Over the past few days, many constituents have written to me expressing anger and dismay about the riots, policing and justice. I share this anger and dismay. As I said in my article on Wednesday, we must establish that the state’s duty is to protect the law-abiding and their property first and foremost and that the police do not require the consent of rioters before acting with reasonable force.
The Prime Minister has said that we will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and to rebuild our communities. His statement yesterday may be found here.
As the Prime Minister has said, too few police were deployed and their tactics did not work. They faced widespread, simultaneous looting, not concentrated public disorder.
More police have now been put on the streets, more people have been arrested and more criminals are being prosecuted. No phoney concerns will get in the way of publicising the faces of those wanted for crimes. The police are already authorised to use baton rounds (“rubber bullets”) and there are contingency plans in place to make water cannon available at 24 hours notice. The Government will give the police the power to remove face coverings under any circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity.
The Prime Minister also announced measures to support victims and to tackle the culture of criminality which has grown up in our country. There is a difference between right and wrong: a culture which glorifies violence, disrespect and irresponsibility is unacceptable. The Government is setting out to do those things which will change our broken society.
I was glad that the Prime Minister yesterday reasserted the old principle that the public are the police and the police are the public. Given that people are entitled under law to use reasonable force in defence of their lives, their property and their communities, it is important that the public are given appropriate guidance. I will be writing to the Home Secretary seeking that guidance.
Similarly, the police should be guided by the principle of reasonable force. Occasionally, an individual police officer has used excessive force in a difficult atmosphere but, over the past few days, the police have not used that force which it appears the majority of the population would have endorsed. I personally do not approve of ‘kettling’ peaceful demonstrators. We have to recognise that the police are in an extremely difficult position in this area. However, Parliament and the Government must ensure that the police are able to use that force which is reasonable in the circumstances, even if that includes the use of baton rounds, water cannons, tear gas or other tactics which may cause serious injury or even death.
We now face the problem of inadequate sentencing. I will be writing to the Justice Secretary on that subject.
All in all, I believe we now see clearly the legacy of a century of misguided statism and surrender of basic human values. The police have not drawn the correct distinction between policing legitimate demonstrations and intervening in criminal riots: unreasonable force has sometimes been used where none was appropriate and reasonable force has not been used where it was required. That must be resolved.
How so many people have come to be so reckless, irresponsible, immoral and downright criminal will be a subject for discussion over many years. I am reminded of the warnings issued by C S Lewis in The Abolition of Man and by Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote in the 19th century of the dangers of the nanny state:
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated […]. It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.
It is my view that many in our society have sunk to the present level because, for generations, we have progressively surrendered ourselves to the embrace of the state. It is past time that we rediscovered the classical English values of liberty under the law, which means responsibility. That would include building a straightforward system of justice based, not on the state’s attempt to shape the individual’s character, but on the protection of life, liberty and property.
However, on the positive side, I have been deeply heartened by the way communities have come together to defend themselves and to clear up the mess created by those who have betrayed their fellow man. Moreover, the young people I meet in Wycombe schools and during their work experience unfailingly lift my spirits with their sincerity, good intent and earnestness. Our young people are, on the whole, a cause not for despair but for hope.
The disgraceful events of the past days contain many lessons for us all. We should now strive to build a better society based on personal and social responsibility and those values which have sustained every civilisation, foremost of which is this: do as you would have others do unto you.