The more I hear from MPs who fiddled their expenses but were allowed just to write a cheque to pay them back, now denouncing people who stole chewing gum or bottled water or were given a pair of shorts during the riots, the more I think they have lost control of their ethics.
An excellent piece in the Guardian today by Vera Baird (Riots sentencing: a sinister attempt to upend the judicial process) describes how firmly the government’s hand is on the tiller of the rash of extreme punishments, aiming to deliver Cameron’s edict that everyone involved in the riots should expect to go to jail, no matter how trivial their offence. Using historical precedents – for example, during the miners’ strike it was very difficult to get fair acquittals for strikers at the magistrates’ court – she shows how easy it is to lose all judgement: anger is not a good servant of justice.
The government-inspired hysteria around sentencing is reverberating around many councils as well. There was a rush of council leaders trying to look tougher than the rest, although they were all beaten to it by Wandsworth, a council which has never held tenants in high regard (or indeed wanted them in the borough at all), who claimed that a tenant whose son had been caught up in the riot “will today (Friday) be served with an eviction notice”. Nearly Legal website notes that Wandsworth’s new leader Ravi Govindia’s rush to make a name for himself was not all that it seemed. First, the tenant’s son has not been convicted of anything, and secondly, the alleged incident was not in the location of the tenant’s flat, so that any attempted repossession on the grounds of nuisance would struggle.
And then the Notice seems to have not been a Notice of Seeking Possession, let alone an ‘eviction notice’ but a warning letter. The tenant concerned even got quite a good hearing from the normally prejudicial Daily Mail. NL wryly commented: “If even the Daily Mail is having second thoughts, Ravi Govindia clearly runs the risk of looking, well, pretty damn stupid in such a desperate act of witless publicity seeking.”
Mary Riddell, writing in the equally unlikely Telegraph, commented: “Threatening to evict a charity worker and her eight-year-old daughter is an act of political spite. Had this mother, whose “crime” is that her 18 year-old son is charged with violent disorder, given birth to a mass murderer, she would not be treated in such a fashion.”
Wandsworth are now looking like fools and so are the Labour councils now caught in the slipstream. They should reconsider their precipitate action and come to their senses.