The question everyone seems to be asking in the aftermath of London’s recent riots is: why were they rioting? There is no logical answer to this question, but the politicians of course have found a new issue to politicise. For me, the most obvious reason is: they were rioting because they could get away with it. London’s policing leaves much to be desired. Hard-working, law-abiding citizens are often victims of burglaries, car theft and even assault. Hardly ever are the perpetrators of these crimes caught. Speak to anyone who has been the victim of these crimes and they will tell you about the ineffectiveness of London’s police. Compared to cops in other megacities like Los Angeles or Paris, London’s law enforcement simply does not have the aura of authority or the requisite preparedness.
On the other hand, while London lacks a respect for authority, it does have a welcoming feel to it, at least much more so than America or France. Land at Heathrow as a visitor and the process is far less intimidating than the gruelling secondary inspections many innocents must endure at American airports. One would be hard-pressed to recreate the immigrant-friendly feel of Edgware Road in a posh area of Manhattan or in the fashionable arrondissements of Paris. While other countries have ghettoised immigrant culture, the policies of the Labour government since the late nineties have made London more open and diverse, more tolerant and resilient than rivals like New York. This is a good thing.
But the attempted justifications of the rioting by some Labour politicians and their reluctance to embrace a new policing culture is not such a good thing. To blame capitalism for criminal behaviour, as some lefties have done, is simply nonsensical. Surely, capitalism has its failings, not the least of which was evidenced by the credit crisis and tragic home foreclosures. Yet the rioting in London may well be a failing of socialism. This has nothing to do with race or not caring for an underclass. Those who rioted are looked after far better by their government than many in other parts of the world. In fact, the immigrants and indeed indigenous English whose businesses and property were ransacked may have overcome far greater obstacles in life. Could it be that by providing freebies like government housing and benefits, people are encouraged to develop a sense of entitlement and expect goodies without having to work for them?
It is in striking that elusive balance between capitalism and socialism, in ensuring rule of law and avoiding police brutality, that London must show leadership. UK Prime Minister David Cameron thus had the right idea when he approached Bill Bratton, former American police chief who is best known for gentrifying the streets of Manhattan under former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Anyone who lived in New York pre and post Bratton’s term will attest to the reduction in crime. Yet insecure politicians like UK Home Secretary Theresa May insist on giving preference to nationality over expertise. Bratton, who has reduced crime in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, is willing to take British citizenship for the job, according to The Guardian. Not that hiring an American for a top job in the bureaucracy is new to London. Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone had appointed American Robert Kiley as commissioner of transport for London at a controversial sum of £2 million over four years. Expertise comes at a price. More recently, American Andrew Altman, former deputy mayor of Philadelphia, has been hired to help with the Olympics.
Bratton’s task would be far more difficult. Not only would he have to bolster the police force in the wake of budget cuts, but also tackle the lax policing culture which is far too accepting of criminal elements. As a fellow Pakistani who had to undergo facial surgery after being mugged in London a few years ago said to me, “They need to jumpstart the system, American style.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.