At a meeting in Tottenham on August 16th, organised by a Caribbean-community local radio station, Jenny Jones took a welcome stand against the use of water cannon and plastic or rubber bullets. Greens should certainly campaign for these weapons never to be used on unarmed civilians, for they cause horrendous injuries.
Jenny rightly acknowledged the role of excessive and discriminatory stop and search policies as one contributory factor in the riots. She noted that the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) on which she sits plays an important role in monitoring the use of stop and search and holding the police to account. But evidently not enough.
Surprisingly, however, Jenny said little about the future of the police force. The MPA is to be abolished this autumn. Government plans for elected local police chiefs promise a form of elected dictatorship which favours populist pressures for tougher policing whilst removing present forms of ongoing scrutiny. We need to press for greater democratic control of the police at local and regional level. Some debate is needed within the Green Party about how this can be achieved, and how minority ethnic communities can have a say in the governance of the police.
Another urgent demand, which Jenny didn’t mention, is to reverse the cuts in legal aid. Many local law centres have been closed, and enormous pressure will be placed on the few solicitors’ firms available to defend those accused of riot offences.
The Green Party’s largely white middle class support places us at risk of being perceived as ‘outsiders’ by communities facing the aftermath of the riots. Our social justice agenda – jobs, housing, attacking inequality, restoring the public education system – was never more needed. But some parts of this agenda are missing or under-developed –we need to fight cuts in the local voluntary sector, and to press for less conditionality in the benefits system. However, this may be a battle within the party, since some supporters are unfortunately distant from inner city concerns. I recently got an e-mail from a senior Welsh Green suggesting that ‘boot camp’ treatment of the unemployed is sometimes desirable ! Tragically, much of what unemployed and disabled people perceive as job centre harassment will extend even to those who have lost homes, vehicles and livelihoods in the riots. The ‘citizen’s income’ vision is not an adequate answer to the short term need for a major rise in JSA and an end to the punitive conditions for claiming it, which help to drive youth into the underground economy.
Anne Gray is an activist in Haringey