Reporting on a riot that didn’t happen

When does a lack of a riot need an explanation?

Last night there was not a riot in Bromley. All yesterday afternoon rumours were tweeted that there would be some disturbance in this south London suburb, which also prides itself as being in north Kent.

The night before there was minor trouble: the two shops by the bypass selling electronic goods were looted, a single window was broken at Primark, and - pointlessly - glass was also smashed at a rather good independent fish and chip shop. But, according to excited tweeters, it was "all going to kick off in Bromley" last night.

Except that it did not. So does the lack of a local riot need as an intensely anxious explanation as one which does take place? Normally, one would not feel any need to explain the lack of a riot in any suburb on a Tuesday night. However, last night was special: further riots were predicted throughout Greater London, and riots did take place in Manchester and Birmingham (where a local barrister reports the front glass doors of the Crown Court were kicked in).

If any explanation is needed, one factor is that the high-value electrical goods shops with an escape had already been done over, and were boarded-up last night. Any other looting of expensive goods would have needed to come further into the pedestrianized centre, making it less easy to take the products away.

But that, of course, was not the main reason for the lack of a riot. Far more significant were the twenty to thirty officers who were in the centre of Bromley at any one time. From around 7 pm onwards, police officers outnumbered civilians at a ratio of about two to one. Anyone coming into Bromley looking for trouble, or a free television, would see at least six fluorescent jackets on any road coming in. The Market Square was usually deserted. In these circumstances, it was difficult to see any significant disorder occurring, and indeed none did.

And whilst Bromley was left to wandering pairs of police officers and almost-empty buses, idiots on Twitter were publishing breathless misinformation. The Glades Shopping Centre was on fire (it wasn't) and there were explosions (there weren't); it was "shocking" what was going on (but nothing was going on); and - inevitably - it was "all kicking off" (it really was not at all). The boring and simple reality was that Bromley was quiet all along: I know, I was there. It was almost as if some Tweeters wanted to get up momentum in the hope that there would be trouble. No doubt at such point, those tweeters would then all go "OMG".

So last night a suburb did not have a riot, and this was primarily through a heavy one-off presence of police. But this raises further questions. What happens when such policing is no longer possible? And was it right to use such substantial policing instead of, say, deploying military resources? The answer to the second of these questions is surely that, as a matter of basic principle, it is never right to not use civilian police to police civilians although other parts of the country may feel rightly upset at the switch of policing to London (especially from Manchester and the West Midlands). And as for the first of those questions: we have to wait and see whether the rioters and looters decide to attack the centre of Bromley again, when all the police have gone away.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.