|London riots 2011|
I’m sure you can’t help but have noticed that England has been at the centre of some very serious rioting and looting last week. I say England not Britain because this has specifically been an English problem not Scottish or Welsh. Shameful acts of wanton criminality and greed have been broadcast all over the world. These were not politically or racially motivated acts; it really was just a case of rank opportunism and consumerism. Shoplifting with violence one commentator called it. What must you think of us?
|St. Ives, Cornwall|
I’ve heard many people say that ‘it makes you ashamed to be British.’ Well, I’m ashamed of this behaviour by a minority of amoral British people but I’m not ashamed to be British, or English. These acts of arson, rioting and looting are not a picture of England that I recognise. This is not my England or the England that the majority of English people will identify with. I would not like you to be left with the impression that this is the real England.
Perhaps you think I am naïve or have lived a sheltered life? Well, I admit that I am lucky enough to live in one of the leafy middle-class suburbs of my city (which didn’t suffer any riots by the way). There is a very low crime rate where I live. However, I happen to work on some of the most deprived and notorious ‘sink’ estates in the city. These are estates that regularly witness acts of vandalism, anti-social behaviour, drug trafficking and the occasional murder.
|Kinder, Peak District|
My job is to visit people in their own homes and advise them on welfare benefits and help them to make applications/appeals. These are some of the poorest people in society. I have to admit that when I first started the job I was quite nervous about driving onto these estates and leaving my car parked in the street. I wondered if it would still have wheels on when I returned. I worried about what kind of people I would be visiting, what the state of their homes would be like. I no longer feel like that. What this job has shown me is that even on the worst estates the majority of people living there are decent, moral, law-abiding citizens who welcome me into their clean and tidy homes and offer me their hospitality – can I make you a cup of tea my dear?
|British Museum, London|
I don’t think I am naïve or sheltered from the realities of modern life for some people. And I still don’t think England has gone bad. Britain is a beautiful place to live and for the vast majority of people, a safe place to live. My family and I visited London only the week before the riots and were very impressed with the magnificence of the city. We visited many of the usual tourist places – Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds, Regent’s Park, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards parade etc. We had a great time and felt very safe.
Both the police and politicians have been criticised for their handling of the riots, mainly for not getting a handle on the situation quickly enough. All the senior Cabinet Ministers (including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary) were all out of the country at the same time – not a sensible policy! (What company would allow all its senior directors to take annual leave at the same time? Who runs the ship?) The poor old police force are damned if they do and damned if they don’t – they get criticised if they are too heavy handed with rioters/protesters and criticised if they are too lenient, which is what happened in this case. All this meant that it took a couple of days to get things back under control.
|Horse Guards Parade|
But it is under control now and hundreds of local people have voluntarily taken to the streets with brooms to clean up the mess in their communities – the British Broom Army, British people at their best, helping each other and sorting out the mess. Many people from within Britain and around the world have contributed to the many funds that have been set up to help the victims of these riots – people who have been burnt out of their homes, lost their businesses or been injured or murdered during these riots. Yes, it really has been that bad.
Over 3000 arrests have now been made with Magistrates Courts working late into the evenings and weekends to get through the cases. Justice has come swift and hard for these people with many receiving custodial sentences and/or hefty fines. One guy pleaded guilty to stealing a bottle of water and received a 6 month custodial sentence. Many people have had their cases referred to the Crown Courts where stiffer sentences can be levied. Britain will not tolerate this behaviour and is giving a stern message to people who might involve themselves in such acts in future.
|Houses of Parliament|
In Rory Miller’s book, Facing Violence, he mentions something that someone told him once about 3% of the world’s population being scum. The full quote was: “No matter what any bleeding-heart tells you, 3% of the people in the world are scum. The trouble is, if you spent 80% of your time with that 3%, you start thinking that 80% of the world is scum.” Three percent of any country’s population will always be scum; we can’t do anything about it except keep them in check. However, we mustn’t let that 3% rule our streets or define us as nations. Britain has its scum – they all came out on the streets last week, but we’ve got them under check again.
I refuse to let the events of the last week define either me or my country. It is just a blip. Britain is still a beautiful place to live in and a great place to visit. I refuse to be cynical and I am still proud to be British.
Hope you enjoyed some of my views of Britain...
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