The response to the riots that have convulsed major mainland British cities – particularly London – over the last few days has been telling. Many people, after watching the television footage of citizens terrorised, shops looted and historic buildings torched, are calling for a more ‘vigorous’ approach to riot policing. The sight of hooligans trashing the capital seemingly with impunity is, in my view, frankly embarrassing.
The authorities, however, have a different view. Theresa May announced this morning that water cannon will not be used. I have no problem with this myself, because water cannon are distance management tools that I don’t think would be of much use in the sort of decentralised, looting-focused riots we’re seeing at the moment. What vexed me was her justification:
"The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon," she said. "The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities."
The Telegraph, 09/08/11
There are two objectionable errors in this statement: the idea that we don’t use water cannon as a part of British riot policing; and the idea that ‘community consent’ means allowing law-breakers to run rampant. I will be addressing the second in an article on TSJ, but let’s examine the first.
It sends a worrying message about this government’s attitude towards Northern Ireland if the Home Secretary can claim with a straight face that riot control tactics that are a regular feature of Northern Ireland policing have ‘no place’ in British policing.
|A British Police Service.|
This isn’t simply a matter of my unionist sensibilities being rankled by semantics, it hints at a deeper problem with the attitude of the British government towards Northern Ireland and the double standards it operates when it comes to protecting its citizens.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to look at it from the rioter’s point of view: if it is politically unacceptable for the government or Metropolitan Police to use water cannon and baton rounds against English rioters, why is it acceptable to use such tactics against rioters (whether Protestant or Catholic) in Northern Ireland? Through the other end of the telescope, why should British citizens in Northern Ireland be able to expect a more vigorous police response than their compatriots in the South-East and the Midlands?
That isn’t to say that the P.S.N.I’s approach is perfect – the Metropolitan Police are at least conducting mass arrests and recovering stolen property, which the P.S.N.I. – at least according to the News Letter – does not. Yet Northern Ireland’s representatives in parliament should ask the government why it condones tactics against the Northern Irish that it refuses to use on the mainland. Northern Ireland is not a foreign land, and if a tactic is used in Ulster, it is ‘in use’ in the UK.