Birmingham riots under the spotlight in public debate
The recent riots and the causes of the national disturbance was the subject of public debate last night when BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme came to Birmingham.
The Today programme held a special live debate at the city’s Town Hall, discussing themes of policing, social intervention and morality. A panel of experts were recorded debating the issues with an invited audience and members of the public during an in-depth three-part session. You can listen to the full debate below.
Amongst those attending the event was Casey Rain, the youngster behind the Birmingham Riots blog, which kept thousands of residents well informed during the troubles. He tells us what he thought of the viewpoints during yesterday’s heated debate…
Last night I attended the riots debate in Birmingham hosted by the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme. Jim Naughtie of the show and three panels of guests discussed issues to do with the riots and took questions from the audience.
I was happy to see a good cross-section of society both in the crowd and panel, although BBC policy meant that under 16’s were excluded from the event, which was unfortunate. WMP Chief Constable Chris Sims was on the first panel, and as expected, did not admit to any failings on behalf of the police, which I found completely unacceptable.
He also claimed they had “no intelligence” of what was happening on the Monday night in Birmingham (the first day of rioting), which again seems laughable. Unfortunately nobody pressed him on this issue, as I would have liked him to clarify that.
From my perspective, there was plenty of publicly available information about what was happening. Javed Khan stated that the debate should not turn into “police-bashing” which I felt was an inappropriate comment to make, police failure was not only a big issue in Birmingham during the riots, but of course the impetus of the whole situation across the country (the Mark Duggan situation).
On the first panel, only Maxie Hayles was direct, speaking the truth, stating as a community leader he was well aware that the situation in general was tense enough to where it was going to kick off sooner or later and directly confronting Chris Sims with the fact that not ONE police officer has been convicted in over 400 cases of police brutality against ethnic minorities in over a decade.
After a brief break, we returned with the second panel which was a lot more intense than the first, thanks to Sheldon Thomas who was one of the few people ready to address the issues head on. He mentioned that if a lot of changes were not made, there’s a strong chance that we will see similar situations next year when the Olympics are on, which is definitely a point I can agree with based on my own knowledge. Liam Nolan, the headteacher of Perry Beeches didn’t seem to have much to add other than that he has fostered a culture of respect in his own school and it that other schools might be able to learn from his example.
The third panel seemed to drag a little more than the first two, however we had some great insights from philosopher Angie Hobbs. It was great to see her addressing “dangerous and lazy journalism” and misleading terms like “feral underclass” that only serve to make the disenfranchised appear subhuman. She also addresed that we as a society are “rewarding materialistic greed, not just with money but with status”, which is true – what kind of role model are corrupt MPs setting when they take thousands of pounds from expense accounts and go unpunished?
The issue of “moral decline” and a “broken society” as the PM claims were raised and most of the panel correctly stated that that idea is a complete exaggeration and political sidestepping by a government refusing to accept responsibility.
Overall, it was an interesting and informative night, with some great discussion, but was anything really achieved? Sadly, I think the panelists in positions of power (such as Birmingham City Council head Mike Whitby and the aforementioned Chief Constable Sims) may simply walk away from events such as last nights with the exact same opinions they walked in with. The real value however is with the listeners, who hopefully heard at least a couple of well articulated viewpoints from people of other walks of life to their own that may make them reconsider their stances.
LISTEN TO THE RADIO 4 DEBATE:
The first hour focussed on policing and public order, asking whether the police contributed to the causes of the riots, and if they could have responded better. >>
In the second part of last night’s riots debate, panelists and an invited audience debated the issue of intervention: should local authorities or government intervene more to prevent wrong doing? >>.
The final part of last night’s riot debate considered the question of morality in Britain today. Are we facing, as the prime minister has suggested, a “slow motion moral collapse”, and is this a “broken society”? >>