Friday, 26 August 2011

'Broken Britain' is a broken analysis

This is my requested response to the Evening Standard following Tim Montgomery's attack on LibDem influence on coalition social policy.

ConHome's Tim Montgomery is correct to worried about the waning influence of explicitly right-wing ideas within areas of the coalition government - but for the rest of the country and the LibDems this should be cause for celebration!

The delusion which seems to prevail among true-blue ranks that populist headline-grabbing initiatives are sufficient to resolve wide-ranging and deep-seated problems in society and the national economy if they appease enough anxious middle-class supporters in their heartlands of Tunbridge Wells or deepest Wiltshire by assigning ownership to friendly-faced party patriarchs is foundering on the rocks of Whitehall bureaucracy and on the streets of inner cities alike. Rather than complaining that due diligence into the viability of pet political projects is highlighting their specific weaknesses he would be far better advised to embrace coalition dialogue with a more cooperative mindset and understand how his doctrinal approach must be tempered to more practical effect by the reality of demands for consensual decisions with greater input from experts in the field and their partners in government.

Whilst Cameron's growing authority over Parliament continues to fail to transfer into opinion poll ratings tory loyalists are beginning to sense that coalition is damaging their chances of an overall majority at the next general election and an internal showdown at their upcoming annual conference may be beckoning.


For another perspective here's Tom Papworth


more letters

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - a new 'global' sovereignty?

So Mubarak is on trial, Gaddafi is on the run and the world is eyeballing Assad. The endgame of the Arab Spring is upon us. Now we will start to see where the direction of diplomatic policy is going to go.

When UK foreign minister William Hague visited Libya to hold talks with the anti-Gadaffi Transitional National Council after Nato extended it's mission in the country by another 3 months, it was significant as the  first test of the new 'muscular liberal' foreign policy doctrine, building on the newly reaffirmed 'essential' bi-lateral UK-US relationship.

Yet all the while pro-Gaddafi forces denounced the visit as 'interference' in a sovereign nation, the ongoing violence and ensuing stalemate showed then as now that these matters are still hotly disputed.

As I ruminated earlier in relation to the Libyan situation, the difficulty in settling complex multi-faceted disagreements should be seen as a positive driving force of increasing modernity: acknowledgement of rival validities creates a competitive dynamic. From this interplay concessions can be won to raise higher and more robust standards on a wider and more secure foundation, although nobody should be fooled about the cost to be paid in terms of human life and the destruction of social infrastructure should validity be contended.

Nevertheless we should feel confident that the new constitution proposed by Libya's NTC explicitly accepts the impossibility of imposed solutions and recognises the benefit of dialogue as the most reliable means to reach lasting solutions. Rebuilding the physical fabric of the country will have to be in equal part to the redevelopment of the institutions of civic life for peace to take root, so in the meantime it's worth looking in more detail at how the doctrinal analysis shapes up.

Foundations of peace

The origins of the world order based on national sovereignty date back to the peace concluded after the first globalised war in the middle of the 17th Century - commonly known as 'the Peace of the Exhausted' (the invaluable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an excellent - and recently revised - overview on the subject of sovereignty with an extensive bibliography).

Acceptance of the dual-principle of territorial integrity and supreme authority within a 'country' dealt the death-blow to the medeival wars of empire and religion in Europe and set the stage for a more relevant secular authority to replace the delegitimised system of perpetual squabbling over inheritances. The failure to export these principles then meant however that the European powers could export their squabbles as the peace created the conditions for industrial revolution and a consequent overwhelming military superiority over non-participating societies.

Now, as the age of globalisation is reaching its close, there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology.

The case for a 'new sovereignty' was powerfully argued by Swedish former Prime Minister Carl Bildt in a lecture to Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations back in 2004. He drew on his experience of conflict in the former Yugoslavian states, somewhat underplaying the symbolism of the international community unifying to counteract the negative forces driving the tendency towards Balkanisation in the heart of that region in preference for stating the need for multi-layered sovereignties.

