Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Thursday, 18 August 2011

027 - The English Riots: No surprise?

Riot activity, blamed by Cameron on social breakdown and requiring a zero-tolerance response hit several cities across England last week. However, is it actually a surprise we are at this point? Furthermore, are these riots the fault of our law's own hypocrisy?

For even a fleeting moment, these people have gained a sense of power and control in their environment, even if this was ultimately, futile. For they are now being readily punished and further exiled from the so-called norm.

The consistent downgrading of economic growth in both short and long term - most recently recalculated to 1.4% from 1.8% - and inflation at RPI: 5%, CPI: 4.4% - above the Bank of England's target for over a year and a half and attributed partly to the VAT rise to 20% earlier this year - has only served to fuel a culture of fear, discontentment and apathy we now appear to have about our economic prospects. A survey by Ipsos MORI in June found only 10% of respondents felt optimistic about the economic outlook, one of the weakest readings of the 24 countries surveyed. There would only ever be a determined period of time that the current government could save face by blaming the current situation on the mistakes of their predecessors, before frustration would begin to develop.

Further to the economic point, to justify cuts on the basis of a lack of available national funding is somewhat insulting to the intelligence of the electorate. Whilst there is no denying that some form of deficit reduction is necessary for a more stable economic future, there is also no denying that selling these measures to the general public is made difficult amidst MP expenses scandals, and banking bonuses.

Let me again make it clear, that this post alike our previous posts on the matter, does not condone the actions of those involved in these riots.

For instance Lloyds TSB - one of the banking institutions to be rescued in the early stages of the crisis - is 43% owned by taxpayer. Former chief executive Eric Daniels was reported in January to be in line upon his exit from the company for a March bonus of a maximum of £2.3m, set at 225% of annual salary. At the same time, Barclays executive Bob Diamond suggested he may accept a bonus of ~£8m, and Steven Hester - executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, 84% taxpayer owned - a bonus of £2m.

Consider also the apparent inconsistencies in the political and judicial system whereby one individual was imprisoned for 6 months earlier this week for looting £3.50 of bottled water, when MP Jim Devine was imprisoned for just 4 months - after being sentenced to 16 months - for defrauding the expenses system of £8,000. Also two men who stole a £4,500 TV were told by the sentencing judge that their behaviour demonstrated "intolerable lawlessness". Vile police gloating about sentences over which they have no control does nothing also to repair the damage to their respect and credibility.

Let us then cast our minds back somewhat. In September 2007 shadow chancellor Ed Balls and wife Yvette Cooper, the then Housing Minister, were accused of exploiting expenses to pay for a house in north London worth £655,000. This property was then subsequently declared to be their second home despite it being used often in order for them to fulfil parliamentary duties, and for their children to attend local schools. Declaring this house as their second home entitled them to a reported £44,000 a year to cover the mortgage on the property.

Or perhaps Jacqui Smith, who assigned a house shared with her sister in London as her main home despite spending as little as two nights there a week, which as a result entitled her to £116,000 in additional cost allowances over several years. She initially denied any wrongdoing.

These are just a handful selected from a series of other occurrences of expenses fraud.

It was also not too long ago that our government condemned Middle Eastern government crackdown on social media and praised the revolutions which used them to express gross distate against government activities, yet as part of his response to the riots here, Mr Cameron urged for a clampdown on social media in the UK. Whilst I am not suggesting that the governments of the two situations, and therefore the motivations for uprisings are entirely similar, the intended use of a previously condemned response is both hypocritical, and ill-informed.

Recently Mr Cameron also gave a senior Downing St post to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, despite being aware at the time that Mr Coulson had resigned as a result of criminal acts committed under his reign as editor, claiming "everyone deserves a second chance", a claim he has notoriously backtracked on in dealing with the rioters.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was also fortunate as an exchange student abroad to escape conviction for an early 1980s arson attack on a greenhouse of rare plants when the owner decided not to press charges. While he has previously admitted "I'd drunk too much, I was irresponsible, criminal', it is still interesting to note he is pressing for all those involved in the arson attacks in the riots to be reprimanded for their actions. Perhaps he deserved a second chance?

