I’ve suffered from conflicting responses to the riots. After seeing rioting round the corner from me and the TV pictures from across London, I find myself with some sympathy with the toughest penalties. Then I find myself in disbelief at the harshness of a 4 year sentences for a Facebook message about criminal disorder which didn’t even take place. (As a regular twitterer, blogger and Facebooker, I hope the precedent of tough measures against those who say stupid things online does not spread.)
Tony Blair wrote in the Observer yesterday:
“some of the disorder was caused by rioters and looters who were otherwise ordinary young people who got caught in a life-changing mistake from which they will have to rebuild.”
It’s hard to see how custodial sentences for such mistakes will make rebuilding possible.
But enough of my flaky opinions. There’s some real research out now about what people think about the riots broken down by ‘social grade’. It shows that people at the lower end of the scale back tougher penalties that those who are better off.
36% of ‘C2DEs’ think the sentences being carried out are ‘too soft’ and 9% too harsh, the rest ‘about right’.
That’s pretty striking.
It means those most likely to be living in social housing (they are most likely to be C2DE) are among those who want to see custodial sentences for riot-related Facebook messages. Passing the now peaceful Pembury Estate yesterday, it can hardly be surprising that those who suffered most from the looting, violence and criminality want to see the perpetrators put away – and have less sympathy for explanations relating to poverty and disadvantage.
In ‘defending social tenants’ and those in poorer neighbourhoods by arguing against evictions, cuts to benefits, draconian sentences, we need to remember that a large number of the same people will want to be ‘defended’ by the implementation of such measures.
Doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right, but we can’t just discount the views of those in the bottom half of society. The liberal argument needs to be one that appeals to the whole social spectrum. Its advocates need to recognise they begin on the wrong side of the argument for millions of people whose interests they would otherwise champion.