So there is a parabolic argument at the heart of this issue in that the internationalist alliance must marry successful justification for intervention with lasting solutions on the ground - a universal system of national sovereignty confers the friendly and indirect right to intervene against sovereign nations in the interests of equality by directing dirigiste policies of fairness aimed at establishing viable states capable of eventually buying into their own more egalitarian policies of freedom.

Neither UK nor US operates under the delusion that narrow self-interest alone would mandate sending ground troops into Libya or another country, but there is an overriding mutual interest in promoting peace and opportunity through global trade and the guarantee of access to essential commodities such as oil and gas energy products for wider consumption (note, not a resource-grab) as the means to promote common humanitarian concerns - the individual sovereignty of each participating ally is assured by agreement to, but only insofar as, they pool their individual powers to such shared ends.

And it is this irony which is the well-spring of continual criticism.

For instance Ivan Eland was happy that the election of Obama represented the end of neo-conservative 'jingoism', but worries this has been replaced by "an evil foreign policy ghoul... wearing the benign clothes of a compassionate angel".

He argues not only that there can never be any justification for war, but also that consistent application of such a policy during a time of economic austerity which previously landed the west in 'two intractable quagmires' will lead to strategic over-extension and will prove unsustainable as the convenient political coalition tears itself apart. For him, the mutual low regard between neo-cons and muscular liberals is not due to any practical considerations, but because they are so alike.

Peter Hoskin in The Spectator also highlighted the continuity in foreign policy theory to not sit idly by in an attempt to passively contain anti-western extremism, but to actively promote western liberal values - quoting Tony Blair in support,
"This is the battle that must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they would impose on others."
Meanwhile Labourite Paul Evans doesn't seem to be able to answer his own question whether it is a right or an obligation to impose democracy on dictatorships - he just thinks we should go ahead whatever.

On the other side, for LibDems the expression of concern that such a forthright endorsement of a more assertive foreign policy which is "entirely indistinguishable from that of New Labour, or that which William Hague might exercise were he not in coalition" raises questions of the ethical basis upon which the decision to act can be taken and the morality of any means by which these values can be put in place.

Between these opposites lines can be drawn, along which we can see it's equally important to ensure the ethical means and ends of any chosen action, but similarly that events are ongoing and it's no good just sitting by - we must be actively involved. For this I have to give some credit that 'lessons have been learned' from previous interventions in setting down standards for the parameters of action based on humanitarian need and active international agreement.

When US President Obama gave his speech insisting the status quo is not acceptable, he built on his image as a leader of change outlining how the Arab Spring has highlighted the urgent need for a shift in policy to be more responsive to the popular expressions in favour of freedom and against the repressive measures used to maintain unpopular regimes (such as arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to trial, the standard use of torture, all the way through to massacring of demonstrators).

However he was also anxious to emphasise how a coherent and consistent foreign policy across the region will be determined by its application in the crucible of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...Image via WikipediaObama clearly reiterated his desire for a negotiated 'two-state' solution which entailed a 'secure' Israel and a 'viable' Palestinian state - this was hardly a surprise, as it is the established consensual position among the international community. Not immediately considered an ideological ally, even Canadian foreign minister John Baird reaffirmed his backing for a return to 1967 borders.

But as Agnes Bertrand-Sanz explains, the region is in a period of political flux and the time for debate is over: the EU has a window of opportunity to exert influence over the future direction of multiple nations and western leaders cannot ignore the demands for positive change.

She criticises Sarkozy's stillborn conservative 'Union of the Mediterranean' for attempting to preserve the political status quo in countries like Tunisia by dropping 'sensitive' commitments on human rights and improvements to civil society in order to maintain movement on security, immigration and energy issues, and argues that it is necessary to apply Western liberal principles equally across the region - which means Israel must also comply with humanitarian law and show movement towards resolving the Palestinian stalemate peacefully.

However, the Middle-East peace process is already being overtaken by developments across the region which have convinced a number of commentators the two-state solution may have entered the last chance saloon.

Julia Pettengill explains Palestinian interests have always played second fiddle to the regional power-brokers.