Such occurrences do not become swept under the carpet with the entire electorate, and as spending cuts become more apparent in the months and years to come as part of the wider deficit reduction plan, we cannot continue to assume that there is no explanation for the resentment demonstrated in the riots that swept our country, or blindly assume that merely incarcerating those involved will quell such dissent in the long term. This isn't to condone behaviour of either sort, merely to draw back the veil which continues to mask the significant inequalities between government and people which has allowed the resentment leading to these riots to fester and grow.

It disappoints me that as a man of - like him or not - strong intellect, Mr Cameron could so willingly forego both logical reasoning and the lessons of similar events in the past - such as the 1967 Detroit Riot and 1969 Northern Irish Riots - where brutal or seemingly biased responses led to further violence, in favour of pandering toward
s the majority of the electorate and media in 'disgust'. Indeed his proposals to cut rioters' benefits - which only serves to perpetuate the stereotype that all involved were unemployed youths - and 'zero-tolerance' speak of -thankfully, unworkable - desperate PR. Emotional reactions are one thing, but it is what happens next that will determine the likelihood of such occurrences becoming repeated, and surely that would be more damaging not just for himself, but his country and its people if he allowed that to happen.

If we are to prevent events like these from happening again, we must not be ignorant enough to assume that the causes developed overnight. We should also not be ignorant enough to assume, that they can be solved overnight either.

Education wise, the target driven system of achievement by numbers in favour of a more holistic, culturally focused measure of individual success and preparation for work based skills applicable to employability may partly be to blame for an apparent lack of moral guidance in their behaviour. Whilst I accept that parenting has a role to play in a child's life as much as their experience of the education system, to excuse any failure in the classroom as simply that they 'chose not engage' raises some serious questions about the system itself. Steve Brewer makes a valid point when he discusses the divisions made between profit friendly academics and non-academics who become swept aside by the system.

For instance, how can it be that such vast swathes see education as such a fruitless and futile endeavour, or that regardless of effort they may find themselves without prospect? A lack of available classroom discipline, or the lack of correlation between exam material and information necessary for employment in the world of work perhaps? Why is it also that we are so ready to label those with either zero or poor academic qualifications as inferior in society, and cast them asunder when Sir Philip Green - BHS, Arcadia - and Duncan Bannatyne both left compulsory education with no GCSEs or equivalents. Surely there needs to be a more relevant education system which adequately prepares its students for the world ahead, both economically and - wherever possible - socially.

Without intending to dwell too heavily on issues reflected upon in previous posts ('Why are we here?' and 'Ten brief points...'), the impacts of EMA cuts, HE fees increases and employment prospects both with and without degree qualifications must be taken into consideration as a factor in the decline in desire for prosperity amongst young people. That said, what must also be noted here is the significant number of those present at riots across the country who did not fit the beloved 'youth' tagline spouted so carelessly in the media.

Mr Cameron was indeed correct to label sections of our country as 'sick'. However he would be well served to examine all areas where this sickness has spread and resolve these issues for the long term, instead of merely incarcerating and deriding what may well turn out to be the easier target.

- sandlefish -


  1. To put the blame on parents also ignores the fact that even in homes with two parents many find they both need to work two jobs just to make ends meet. Yet the tories ignore such facts. When it comes to single parent families for too long women have been given free rein to do as they wish with men only able to pay. Its time that changed and women were held responsible for their actions too, ,many of which have no interest beyond entrapment for future financial gain after they have their 1 or 2 babies, and know they are set up for the next 18 plus years and can get rid of the old model in favour of a new toy boy.
    The country is rotten to the core and politicians are the ones making it far worse with their let the poor pay while the rich just get richer attitude

  2. The whole school system is wrong. Churning kids out on a conveyor belt rather than educated or prepared for the future. An education system based on age instead of abilities .
    And after school - further education. Also completely backwards. A child in further education is entitled to no help from the benefit sysytem, but a child that chooses to do nothing, no school or a job, is paid to sit and do nothing.
    In a retarded way, I wish those that had rioted had had voice to explain their reasonings, that just cause for their actions was more evident.
    I, as many, feel social unrest, feel cheated, lied to, deflated and demoralised. A 'low life' with no prospects and no reason to aim higher than the council estate I was born in. Constantly kicked by our government has taught me that kicking gets results.