• Alan Martin

I haven’t really talked about the UK riots. Not because they’re not important and interesting, but because my Pocket Gamer workload has really picked up. I’ve been reading other people’s analyses, but haven’t had time to put my own thoughts to keyboard.

I suppose I could pretend I wanted to let the dust settle a bit. When the trouble first broke out in Tottenham, I was on a stag weekend in Nottingham. When I returned, some looting was about 10 minutes walk from my current house in Deptford. And now, two weeks on, it’s very much a distant memory.

Except in terms of the law and order backlash on the way as a result. Since Cameron came back from holiday to save the day*, we’ve seen the kind of tough talk that hardline Tories love. Labour have mimicked it in a slightly diluted form - the difference between the two parties, as ever, proving to be like Coca Cola and Coke Zero. They’re both bad for you, but one of them is less obviously so in the short term.

But what’s really interested me about the fallout is how the reactions of the leading figures in our government and capital city reveal a total lack of empathy. They can't contemplate the validity of socio-economic motivations because that isn’t what motivates them.

Let’s take a look at their responses to the idea that rioters were spurred on by financial and ideological concerns:

David Cameron:

“This is not about poverty, it’s about culture,” Cameron said. “A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.”

Boris Johnson has…

“heard too much sociological explanation and not enough condemnation.”

Nick Clegg, who predicted riots if the Tories pushed through austerity measures a year before he joined the coalition, has also changed his tune, saying it's “ludicrous” to suggest that riots have anything to do with spending cuts.

Just as well they’re not sociologists then. Dismissing cause and effect mere days after an event is pretty dangerous.

I’ve also heard next to nothing in the mainstream media trying to justify the riots as linked to politics - the most widely touted press narrative I’ve observed is that some people are just bad, and need a good slap. Anecdotally, it’s depressing to see quite so many previously liberal people wishing for police crackdowns as soon as things get slightly scary, with water cannons, tasers and even live ammo being on many people’s must-have Christmas wishlists.

So why do our leaders feel the need to dismiss sociological justifications when nobody with serious influence was plugging them in the first place?

It’s no coincidence I chose Clegg, Johnson and Cameron to quote. You don’t have to look hard for records of their youthful indiscretions which look suspiciously like vandalism and the same lack of respect they’re accusing of the 2011 youth.

Nick Clegg on his arson of a priceless collection of cacti while on exchange in Germany, aged 16:

We didn’t know what we were doing. We were teenagers, we’d drunk too much - frankly, we did behave appallingly, irresponsibly, criminally.”

David Cameron says he's “deeply embarrassed” about his membership of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford University drinking society that deliberately trashes restaurants, and then lavishly pays for the damage on the way out. Boris Johnson used to be rather proud of his membership until people started to notice that condemning 2011 rioters for criminal damage was hypocritical even by his standards. George Osborne is also a Bullingdon alumnus, but is half way between Cameron and Johnson in his approach, neither boasting about it, nor apologising.

Did Clegg, Cameron, Johnson and Osborne vandalise people’s property because of poverty? Did they do it because they lacked a voice? Were they protesting austerity measures? Were they just plain bad?

No, no, no and probably not. And it’s because of this that I suspect they are unable to believe differently of others.

They’re happy to blame youthful inexperience for their own misdemeanors, but with Clegg 16, and Johnson, Osborne and Cameron aged 18-21 when they committed their vandalism, how can they be so hypocritical when looters in the 2011 riots are said to be as young as 9 - does youthful inexperience only count for those at expensive private schools and Oxford University?

Even more than the expenses scandal, even more than changes to the NHS and even more than the business with electoral reform, the political reaction to the riots has really underlined for me exactly how out of touch our elected officials are with 21st century Britain.

* As an aside: for all his myriad faults (and given I’m currently reading 'The End of the Party’, I think I’m putting that mildly) I can’t imagine Gordon Brown taking 3 days to return from holiday in the event of a national emergency

  • Alan Martin

So, I went round to my old flat for the last time today (or whenever I post this, given the new place is currently without internet access) to do a check-out and inventory check. While we were there, we decided to get a final use of the residents’ swimming pool (told you it was out of our league) while we waited.

The changing rooms there are open – there’s no lockers, just a bench, a closed shower and a mercifully closed toilet. This isn’t really a problem, as the pool is seldom used by the residents. On this occasion though, there was another gentleman in there who’d just completed his work out in the gym.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not one for whipping it out* in front of complete strangers, unless they’re qualified medical professionals. And even then, only if they ask. So I very slowly began to undress for the swimming pool, waiting for my new friend to step off into the shower. I was delicately undoing each button slowly and carefully, and even folding my socks neatly and burying them far deeper in my shoes than anyone has ever done before. Yet still the man dithered, standing there, studying his phone with a towel wrapped around his waist.

It was about that moment that I realised we were in a time-wasting race. Me because I’m not a massive fan of indecent exposure, and him because the phone he was using was a fancy iPhone 4. I suddenly realised that he didn’t trust me, who had only entered his life 2 minutes earlier, alone with his brand new mobile phone.

He must have realised we were having a tense stand-off at much the same time, because when I next looked up with literally no more time wasting options available (unless I developed a sudden and unprecedented interest in the workmanship of locker room benches) he had turned his back to me, giving me the ideal opportunity to switch my boxers for swimming shorts.

I went about my final swim. Shortly afterwards, while I was doing lengths of the pool (3/20 for anyone keeping track), another chap entered the pool area. He looked like a cross between Hesten Bloomenthal and former Home Secretary John Reid, if you want to put yourself in the scene. He wandered into the changing rooms as the other chap was presumably now showering.