While Syria has changed from direct confrontation to provocation by proxy in order to deflect from internal unrest, Egypt's long history of support for the Palestinian cause appears designed to exert pressure and gain their own economic concessions. By orchestrating the Fatah-Hamas unity deal to advance Palestinian claims for statehood Egypt's Supreme Military Council through the transitional national council is undermining peace negotiations because the Syrian-backed Hamas rejects the principles of negotiation and would be unlikely to respect subsequent democratic elections in a Palestinian state required to do so even in the unexpected event of maintaining its' majority.

Indeed, Glyn Secker details, this polarised solution is losing legitimacy now that the legacy of 'Cold War' perspectives is dissipating as the new liberal, democratising dynamic comes to the fore.

Settlements, settlements

Obama's departure wasn't exactly met with the warmest of welcomes within Israeli ranks either.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to warn such an approach retains limited appeal, despite growing pressure to reach a settlement, as it would leave several vocal interest groups unsatisfied. The resounding positive reception to this position among American Jews and Evangelicals gave a major boost to his own ratings in Israeli opinion polls.

Listening to right-wingers such as Charles Krauthammer starts to give a clearer indication of the reasons for this - he pointedly explains that a return to the 1967 borders cannot now be the starting point of any negotiations since this has already been rejected three times by Palestinian negotiators.

Or, in a diametric counterclaim, according to leaked documents known as The Palestine Papers, Israel has rejected outright every attempt at conciliation with their counterparts despite concessions on all the contentious issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

The fixing of borders, settlements and right of return are essentially transient questions of practise and are therefore 'mere' stumbling blocks to hinder the reaching of agreement rather than serious barricades of principle preventing ultimate passage, so the real issue returns to another spiritual metaphor, this time represented by the historical sites where the actual events of many founding myths and prophecies relating to Islam and Judaism are located and are identified with as constituent to each claim.

Carlo Strenger also settles on Jerusalem as the greatest problem for negotiations, albeit from a more sceptical perspective, worrying that any situation which leaves the Western Wall outside Jewish control is inconceivable.

He notes how Obama's private strategy is inevitably predicated on reelection in 2012 and is therefore liable to be more hands-off in public until that point. By encouraging Europe (UK, France) to do more of the diplomatic dog-work (such as providing UN recognition for a Palestinian state) Obama can safely delegate responsibility for negotiating territorial demands, whereupon it will be possible to return with a reinvigorated mandate to deal with the more troublesome issue of 'right of return'.

Yet with ongoing house-building deep in the West Bank, such as the recently completed Ma'aleh Zeitim community, Israelis are at least equally as engaged in this game of brinkmanship as Americans, each trying to buy time in which to influence events ahead of that coming juncture in September.

Worse still for advocates of the 'two-state' solution, the lack of any prospective quid pro quo means this is a literal non-starter since a final settlement on those terms would lead to the worst possible consequences, as Louis Rene Beres bewails with some frightening hyperbole.

He argues if a 'two-state' solution becomes a 'two-stage' solution where the return of Palestinian refugees creates demographic pressures to overturn the inbuilt Jewish domination of democratic control within Israeli borders then the great fear of xenophobic proclamations promising the destruction of Israel could be matched by the spectre of renewed genocide on home territory and the hoped-for final settlement could transform into a new 'final solution', though Carlo Strenger suggests this would easily be averted by simply including the renunciation of additional territorial claims as a part of recognition of agreed borders along 1967 lines.

Nevertheless the prophetic voices murmuring about a new Islamic Caliphate are given credence by nascent signs of a reborn pan-Arabist trend emerging from the uprisings across the region (albeit on a basis of emphasising social justice rather than ethnic, linguistic or cultural similarity) and notwithstanding the plurality of national and tribal Imams this could easily transform under the guidance of an Islamic Pope-figure imbued with supreme spiritual authority and significant financial and military muscle.

Although expressed with more typical chutzpah, the 'one-state solution' preferred by some pro-Israeli conservatives has some solid rationality when presented from the Jewish perspective - an argument which may actually gain traction were the values of religious freedom applied equally on all sides.

