There is no national debate about the epidemic of riots and looting that spread through our cities like a bush fire. Out there in the real world, where people go about the normal business of life, there is no sign of the heated argument that the media is so determined to air. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there has been such crushing unanimity on a matter of public importance: the answers to the questions of why this happened, what went wrong when it began to happen and what needs to follow in its aftermath are considered so blindingly self-evident as to be beyond rational disagreement.Like me, Daley thinks (hopes?) that this is a turning point in how we deal with crime:
At the margins of this consensus, there are some distant noises off. They are the desperate cries of those who fear that they have lost the argument of a lifetime and who want to persuade the great mass of the population that what it saw before its own eyes, hour by hour, night after night on the television news channels was something else altogether.
The Left-liberal camp is in overdrive in its campaign to rewrite history (or, in its own vocabulary, to alter consciousness): you did not see thousands of jubilant thugs rampaging through the streets, destroying livelihoods and property for the sheer exultant joy of it. What you saw were society’s victims responding to any or all of the following: bankers’ bonuses, MPs cheating on their expenses, unemployment, government spending cuts, poverty, social inequality, etc, etc. Their crimes were simply part of the same package of callous selfishness displayed by (as one particularly bizarre equation had it) tabloid phone hackers.
What is not ludicrous and insulting to common sense in these propositions is contradictory in its own terms. There are indeed views of the human condition which hold that all species of wickedness are connected, because they are all rooted in the fact that man is a fallen creature. But somehow I doubt that the ardent liberal secularists who were piping up last week were believers in original sin or the machinations of the Devil.
The moral equivalence that they wanted to establish between looters and arsonists on the one hand, and the perpetrators of any other kind of bad behaviour you can think of on the other, was rooted in ideological, not theological, orthodoxy. The rioting gangs could not simply be what they seemed – what they so obviously were – because that would be a devastating victory for the judgment of popular opinion over the fantasies of liberalism.
So everybody agrees that this is – or could be – a turning point. The criminal justice system, which had fallen into public disrepute in recent years, due to its apparent belief that society is to blame for the acts of criminals, has been rehabilitating itself in the public mind with the “draconian” sentences it is handing down. If you think that rioters are getting tough treatment from the courts, you should hear what my newsagent would like to do to them. Real people know what “deterrence” means, even if they do not use the word.As I keep saying, "soft power" is no power at all. "Punishing the innocent and protecting the guilty" is a prescription for societal suicide. We need to put the "force" back in "law enforcement" to gain control of our streets again.
There is some scope for genuine argument on the more political matters of depriving offenders of benefits and council homes. Making what are probably unemployable delinquents homeless and destitute might well add to our problems – but again, the feeling of real people that pitiless thugs should not be supported and housed by the taxpayer is worthy of respect. It is of incalculable importance that the courts and the welfare system reclaim the confidence of the law-abiding population. More than ever now, this is a matter of national urgency.
Somehow, we are going to have to restore trust that the operations of government and the law are not at odds with the moral inclinations of conscientious citizens. Basic to this will be the acceptance that we do not have to explain – to find legitimate reasons for – acts of wickedness: that people can do bad things for no good reason at all, and that destructive and vicious impulses are, sadly, as “natural” as charitable ones. It is futile to go on asking why the riots happened, when the question that was on the minds of most of the rioters was not “Why?” but “Why not?”
As J. Christian Adams noted:
Sir Winston Churchill understood this. “Civilization will not last,” he said at the University of Bristol in 1938, “freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.”