The Sketch: Even the Home Secretary feels free to stereotype looters


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"Mindless violence, simple criminality, violent thugs" - the way the Home Affairs committee talked about our indigenous looting community was hardly progressive.

Looters and riot-makers are tight knit social units bound together by ties of blood and fast-disappearing, handed-down skills. They have their own customs and costume, but they are marginalised and misunderstood. And while great care is taken with most minority groupings even the Home Secretary feels free to stereotype looters as people "committing criminality". When Alun Michael pleaded with her not to "jump to conclusions" she insisted, "We did see young people out on the streets committing criminality."

She wanted yet more powers for the police - even to the extent of allowing them to approach citizens going about their rioting or looting and requiring them to disperse. She wanted police to be able to force looters with crowbars to remove their face coverings, despite the violence such demands might provoke. It's a short step is it not, to Gulags/camps/legitimising torture ...

Which is a laborious way of wondering whether we have become too sophisticated in our approach to the complexities of modern life. Theresa May and a couple of Tory MPs gave us a snapshot of the loss of confidence there is in our ruling class, the delay, the caution, the uncertainty. Ms May had nothing to say of any potency ("none of us can say we know") and her big answer was to be hosting an international conference in October.

The MPs seemed perfectly pleasant people but felt at the time they ought to keep out of the way because the police had enough on their plate. The strongest remark by one of them was prefaced by the words, "I have no hesitation in reflecting the views of my constituents."

But then we also had David Lammy who still seems to derive energy from his constituency. He came with two of his people from Tottenham. One - Lyn Radose - had been burnt out of her home by the mob. She'd rung the fire brigade - they said they couldn't come because there weren't enough police. She'd rung the police who'd said there was nothing they could do.

And the other, the magnificently named Mpala Mufwankolo (even the silver tongued Keith Vaz stumbled over it) had been hunted up through his pub by armed looters, onto his roof in fear of his life.

Mr M is a very large man with a huge bass voice and a pencil-thin moustache on his upper lip. The chairman asked him softly what was the name of his business, his pub. When he said "The Pride of Tottenham," there was a sudden misting-up in the room.

Ms Radose had the best answer when asked what had been in the rioters' minds. "I've no idea," she said. "they did it because they were allowed to do it."