It appeals to Ruth Wisse, who remembers the assertive establishment of the Israeli state came about as a result of concerted resistance to 'malevolent' political forces in the aftermath of the holocaust when "there was a sense that evil in the world meant political evil" and Jews therefore became representative of 'a kind of liberal democracy'.

Yonatan Touval also takes up the debate to attack Netanyahu's assertion of the Zionist belief that Israel is a 'Jewish state' and the conflict only exists because Arabs resist the concept of a Jewish sovereignty. In particular he argues there is an inherent contradiction in a system where Rabbis determine the identity of Jews and the use of their rulings is accepted as a legitimate basis for the citizenry of a national polity.

And, as Aluf Benn describes, Netanyahu's opposition towards movement on negotiating positions for the four key points risks a diplomatic 'fiasco' by placing his insistence of Israel's 'Jewish character' at odds with growing consensus on separation of powers between church and state both regionally and across the world.

A strong push for Palestinian statehood at the UN's annual congress in September may prove successful, yet the underlying conflict between global religion and nation-states still remains and is therefore unlikely to immediately resolve all potential for hostilities.

Keys to the peace

So, returning to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the 'friendly and indirect right to intervene' in internal affairs replaced a direct imperial presence and mutual devastation was replaced by mediation directed toward forgiveness of past actions and economic policies for reconstruction expressly for 'the benefit of the other'. And at a geographical level the mystical attachment to particular locations gradually dissipated as the state was secured through greater democratic legitimacy allowing wide-ranging flexibility on territorial disputes (for instance compare the Westphalia of the 17th Century with the region of the same name today).

According to the European example, state sovereignty gradually superceded the personal inheritance of classical dualistic authority over church and military.

From Charlemagne onwards (particularly under the Ottonians from 962) the elected 'King of the Romans' - typically the commander of the strongest army among eligible candidates - had been formally required to be crowned by the 'Bishop of Rome' in Rome in order to become Holy Roman Emperor, but as religious authority waned with the introduction of more tangible forms of legitimacy among earthly rulers Church power eventually became limited to the micro-state of the Papal See in the Vatican, and within these confines the Pope now holds responsibility for diplomatic relations of the 'universal government of the Catholic Church' - this according to both the British Ambassador and the US State Department.

In effect this religious micro-state is the physical and practical embodiment of Western secularism. It offers a partial model for framing realistic resolutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict - whether or not efforts to gain Palestinian statehood succeed this autumn, or the potential for escalating violence spills over from the process of democratisation in neighbouring states.

From my point-of-view foundation of a new micro-state to represent 'the universal government of the Jewish faith' (as opposed to the current national homeland for Jewish people) wouldn't mean the abolition of Israel or any reduction in Jewish involvement in their own political affairs, but it would remove the fundamental complaint that Israel cannot represent people of all and no faiths equally which is maintained because the pressure for a state protector of Jews is irresistible.

European countries may be criticised by extreme multi-culturalists of different shades as unequal and biased against non-Christian minorities, but if it is true (and I'm prepared to dispute it) this is a product of history and no longer a cause of it because Christians can now look to the Vatican - significantly the USA only established full diplomatic relations with John Paul II in 1984, to all intents and purposes the moment when the Cold War was effectively won leading to the point where national sovereignty within Europe was regained.

It was that archetypal muscular liberal Macchiavelli who originally made the case that the Papal States were too weak to unify either Italy or Europe, yet too strong to allow unification from any other source - and that the failure to unify had been the cause of continual strife and economic divergence. Similar to Bildt he was drawing on a lifetime's hard diplomatic experience, although where Bildt opposed the struggles of racial and religious claims to reestablish a universal meaning of 'Europe' Macchiavelli navigated between the civil conflicts of the Guelfs and Ghibellines (Papal and Imperial supporters respectively) to make an as-yet unchallenged case for the secular polity of modernity which could appeal to all sides equally within the European family of nations.

