The riots that ripped through the heart of England this week brought with them complex dichotomies. Feelings of anger and fear caused by senseless acts of violence and destruction. Calls for retribution and justice. An understanding that such acts are symptomatic of far more serious, entrenched social and cultural problems. That now is a time for logic, and a long-term solution is needed.
While most of us have been deep in thought and discussion over these issues, David Cameron has called for police to have the power to “close” social media services such as Twitter and Blackberry. Our great leader, our Churchillian strategist, the man with his finger on the nation's pulse has decided that, during times of crisis, people must not speak to one another.
He sent under-informed, wax-faced minion Louise Mensch to promote the cause in a Sky News debate against John Prescott and Paul Lewis – the Guardian journalist that used Twitter to report the riots from the frontline.
Lewis eruditely began proceedings, explaining that we must “avoid knee-jerk reactions”, comparing the proposed “media blackout” to similar moves in places such as Egypt, which had “real consequences for freedom of expression”.
While not disputing some of the rioters used social media to interact, he said they were simply “communicating as people in the modern age do” – using the pamphlets passed around during the Swing Riots of 1830 as an analogy – adding that “anybody, doing any action, whether it's criminal or in fact lawful, would be using a new form of communication to speak to each other.”
Mensch – speaking from the centre of the cleanup operation, New York, where she was about to go shopping for a new dress – countered: “It's amazing to see people getting their knickers in a twist about this,” she sneered.
This latest, futile proposal adds weight to the argument that Cameron does not have the temperament, brains or balls to lead this country through these difficult times.
Prescott jerked out of inactivity and into his only other gear: pissed off. Looking like a condom full of custard and indignation, he began his assault: “Well, first of all it was the prime minister who said tweeting is for twits,” he said, before tailing off into some indecipherable tirade. He continued: “More people gain from it [Twitter] than those who are disadvantaged by it. And can you actually, technically, close it down?” It's a valid point.
Mensch ducked the question, countering with archaic, redundant phrases like “over egging the pudding” and “a lather and a froth” in place of genuine knowledge and common sense. Prescott shouted, waved paper around and took the piss out of Mensch's impeding frock shopping. Lewis, meanwhile, was the voice of reason.
“Do you feel that, by and large, Westminster is looking in the right places for the answers to the problem?” he was asked. “We're not talking about some great, feared technological monster, which in itself caused the riot,” he replied. “The rioting has been done by people.”
And therein lies the problem.
David Cameron's Old Boys Co. is so institutionally myopic, they genuinely believe tools like Twitter and BBM fuelled the riots. These services are nothing more than an au courant means of communication. Without them – or if they were closed for a limited period of time, as proposed – the events of the past week would still have taken place, and with just as much fervour.
Without Twitter, journalists like Paul Lewis could not have kept the public up-to-date with blow-by-blow accounts of the action as it unfolded; and communities affected by the riots could not have pulled together in quite the same way, with the same messages of support and to arrange the cleanup campaign. Without social media, we lose a fundamental part of our freedom of speech in today's society. Let's not forget, the police, too, utilised Twitter to keep the public up to date with events as they unravelled during the riots.
This latest, futile proposal adds weight to the argument that Cameron does not have the temperament, brains or balls to lead this country through these difficult times. His sentiments are hollow, his actions belated and he is detached from reality. Flicking the switch on social media is further proof of this.
See the full debate below:
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