16th August 2011 Ottawa, Canada

The UK: After the Riots

If you’re like me, you’ll have watched the riots in the streets of London and other English cities with a mixture of shock, dismay and outrage. There was a great deal of criminality on display. Deeper analysis will follow, but there’s plenty to be done in the interim.

In London, we’re well into what the Prime Minister called the fightback stage: 16,000 police on the streets of the city, and a large presence elsewhere; with courts administering swift due process to the almost 2,000 arrested, and police using CCTV to track down many others.

Then there’s the clean-up: communities on the streets, armed only with brooms and a determination to restore their neighbourhoods; and the launch of government programmes to help businesses start up again, and compensate the victims of violent crime.

Longer term, the PM has identified a range of action, from looking at discipline in schools and dealing with dysfunctional families, to reforms of the justice system, with tougher sentencing for violent crime; and the welfare system, to ensure it rewards work and not idleness.

All this will take time, but is important for our standing as a decent and law-abiding society. There is a great determination to succeed in this, not just in government, but across the country. No one wanted the riots, but the silver lining is the surge in community spirit, the willingness to clean up and help out, and the strong view that mob rule must not trump the rule of law. In short, keep calm and carry on.

There’s been a concern in elements of the Canadian press that the UK is going to close down social networking sites. We are not. What we have an obligation to pursue, within the law, is the individual using social networks with criminal intent, not the sites themselves. It’s the criminal, not the medium, that’s the legitimate target, as the government seeks to ensure public safety.

London, and the other cities affected, are emerging from this. But there’s a lot of work to be done, to address both the causes and impact; and to seek to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll write further on this.