrested? If they are convicted, are there enough places in prisons and young offenders' institutions? No point in fining them if they are convicted because they won't be able to pay (or in the last resort they may steal something to fund the fine). No point in community service, because there are not enough folk to enforce and supervise it. How much is all this civil unrest costing the exchequer, let alone individuals who have lost houses, homes and businesses. How much does it cost in police overtime? How much does it cost to transport fleets of vehicles and police from other regions to the hot spots? How much does it cost to keep hundreds of youngsters in police cells until they are either charged or released on bail? Which budgets will be cut to pay for all these things?

All that, however, is missing the real problems: education and jobs. Many, but not all, of the teenagers and young men involved in the recent ‘riots’ can’t get a job, will probably never get a job, will sooner or later have children who in years to come will never have a job. Perhaps they've not made the most of the education they’ve had so far, but they probably couldn’t see the point of working on basic academic subjects when they knew they would not lead to jobs.

Of course, the rioters and looters are breaking the law and we cannot condone that. Of course, looting and fire-raising are despicable. Amongst the offenders are doubtless pure anarchists who are working to a different agenda. That’s yet another, but different, problem for politicians to deal with. The pre-teens who have apparently been joining in what they doubtless regard as “a bit of fun” are a special problem. If parents can’t control them, then local councils need to start thinking about how to deal with them, otherwise today’s problems will just recur in years to come – and so on ad infinitum!

I don’t think it’s right to put all the blame for the current unrest on ‘headless’ families either. After all, during the war when I was young, most children were part of headless families because their fathers were away for up to six years fighting in the war – and many fathers never returned at all from the war. What are teenagers who have no money, no job, no prospects, no status, expected to do with their lives? Try and put yourself in their place and consider how you would feel and act.

A final afterthought to indicate that today’s problems are not new. When I was stationed at RAF Sealand in the late 1980s and travelled to work every day along the A548 from the Chester area, I passed underneath an old railway bridge on which was painted in huge white straggling letters “No Hope!” I often wondered then who painted that desperate message – and what became of him or her.

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