I write this after just having returned from the recall of Parliament to discuss the appalling ‘disorder’ which we saw on the streets of London and other English cities.
The debate which took place was well attended and the contributions made by MPs of all parties were extremely powerful. A number of facts came across which are worth bearing in mind. To begin with, the sheer scale of the criminality was far greater than many of us realised. Right across England, towns and cities were affected on a scale which is quite unprecedented. Not only were London, Birmingham, Manchester and other big cities affected, but also smaller towns and cities like Leicester, Wolverhampton and Gloucester. In total, it has been estimated that 48,000 shops and businesses were attacked and/or looted.
During the four days and nights of the disorder there were numerous examples of mindless and vicious thuggary. These included a landlord in Tottenham who was held at knife point while his pub was ransacked; the Age Concern ambulance in Leicester which was wrecked; and the young woman in Croydon who had to jump for her life when her home was going up in flames.
If the geographical extent of the disorder was shocking, so was the scale of particular disturbances. In Manchester for example, over 1,000 individuals were on the streets attacking the Police and breaking into shops. The local Chief Constable commented that at one point there were so many stones and bricks in the air the evening sun was hidden from view.
No one in the House of Commons debate attempted in any way to justify or excuse such violence. As David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham accurately said, ‘these riots cannot be explained away simply by poverty or cuts to public services’. Everyone was in common agreement that the causes of so many people behaving in such an appalling way are complex and deep rooted. They will have to be addressed by politicians and decision makers in a systematic way. My guess is that these disturbances and their aftermath will dominate the political agenda for many years to come.
Labour MP for Caerphilly