who has written columns for this blog before.
In particular in this column Andy responds to the criticisms made of him for not attending the emergency parliamentary debate on the London riots last week, but also the successful Shepherd's Bush Festival and other issues besides.
Here's what Andy has to say:
The riots - one week on
Last week there was political consensus that law and order must be restored before politicians started analysing why the riots happened and what should be done to prevent a recurrence.
Today, that analysis started with speeches from both Cameron and Miliband, and consensus there is none.
There is a danger that all commentators faced by dramatic events like these simply use them to state their own agendas and long-held views, making the facts fit a pet theory. This is as true of Iain Duncan Smith blaming moral collapse as of Polly Toynbee saying after condemnation and punishment, what then if not rehabilitation?
I will try and be aware of my own prejudices in writing this, though obviously I am closer to Miliband’s plea to avoid knee-jerk reactions than to calls for National Service (Daily Express) or boot camps (Boris Johnson).
I have written in my article for this week’s Chronicle why I think Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush escaped serious violence, based on what police officers at PC and Commander level told me and my own 50 years of living and working in this community.
I do not mean this to sound complacent. Riots by definition are volatile. It could have happened here. It might in the future. But a strong community and a dynamic police force – prepared to pre-empt trouble whether by talking it down or arresting those fomenting it – are the best preventative tools.
Let me start by thanking our new Borough Commander, Lucy D’Orsi, and every one of her officers who showed both courage and intelligence in keeping our streets, homes and businesses safe.
Let me also thank the thousands of community workers and volunteers, people like Andy Sharpe at Masbro and Keith Da Silva at Fulham Cross, who I have worked with over decades, and who give their time and energy selflessly to build and support the lives of young people and adults locally.
The riots were criminal acts. They had no political motivation. There was a catalyst in the shooting of Mark Duggan, but no causal link to what then mushroomed from area to area around first London, then many major English cities. There was no racial theme, no particular local issues. Gangs played a part – and need to be taken seriously by the Mayor and the Met irrespective of the riots – as did electronic communication in coordinating the mob, but are not explanations in themselves.
I have said what I thought averted riots here but beyond opportunity and a growing sense of social dislocation, there is no easy explanation for what happened when and where it did. Which is why we need a full inquiry, not instant ‘solutions’ based on prejudice.
The most worrying consistent factor in the riots is the age of some of those involved. Children in their early teens took part in violence and looting perhaps for the first time in the UK. This above all makes the need to deal with causes as well as symptoms the number one priority for this Government.
The right approach
The streets are quiet today, in part because of the number of officers patrolling. But trouble could flare up again any night. We must keep policing visible and at enhanced levels. Hammersmith has a tradition of engaged policing that goes back to previous Commanders like Kevin Hurley and Anthony Wills. Other areas could learn a lot from that.
It should be beyond argument that cuts in frontline policing are restored, but at national, London and local level they are going ahead. George Osborne and Theresa May confirmed that 16,000 officers nationally will still be axed. Boris Johnson claims he is converted to reversing the cuts but he has already lost 455 officers, announced the loss of 300 safer neighbourhood sergeants and plans to lose 1,900 in total by 2015 if re-elected.
In Hammersmith we are losing at least four sergeants with further cuts across council services from Parks Police, town centre teams and wardens. To this we can add the cuts to youth clubs – most of which have been closed and are now being sold off – and the voluntary sector, like the £45,000 cut from Masbro last week. This was always wrong, now it looks short-sighted as well.
As someone who practised criminal law for many years, I trust the courts to deal fairly but firmly with those convicted of offences arising from the riots. But again I worry that the cuts in Youth Offending Teams (20% this year), probation and the prison service will mean both punishment and rehabilitation, let alone prevention, will be under-resourced for years to come.
Rising youth unemployment, cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance and £9,000 a year tuition fees will all mean more young people on the streets with time on their hands and no stake in society. None of this excuses criminal behaviour, but right-wing politicians are simpleminded if they think it will not lead to increased crime and disorder.
It is time for Osborne’s Plan B (aka Labour’s Plan A) – cuts to the most sensitive public services must be reversed and the economy stimulated not shut down.
The wrong approach
David Cameron is blaming the police and setting them up to fail. Talk of bringing in US policing or police chiefs undermines the police service here. Publicly offering the police water cannon, which they have declined, means that if further disturbance breaks out he can blame them for not taking up his offer. Saying that he ordered the police to be more robust in tackling rioters is simply not true.
This is Government by PR and gimmickry. Poor at any time, positively dangerous at present.
Iain Duncan Smith is on the lookout for evil people who, bereft of moral values, are hiding in dark corners of society. I doubt he will find any but it is an excuse to evict families from secure homes and to deduct benefits from poor families. How punishing a household for the actions of an individual is either equitable or rational, I don’t know, but it has been repeated by politicians seeking soundbites and at a loss for real answers from Nick Clegg to Tory councillors in H&F.
Promising to evict families from council homes if a member of the family is convicted of an offence implies council tenants are more prone to criminal behaviour and that they should have a greater punishment than others committing similar crimes. Of course, the Council has no power to evict in most cases, that is a matter for the courts and this is gesture politics, but if families are evicted and on the streets how is that going to aid social cohesion?
But nothing can beat for crass opportunism, Chelsea and South Fulham MP Greg Hands. In over 30 messages to his constituents over the past week only three have mentioned the effect of the disorder on his constituency, where there were serious incidents, and those were from newspaper reports. The majority have been personal attacks on me and other Labour politicians. Many of these are simply untrue – all are irrelevant to his residents and the job he is paid to do. Less time spent on political spite and more serving his constituents would be good for them and in the long run for him as well.
Shepherds Bush Festival
I spent Saturday afternoon at the Shepherds Bush Festival, held on the Green for the second year running. The Festival is organised from scratch by local resident Joanna Berridge who missed the Masbro Carnival that was a feature of the area for many years. It is a fantastic achievement – all the more so this year with no lottery funding. From the live music to tutoring on playwriting by the Bush Theatre to superb jerk chicken and curried goat it was a great day out – even enjoyed by passing QPR and Bolton fans.
Save our Riverfront
Visit www.saveourriverfront.co.uk to read about the latest fightback against greedy developers and their councillor mates intent on ruining Hammersmith’s historic riverside. On 14 September plans for 750 high-rise flats next to Hammersmith Bridge go to H&F planning committee. Local residents opposing the scheme are holding a public meeting at St Augustine’s Church, 55 Fulham Palace Road W6 8AU at 7pm on 6 September.
Curiously at the last committee on 3 August, a much smaller scheme on a neighbouring site, Queen’s Wharf, was turned down for all the reasons that apply to the Hammersmith Embankment site – density, lack of affordable housing, height, effect on the conservation area. The difference is Queen’s Wharf is owned by a housing association the council doesn’t want to do business with.
Congratulations to the friends of South Park who have won a planning inquiry against the Council to stop the development of more public open space. Coming so soon after Shepherds Bush Green was saved from tarmac this is a further sign that we are not friendless in the battle with the Luddites at the town hall. It was an ancient covenant which saved Clancarty Lodge in South Park, as was the case with Shepherds Bush Library – saved from sale and now home to the Bush Theatre. Elsewhere Grove Neighbourhood Centre and Masbro have been kept as community resources because the previous Labour council gave the users long leases – I wish we’d done that more often. Of course, this doesn’t stop the Tories cutting grants, as with the Masbro’s sudden loss of £45,000 last week, but it means that unlike the youth clubs and other buildings already sold at auction, they will be there for future generations.