Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Zero tolerance from the barely tolerable

You can imagine my relief at seeing how our leaders are reacting to last week’s terrible disturbances in England.

David Cameron, and we all know how much lustre he has added to the office of British Prime Minister, made it clear to Parliament that he was far from pleased with the dilatory response of the police to the troubles. Far too slow, far too little, far too timid.

Presumably those guys under the bricks and facing the petrol bombs should have been modelling their behaviour on Cameron’s own: he stayed on holiday in Tuscany until it became really impossible for him to put off coming home any longer.

Personally, I'd have no problem with David Cameron remaining out of the country quite a lot longer. Perhaps until all the current crises are over. Don't hurry back, I'd say, stay away as long as you like. But he came home last week, and I have to admit that since then he's made up for his earlier absence by throwing himself with real passion into the huge task of claiming credit for quelling the disturbances.

Inexplicably, the police seem less than happy with the politicians’ comments. Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is one of many who are a little miffed. He thinks that the plans to flood London with 16,000 police had been taken rather before David Cameron, or indeed  Teresa May, the Home Secretary, had even got back to the country.

Oh, well. That’s torn Orde’s chances of getting the vacant position as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain’s top police job. Indeed, Cameron has taken on the services of Bill Bratton, formerly of the Police Departments of New York and then Los Angeles to advise him on controlling gang violence, and certainly those are cities which have a great deal to teach the world about such violence.

It looks as though Bratton may even have a chance of being appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner himself. After all, he’s so much better qualified than Orde, whose only previous top police job was in the provincial backwater of Northern Ireland.

Cameron, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, have meanwhile made it clear that they still intend to slash police budgets, presumably on the basis that you can do more with less.

Now Cameron’s hitting out again. ‘Zero tolerance’ towards crime, he’s saying. I’ve never really gone with that idea. I mean, are we saying that the police have been easy-going on crime in the past? You know, saying ‘oh, well, young people will be young people. You’ve got to see the funny side.’

Strnagely enough, a couple of years ago ‘zero tolerance’ of crime was the slogan of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, though these days he’s treading a little more carefully and has even expressed reservations about certain government policies. In particular, he’s not keen the police budget cuts.

Anyway, in taking their uncompromising stance on crime, both Cameron and Johnson reflect the anger of so many over the levels of violence in society. People smashing shop windows and looting the stock. Why, somebody even put a flower pot through the window of an Oxford restaurant – it’s just unbearable.

No, hang on a moment. The flower pot event wasn’t last week. That was back in 1987. And it wasn’t London looters – it was the Bullingdon Club made up of thirty of the wealthiest students in Oxford University. How wealthy, you ask? Well, their smart uniform of royal blue tail coat and trimmings costs £3500 a head. That’s two months gross earnings of a Brit on median earnings.

The club’s members have a reputation for going out to dinner, drinking themselves into party mood and then trashing the restaurant, after which they pay for the damage in cash. The flowerpot through the window was just another burst of high spirits from these charming revellers on their way home.

And who had been out with the Bullingdon Club on that historic night in 1987? Well, since you ask, both David Cameron and Boris Johnson. A couple of years later, it would be George Osborne’s turn to grace the club with his edifying presence.

Don't they look smart? That's Cameron, second from left standing,
and Johnson, third from left sitting in the front
Some might say, ‘ah, well, youthful exuberance isn’t to be confused with looting; if you have the money to pay for the damage, having a riot isn’t rioting.’ But I don’t go along with that. Instead I salute Messrs Cameron, Johnson and Osborne.

Only they had it in them to make the policy of zero tolerance seem appealing to me.


Nicola said...

I really enjoyed this blog, David. Thank you!

David Beeson said...

Many thanks, Nicola - I appreciate that