When events go wrong in a country, the government feels under pressure. If it is a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans in 2005, the government cannot be held responsible for the hurricane, but they are responsible for dealing with it, and not only their actions in handling the crisis can be called into question, but also their foresight - or lack of it - in preparing for it, not only in the period when it was known to be imminent, but in previous long-term preparations for ‘known unknowns’, the knowledge that there will be hurricanes and floods, although the exact timing cannot be predicted far in advance.
When things go wrong that seem to be clearly linked to either the action or the inaction of government, for example the failure of an economic or social policy or programme - or the lack of one - or a diplomatic or defence initiative, or the lack of one, governments are subject to even greater direct criticism. To take an example that is half a century old - currently being dramatised in The Hour on BBC - Prime Minister Anthony Eden was criticised by the United States and the USSR for supporting Israel by bombing Egypt in the Suez crisis (The Tripartite Aggression) in 1956, and he resigned in January 1957. He would also have come under heavy criticism from allies France and Israel and from some sections of his own party had he not acted.
(The posture of the US and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles was highly ambivalent, as revealed by subsequent unguarded remarks by Dulles.)
The measure of a government, a politician, or an industrialist - or indeed any man or woman - may be gauged by their willingness to take unpopular decisions, either to act or refrain from action. But refraining from action as a conscious choice is not inaction - the failure to act out of cowardice, political expediency or lack of imagination or vision most certainly is inaction.
GOVERNMENT DEFENSIVE ARGUMENTS
They can be summarised as -
No one could have foreseen this - it was totally unexpected.
This is caused by global factors beyond our control.
This was caused by the actions of the last government (when it wasn’t us) or, in the event that we were the last government, by the irresponsibility of our political opponents.
This is not representative - it was one rogue individual, company or group.
This is a failure of personal morality, family, schools, academics, i.e. anybody or anything but us, the government. Government policies and actions never lead to bad outcomes, except when our opponents are in government.
This was an act of nature - or God - and we now must deal with it.
THE WESTMINSTER RESPONSE
The Westminster response, from the headless chicken initial response of Cameron, Clegg and the Coalition to the response of Parliament in the debate yesterday, with the political solidarity characteristic of a threat of war rather than an outbreak of civil unrest, contained elements of almost all of the above defences with the exception of global factors, and they would have thrown that into the excuse pot if they could have got away with it.
The consensus analysis seems to be, in a classic exercise in doublethink, that the riots just happened, could not have been predicted, had no contributory causes that in any way could be attributed to government policies or actions, past or present, but nevertheless were the entirely predictable result of a long-term decline in family values, loss of parental control, marriage, personal morality, a failure of discipline at all levels, the Human Rights Act, social media - the list goes on.
I watched the first hour and a half of the debate, gave up in disgust, recorded the rest and sampled it. Here are a few of my increasingly exasperated tweets as the debate droned on.
TWITTER 11th August 2011 @moridura
moridura Peter Curran
It's the gangs - but why did young people join gangs? Always the same reasons: failure of government to provide jobs, hope, and purpose
It's all about crime and criminals - blame the culture, the parents, social media - everything and everybody except Government
Cameron/riots: Will the de-masking deal with religious masking?
Cameron catalogues what he will do - concentrating on compensation for damages
Police may remove face coverings - I agree with that - no one should be allowed to go masked in public - no one
Cameron/riots. What does a government do when public order fails as a result of their policies - attack human rights. And there will be more
Cameron: "The riots are not in any way representative of our country" Not representative but symptomatic...
Ed Miliband - usual preamble - true face of Britain, etc. Wait for the beef ... Where's the beef?
Get past the clichés, Ed - say something for god's sake ...
Ed M. Go out and listen to the people. Explain how their voices will be heard. Independent commission of enquiry - reaching out ...
Ed M: Deeper reasons - "To seek to explain is not to seek to excuse" Good one, Ed ...
Ed M: Will there be a cap on help fund?
The PM and the police cuts - will he think again? Swifter justice system - capacity of courts? Tough sentence deserved and expected.
Ed M: The Army? Funding of operational costs? Increased police presence? How long?
Ed M: Questions of hope and aspiration. Not about any one government. You're right there, Ed - it's about the 13years of Labour too
Cameron: Cosy regards to Ed - all sweetness and light - for the moment ...
DC: Tear up the manual of public order
DC: Not about resources - about deep moral issues. (Growls from House)
House starts to growl and mutter at police cuts. DC begins to face the flak
DC: Vague rabbiting on. Gets to operational costs - vague, evasive answers. Police budgets - cash reductions over 4 years - 6%!
Pompous old Scots git Malcolm Rifkind -
DC: Stonewall on police numbers - but it won't wash, David ...
Jack Straw: PMs repetition of Treasury lines about numbers not good enough
David Lammy: Lost homes -where were the police? PM must speak to Tottenham victims. Public enquiry - skirmishes led chaos
David Davis: Ethnic tension over young Asian deaths. Measures?
Wee Hazel Blears. Criminality, etc. Like the criminality of MPs over expenses? Where were the polis then, Hazel?
They're all sliding away from reality into denial of accountability of any government, any UK policy. I've had enough - lunch!
Oh, God! Nadine Dorris - water cannon, tear gas - the whole right-wing repression, dangerous crap. Go ahead, UK - attack the people!
Now more than 1.5 hrs into 'debate' - a cosy consensus between the parties - it was Blackberries, crooks, parents, morality, etc.
(At this point, the tedious sequence of predictable, formulaic contributions led me to produce a few stereotypes -)
Fragrant Tory babe Penny: "No moral compass, positive role models." e.g. Sir RS Likr, XBE, YBE, ZBE
Sir RS Liker,XBE, RBE, ZBE (etc), failed Scots Tory: "May I - etc. etc." Oh, God ...
Tory Babe: May I welcome - congratulate the PM - praise police - blame parents and Blackberries - demand the police are set free ...
Sir RightWing Nutter, KBE: Give the police flame throwers, grenades, napalm etc. These teenagers must be dealt with. Rule Brittannia!
Making political capital out of the riots. It is political, stupid - it's the bloody UK in operation
DC: Admiration for Strathclyde police. They'll be even better when Scotland is free of the UK - and you, Dave -
No real debate - Commons is the UK in denial and complacent conspiracy of silence. Why? Because the three main parties are culpable.
RW F.Luent Tory: Thugs, hooligans, etc. Compensate businesses.
Speaker reprimands Cameron!
SNP leader Angus Roberston is told PM not aware of any conversations with Scottish gov on riots, but Cameron praises police co-operation.
(At this point, I gave up in disgust, and went for lunch.)
A special edition of Question Time was scheduled. I looked forward to it eagerly - I should have known better. Essentially it mirrored the vacuity of Westminster, but with some flashes of real insight from Fraser Nelson, whose politics I don’t share, and whose persona is that of one of the kind of Establishment Scots that I can’t stand. But he does talk some very hard sense at times, and I delighted in his demolition of the increasingly ridiculous John Prescott, who lathered up with synthetic indignation in his plain-spoken, man-of-the people Lord Something or Other style, seemingly unaware that he was part of the group who are supposed to be governing the country.
Newsnight Scotland again was a deep disappointment - what can I say that I haven’t already said? They also missed the point completely on the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Scottish Left, who apparently feel left oot!