This exact same argument does, but has not yet been applied to the current Middle Eastern questions. Should we do so we could see that the same logic carries us to the same conclusion. Israel is too weak to project power over the whole region, yet because her existence as a lone flame is to be protected at whatever cost she stays too strong to allow any other contender to make a serious challenge and therefore the region remains fractured, violent and home to some of the greatest disparities in wealth, health, happiness and well-being on the planet.

Condensing those 336 years of western secular development into any shortened timeframe would be certain to cause a string of other problems, but there are perhaps a few shortcuts to be made by pointing out corresponding requirements beyond the territorial integrity and supreme authority within it of the nation-state.

The most obvious of these may be the most difficult to implement: simple demarkation of the Old City of Jerusalem as an independent ecclesiastical entity, comparable to the Vatican City, effectively removing the single fundamental barrier to peace and thereby enhancing security and ensuring greater access to the disputed holy sites - to all sides.

But as with Solomon's parable, so too his city: the people cannot decide among themselves, and the moment of truth is fast arriving.

Ongoing mutual suspicion between the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict is preventing agreement on potential forms of common interest, causing wholesale restraints on sovereign action with the result that violence is increasingly divorced from the real concerns of the people and self-determination is made nigh-on impossible. While global support networks of expatriates, compatriots, sympathisers and interested onlookers continue to remit their aid to each side the conflagration will never lack for fresh fuel, and even the faint hopes for either a 'peace of the exhausted' or a true liberation will remain extinguished.

With pressure for recognition of Palestinian statehood growing the threat of destabilisation created by the Arab Spring meant Nato has been forced to set a timescale to complete the decapitation of Gaddafi before September and enable redeployment of diplomatic force towards the more difficult problem of removing Assad from Syria and the particular strategic flashpoint of the Golan Heights.

In the worst case the terror organisations sponsored by the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian states under Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad would have combined with the global jihadist movement in a post-Arab Spring scenario. Add in lingering discontent from an unrecognised Palestine and the collapse of any roadmap to peace then all the ingredients are there to merge into a resurgent intifada with their sights set directly on Netanyahu's 'Jewish' Israel.

Under those conditions what liberal or democrat would ever risk trying to flex enough muscle to make the necessarily decisive intervention to win peace? Nothing less than a ruthlessly calculated certainty from a completely self-sacrificing idealist would do, and even then the nuclear option looms over the horizon ready to kick-start it all again - something which would certainly bring about devastation along with immediate exhaustion!

As I urged above:
"there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology."
It is a challenge that must be met or risk turning back history to before the enlightenment - and September isn't that far away!


Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - pt1

Friday, 12 August 2011

The long, cold summer

Watching recent news unfurling a blanket of media coverage I'm struck by a typical bank holiday mix of anxiety and glee.

There's a fairground of attempts to rationalise events while we worry about where the next explosion will occur, yet also revelry in the simple fact of visceral combinations of shock and excitement. Dodgems in one direction, a Helter Skelter in the other. Freak shows and fortune tellers standing apart.

It doesn't matter which tent people gravitate towards there is a pervading mood ennervated by the certainty that something is happening. We may not know what that something is, but there is a sense that it is heading somewhere - and where that may be is inspiring a mixture of fear, trepidation, anticipation and agitiation. Only one thing is for certain: the momentum is irresistible. Just roll up and jump on the ride - it'll keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the big top are our representatives in Parliament, driven onwards by the circulations around and about.

The strong men have immediately diagnosed a 'sickness' in society, clowns express the outpourings of pain and tragedy while jugglers try to keep as many arguments in the air at one time as possible. But if you're now arguing about missing the performace the signs were there if you knew and cared where to look.

Even the plain fact that Parliament has now been recalled from recess twice in a matter of weeks should give an hint of the underlying carousel, even stepping back to the general election debate the over-reliance on security concerns were clearly exposed.

All that restraint and repression could only lead in one direction.

