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Saturday, 13 August 2011

The English riots - weekend thoughts …

The riots have subsided, but the danger has not. The Government, who should be relaxing with a post coital cigarette, blowing smoke rings after their heroic efforts to save the nation, are instead engaged in an unseemly spat with the Metropolitan police, who are accusing the Cameron/Clegg Gang of blowing smoke in the faces of the people by claiming that they had saved the nation from the rampaging, Blackberry-inspired mob and police incompetence.

Little sense has been talked on the media, with elderly historians like David Starkey (last night on Newsnight) displaying their complete failure to understand the present, whatever their understanding of the past may be, Kelvin McKenzie spluttering his tabloid rage and indignation in a studio discussion, and John ‘The Baron’ Prescott in equally pop-eyed, incoherent populist mode on the Question Time Special (whatever it was, this edition certainly wasn’t special!), railing against the Government and the Establishment as though he hasn’t been part of it for far too long for most of us.

Such logic and calm analysis as there has been has come almost exclusively from the young, especially the articulate young people who actually live in places from which the violence has sprung, and these young voices were able to effortlessly demolish the wet-lipped, uncomprehending incoherent, and  blustering  outpourings of the Starkeys, McKenzies and Prescotts. These young commentators maintained their effortless cool and their logical thrust in the face of their elders-but-most-certainly-not-betters, and they made a fair showing of trying to conceal their amused contempt for the more ludicrous demonstrations of how out of touch they were with street realities.

In fact, one of the most-wet lipped (mainly the lower lip) tirades of the week came from Michael Gove, who was born to be an old fogey and has already perfected the style. Directed against Harriet Harman, who could have been vulnerable to properly directed arguments, Gove’s rant was totally ineffective, but delightfully amusing, as he came close to spontaneous combustion in the studio.


This has been a strange week for the broadcast media. In terms of instant visual coverage of events, they were in their element, and excelled themselves. As far as political analysis went, they resorted to clichéd interviewing styles and clichéd questions, and their selection of commentators consisted in the main of rounding up the usual suspects to deliver their confident banalities.

When they did get a least some of the right voices on their programmes, the presenters were often poor at directing and controlling the debate. Such real people as they did find seem to have been the result of accident, rather than design. When they did stumble across reality, in fairness, they recognised it and made the most of it, but to the point of repetitiveness on occasion.

The politicians whose greed, lack of vision and lack of humanity had led to the riots, predictably seized upon selected instances and individuals to bend them to their pathetic narrative of excuse and blame.

Print media, as it does in the face of such rapidly unfolding events, ran desperately behind the story, and mainly failed in what is their new primary role of providing the kind of detailed examination of facts and sober, cold-light-of-day commentary. Instead, they tried to ape the television coverage, and failed miserably.

Neither television nor the print media showed any evidence that they really understood the nature and implications of the new media.

Our politicians and pundits certainly don’t understand it, in spite of their cack-handed efforts at using Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We had a former senior police officer, Brian Paddick, asking why the police had not been “on Twitter and Blackberries” in advance of the riots. He seemed unaware of how these two manifestations of the new media actually worked. It would require something on the scale of GCHQ to monitor them, not to mention a radical change in the law, and the monitoring would be nullified by instantaneous modification of behaviour by the young. Young people find it difficult to contain their amusement and contempt for this kind of nonsense from those in authority.

There are only two choices that I can see open to governments, intelligence services and the state apparatus in the face of the new media -

either accept that we now live in a world of totally open communication, much of it rubbish, much of it inaccurate, some of it pernicious and dangerous, and deal with the criminal aspects and egregious abuses while recognising and accepting that everybody will know - or think they know - everything at all times and on all issues


adopt the repressive control and censorship of all free communications, technology and media that characterises totalitarian regimes across the globe, including those regimes that we condemn, and have committed our armed forces to destroy.

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