“A mob is the scum that rises utmost when the nation boils.” John Dryden
It’s surprising how quickly the thin veneer of civilisation we enjoy can be ripped away if we’re slow to defend it. A peaceful demonstration demanding justice for a man shot dead by police suddenly descended into mayhem in Tottenham last Saturday. Gangs of feral youths abandoned what little moral compass they possessed and started rampaging on the streets of our cities, looting, vandalising and terrorising communities.
The police, inhibited to the point of paralysis by the criticism they attracted following the Brixton riots 30 years ago and the Stephen Lawrence murder in 1994, adopted a non-confrontational approach and stood by while looters set fire to property and ransacked shops and businesses. The message crackled like a bush fire through online social networks: here’s your chance to plunder with impunity.
It doesn’t matter if the riots were prompted by spending cuts or welfare dependency or the wacky proliferation of human rights. Or moral decay or excessive consumerism. Or uncontrolled immigration or the flawed ethos of multiculturalism. Or the burgeoning gang culture or the failure of our education system to teach civic responsibility. Or unemployment or economic depression. Or family breakdown and the absence of male role models. Or the vandalism of British institutions and the collapse of patriotism. Or the leniency of the courts and the serried ranks of spiv lawyers prepared to portray criminals as victims. Or the tendency of police forces to focus on community relations rather than upholding the law. All these considerations can be debated at some other time. To debate them now risks conferring a spurious legitimacy on those who brought anarchy and violence to our streets.
This is not the time to worry about why these young people appear to have such a flimsy stake in the society in which they live. That’s for later. What matters now is to restore order to our streets and ensure the security of people and their property. The rioters must not be allowed to believe they are untouchable. They must be stopped, apprehended and forced to face the consequences of their actions. In short, they must be deterred. Failure to do this will mean we’ll all walk in fear of the mob.