Media commentators and activists of all sorts were enthused about the prospects of social media technologies to aid engagement and enable us to break out of the chains, fueled by growing public competence in the ability to harness developing techniches for their usage. Cyber-warfare in Georgia was followed by protesters in Tehran using technology to organise and the first seedlings of innovation began to germinate.

A second idealistic stage marked by spring uprisings against Arab dictatorships and dissent at the official responses to the global financial crisis has now been struck by the growing reality that the situation on the ground isn't changed by warm words and consensus among the savvier classes possessing the vital commodity in this new media age - access.

And we could have realised this when the vultures began to circle over the breathing corpse of the old politics during the expenses scandal.

Perhaps we were correct that an unaccountable political culture using allowances to boost incomes was indicative of a tired and out-of-touch elite whose irresponsible complacency had allowed a combination of crises in banking and finance to balloon, but perhaps also we were able to use this to distract ourselves from the urgent requirement for effective solutions. From Barings Bank and Enron to credit default swaps and debt-financing the crumbling edifice masking corrupt and unsustainable practises could no longer be denied, but how could we prevent major collapses without storing up bigger problems?

When the rumbling phone-hacking scandal reached its' more recent zenith we saw how corporate and institutional elites became interwoven as narrow personal interests subsumed any wider public interests and treated individuals as fodder for the all-consuming machine. From Ant & Dec's profiteering to the scurrilous 'investigative' methods of reporters the true sensation was that and in how commercial imperatives were able to trump all else. And now the anger at those incidents which found no meaningful expression to channel itself has trickled its' way down to street level.

We might condemn or celebrate the criminality and attempts at bringing the return of order, but in doing so we are manipulating ourselves and allowing ourselves to be manipulated at every stage of the way by those more cynical and aware of the potential. So unless the public take the shock as a general wake-up call about the political impacts of every single choice and action then it won't end here; these few nights will be reviewed as a mild precursor of the devastating frosts ahead.

In classic British style, the situation is like a schoolyard scrap where even impassive observers are whisked into the baying crowd, egging-on the expression of animal impulses by chosen victims until the spectacle of confrontation satisfies the hunger of the impoverished powers that be. If we can't be patient for tomorrow's circus, then they'll tell us to amuse ourselves by fighting over the availability of cake while they amuse themselves by admonishing those who do!

There's nothing better than the milling around on the pier expectantly hoping to taste the possibility of a life less ordinary... or so we've been told. The thrill of the exclusive; the fantasy of the unbelievable; the yearning for the unobtainable - it's what makes us pliable, able to tolerate the moment... and willing to pay almost any price.

But this year rain on St Swithin's Day was followed in accordance with the prophecy by a drab and dreary summer - so no wonder then the lure of recuperation by the seaside was less appealling than a swift return to the Westminster hearth this year. What ambitious politico would want to huddle in their deckchair as they watch the incoming tide under a setting sun and fail to hold it back? It's chilling!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

'Cat and Mouse' politics: encapsulating the riots

In reality it was quite easy to predict a riot, and in fact at least one group did!

You might consider that a bit of a fatuous levity, but it goes further than the superficial.

Let me explain.

These things are always just over the horizon so the more dispassionate among society will hold their breath until the smoke starts to clear and the potential reasons and causes can be examined more clearly.

Which thread you chose to emphasise depends on which side you butter your bread - some identify the alienation and resentment of an urban youth underclass exacerbated by economic policy, some claim it is a battle for social morality in which individuals recklessly choose the 'sheer criminality' of wanton actions such as looting and vandalism, whereas others describe a rising stampede of powerless individuals disinhibited by the crowd mentality and swept along on the exhilarating ride of the immediacy of the moment.

While a simmering discontent has long prevailed at the institutional relationships with life on the streets and decades of rising wealth has been accompanied by rising inequality, the recent legitimisation of protest culture has allowed the two to merge and give voice to a sense that sections of society are being left behind and scapegoated for it - repressed in order to be oppressed.

Add in to this the potency of social media technology where a newly apparent class divide between the open networks of facebook, twitter and flickr and the closed networks of rolling news broadcasts, official communications and BlackBerry messaging networks is driving the ability to control mass choices at an  instantaneous rate and we can see that almost all sponaneity and original thought is eradicated.