It occurred to me that if Hesten Reid stole his iPhone, then ran away I’d be the prime suspect. I’d be no good picking the guy out of an identity parade either – what if both Hesten and Lord Reid were in the line-up?

Fortunately, he didn’t. He changed and joined me in the pool. Shortly afterwards, Person 1 emerged triumphant from his shower and left the premises. And we all lived happily ever after.

Well, actually, let’s wait and see how much of my deposit I get back before we sign off on that.

* There were so many potential ways of putting this charming sentiment. Be glad I settled on that one.

  • Alan Martin

So, that’s the end of AV and the any discussion of electoral reform for the next 30 years or so, I reckon. On the bright side, it’s good to see that my Yes vote in the Wandsworth constituency sees my record of only backing losers in elections go into its record breaking 8th year. Join us again in 2015 when my hot streak continues its inevitable run under First Past the Post.

The Lib Dems have taken a fair bit of stick for this, as we all know. Their polling figures last week were pretty catastrophic for the party. I voted for them in 2010 (and in 2005 for that matter), and I don’t really regret doing it.

In fact, I think they’d be doing okay ratings wise if it weren’t for the massive capitulation on higher education funding. The argument that says “We didn’t win the election, so we have to compromise” works on most things, but not where you’ve signed pledges guaranteeing to vote against them in the next parliament. That’s the big deal, and why Labour’s many broken promises in government don’t see them getting similar anger - they weren’t stupid enough to make a big show of making promises on things they knew they might have to break.

But I also have a decent amount of sympathy for the Lib Dems and not just because I voted for them. They were essentially in a lose-lose-lose situation after the election, having got less seats on more votes than the previous parliament.

They had 3 choices:

1) Join the Tories in a Coalition

…and we know how that has turned out with the public at large. Mass protests, anger at broken promises and their getting in bed with the enemy.

Likely outcome: Narrow Tory/Labour outright win in 2015.

2) Join Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and other assorted parties in a rainbow coalition This would have been even worse for them. Not only would it be an absolute pain to get a voting majority on anything with the thin number between the Tories and this Rainbow Coalition, but the right wing press would tear them to shreds as a ‘losers government’.

On top of this, the fact that Labour were committed to similar spending cuts to the Tories would mean that the government as a whole would face similar criticism as the current government does.

Likely outcome: Tory landslide victory in 2015.

3) Leave the Tories to a minority government.

This might ultimately have proven to be their best solution in terms of not ruining the Lib Dems reputation as progressively left of centre, but the trouble is they would also be open to accusations of bottling it big time.

One of the main criticisms of Liberal Democrats tends to be that they don’t live in the real world, so can promise everything and not need to worry about delivering. If they’d turned down the chance to be in government, it would be seen as confirmation by many that they’re hopeless idealists with no idea how to govern, given the chance.

It’s also the case that financially, the Lib Dems are on shakier ground than both Labour and the Conservatives, so can’t really afford to fight another election before 2015 - a minority government’s likely collapse would cause them serious difficulties.

Likely outcome: Early election and Tory/Labour majority victory

So what can they do now? Well, not a lot of options still:

1) Flex their muscles and get a bit more visibly angry at the Conservatives

This looks to be what they’re doing, but how effective it’ll be remains to be seen. A lot of people may respond to them 'growing a backbone’, but it’s a bit hard to swallow when they were previously so keen to pretend they agreed on everything.

The Tories are arguably in a stronger position than they were when the coalition government was formed, and the Lib Dems are objectively weaker. Neither really want a general election, but there’s no question that the Tories would be happier than the Lib Dems to see one called early, so any Liberal anger is likely to be more impotent than it was when they were all smiles. The Tories know they’re trapped and will be prepared to leave them ineffectually prowling in the angry dome.

2) Leave the coalition

Much as the common wisdom is that this should be their next move, it’s not something they can do. Their ratings are as low as they’ve been, and even if they took a slight boost from leaving the Tories, we’d still be talking about a massive reduction in Lib Dem seats in the inevitable early election. They’ve only taken the blame for the negatives of the coalition government, and want to get some positives if/when the country emerges from the recession.

And the other thing, as mentioned above, is that the Liberal Democrats simply can’t afford to go to the polls yet. Their election war-chest is pretty much emptied every 5 years, and without the rich doners of Labour and the Tories they’d be fighting on a shoe-string budget.

There’s also the Short Money, which is a grant given to opposition parties with which to campaign on. The Lib Dems have always needed this - unfortunately for them, they’ve lost it for the next 5 years because they went into government. Whoops.

3) Kick out Nick Clegg

This one comes in two flavours - they either leave the coalition or they stay in it and fight more fiercely. Both give them a little more credibility than if Clegg tried to do it himself because it doesn’t represent a total about-face, but equally neither’s guaranteed to help and leaves them open to accusations of failing to live in the real world.

On top of this, the most likely candidate is Chris Huhne, who fought the last leadership battle before losing to Clegg by a slim margin - mainly because there was very little to choose between the two candidates. This would most likely be change for change’s sake.

So, yeah… they’re a bit stuck really. And as it stands right now, even though I completely see the logic in everything they’ve done, if there was an election tomorrow, I’d vote Green or Labour.

If they’re having trouble convincing me - who has taken time to listen to their arguments and research it - then they’re going to really struggle to convince those who just see them as the party of broken promises. Not a good time to be orange.