The recent decision by conservative-run Wandsworth Council (and others) to begin eviction proceedings against the families of charged (not convicted!) rioters has got to be one of the cruelest, dumbest and unfairest of its kind. And if that wasn’t shocking enough, David Cameron has weighed in by unequivocally stating that it is only right and proper that people who “loot and pillage their own community” be evicted from council houses. Eric Pickles (not quite the sharpest tool in the box) has also lent his support to Wandsworth Council though it’s not entirely clear how his intervention was meant to be helpful — either to the cause of the Conservative Party, or indeed the leadership of the PM. If you’re self-punishing enough have a go at listening to his BBC interview here:
At any rate, whatever your views on the causes of the riots, or on crime and punishment, it’s important (at least I think it is) to tease apart this dangerous nonsense. Here are three reasons we should all be concerned about where this might be leading us:
(1) First, what we’re essentially talking about here is collective punishment. Until now, I had thought that collective punishment was the sort of thing that only the Israelis dished out. Fortunately, we can rest assured that Wandsworth Council is not about to call in the demolition bulldozers, but the underlying moral principle is surely the same. Put crudely, it goes something like this “if one of your lot steps out of line, watch out because we’ll be coming after all of you!” Still not convinced that this is dangerous nonsense? OK, consider this then: a single mother is raising two brothers on a council estate. One has just been charged for participating in the riots, and the other is an exemplary citizen. Why punish all family members for the actions of one individual? This surely makes no sense on any level (moral, legal or otherwise) unless of course you take the view that you can’t deal with scumbags through the normal judicial process, and then we’re back again to Israeli-style justice.
(2) Next up, the decision is a classic case of regressive justice. That’s to say, it unfairly targets the poorest sections of society. Here’s the moral logic: if you happen to be a charged rioter from a fancy neighbourhood in London, we won’t repossess your mum’s mansion or force your family onto the streets. But be under no illusion that we will kick you out of your council house, if your mum’s on state benefits. It would be great of course if they went the whole hog on this. So next time Prince Harry misbehaves, it would be right and proper that the PM consider taking away the state benefits of the Queen — like for instance for the upkeep of Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle! You could at least, in that mythical instance, admire the government for administering some judicial consistency.
(3) And lastly, very briefly, it’s a crass example of ad hoc justice. It’s a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to punishment. Surely, a worrying precedent. In which case, one wonders what council leaders might want to consider coming up with next. Who knows? Maybe even call in the bulldozers? Hmm, I can already picture Eric Pickles in the driving seat!
This madness needs to stop now. So what you can you do? Well, to begin with you can lodge a complaint against Wandsworth Council’s eviction decision.