But if the on-going phone-hacking scandal has done anything to lift the lid on the murky and often dubious nature of connections between politicians, media, police and criminals then perhaps we would be less cynical if we applied these same lessons to the riots.

The two rules to bear in mind when evaluating potential players is to separate the coincidences from any conspiracy, and to ask 'who benefits?'

With regard to the political beneficiaries Cameron scores big by insisting commentators link the unrest and the communal resistance to it to his 'broken Britain' and 'Big Society' narratives, while Labour scores on a technicality simply by dint of being in opposition. Meanwhile Her Majesty's forces of Law and Order prove the invaluability of the services they provide - all the more urgent considering the risk to national confidence and reputation which would be caused by any disturbance to tarnish the prestige of the 2012 Olympics - right at the time when public service pay and pensions have have animated the debate over finances and in a far more forthright manner than any strike could.

As far as precise timing is concerned Parliament's summer recess is not known as 'silly season' for no reason  - with all 5 major relevant figures (Prime Minister, Deputy PM, Home Secretary, Mayor of London and Leader of the Opposition) all out of the country a dearth of news and leadership stories allows for media companies to concentrate greater resources, preferably closer to their doorsteps, and subjects of normally lesser significance suddenly attract more attention from us chattering amateurs at large among the wider public.

But most damning is the repeated underlying implication from a succession of heavy-handed hints scattered through reports. Many of the arrestees were already well-known to authorities, the gangs of rioters were divided into groups numbering around a hundred-or-so, directed by what seem to be organising capos, and that the pattern of activities were not only sufficiently profuse as to avoid concentrating either in any single location or on any single source of inspiration - but spreading.

Indeed, looking at a map of the incidents in combination with hearing education secretary Michael Gove MP talk on Newsnight and elsewhere about how the postcode rivalries between street gangs have been set aside to take advantage of the opportunity and the picture of rioting begins to bear the hallmarks of the traditional underworld 'manors' reacting to the call. Equally community residents have banded together to take the place of social protectors and some evidence of violence by the established criminals towards these groups develops the picture of gang warfare, and althought the description that 'the Police are the biggest gang in the country' is a flat comparison of manners it is only inaccurate insofar as the Police are backed by the legitimacy of the law.

As we know from the insights into COBRA arrangements, political leadership does not have operational control of ground units, and cannot leverage any statutory tools due to the oversight imposed by democratic accountability. By considered this model of power as the prime method of influencing the public policy debate for those in position in the trenches as it is for those behind the lines in government the crisis created by the rioting doesn't just look predictable, but wholly inevitable and actively desirable from the perspective of reasserting the legitimacy of authority.

What I'm trying to describe is no simple conspiracy, but a nexus of interests which knot themselves around events with increasing tensions until they can be 'nudged' by whomsoever has the imagination, the determination and the contacts to take a decisive lead on the issues.

We know the ongoing Operation Trident into the capital's gun crime has a focus out of the 'fortress' of  Tottenham High Road Police Station, we know that the victim of the Police shooting had a gun in his possession at the time and we know the vigil of rememberance was advertised to local politicians and media and that Police maintained a presence nearby having been warned that it could be used as a sparking point.

We also know Police tactics during the rioting were to contain the outbreaks of violence rather than to prevent it, and we know everyone from ordinary ranks to PCSOs were drafted in by Police leadership in a show of strength.

What we don't exactly know is who is the cat and who is the mouse.

And we don't yet know how to get the cat back in the bag at the end of it all.


As Gove argued, it would be wrong to draw connections between social class and criminality: criminals exist at all levels of society - although the type and scale of their crimes vary accordingly.

It seems a big debate is growing up about the causes of the riots. Let's hope those participating can show a bit more maturity than the norm, eh?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Songs of the summer

It's summer and I've been sweating on how to fill this space, so why not with some music?

Nah, you can take that one away and overload on the freakbeat's visuals instead.

more music