It's depressingly familiar to hear the cries of many for troops to be used to patrol the troubled streets of London this morning as the criminal looting subsides long enough for the thieves to have their Coco Pops. The oh-so-reasonable voice of Tory Patrick Mercer called for this in a measured way and his call was echoed by a military officer with experience of Iraq, who said that 'fire' should be fought with 'fire'. I can respect the views of the soldier but he is not a policeman and he has no experience of policing this country which, as is often repeated - but never too often - is by consent, not force.
The police have been challenged and stretched to breaking point and they will be blamed completely erroneously for the violence and crime which has occurred. The unpleasant commentator Darcus Howe did just this on the radio this morning, citing the killing of a young man on Saturday as the reason looters destroyed Debenhams in Clapham Junction and a jeweller's in Birmingham. This is, of course, utter rubbish as anyone with an ounce of intelligence realises. A man was killed and a riot ensued in protest at that event but the subsequent chaos has nothing - not one jot - to do with that tragic event, which must be dealt with by the normal inquiry and resultant action. The later chaos is not linked and the death in Tottenham is an excuse.
Despite all the terrible events which have occurred and the destruction which has been wrought we cannot go down the route of soldiers patrolling the streets or curfews. It just isn't British. We rely on the police to sort out problems and to deal with trouble and then we moan at them when they are outnumbered 100-1. What about heaping praise on to them for standing their ground across the city, putting themselves in harm's way and trying to sort things out?
The problem is at once smaller and greater than is being said. It is smaller because these events are at heart just crime and those responsible need to be rounded up, tried and hopefully banged up for a few years. It is greater because there is a shared responsibility among us all (i) to support the police instead of carping about them when they turn out not to be miracle workers or Robocops (ii) to recognise that they are part of any society, not separate from it, and to act towards - and with - them accordingly.
If vocal Tories and right-wingers get their way, we surrender any notion that we are better than the numerous countries we seek to influence and change, like Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. What would the lunatic Gaddafi make of British troops patrolling British streets? How would the fanatical weirdos of al Qaeda react to such images? Also, what a devastating, catastrophic impact such images would have on the London Olympics.
Despite all the restrictions on our liberty imposed by the Labour government in the name of 'security' (well, this is still a political blog...), to be British is still to be free and to avoid the need for armed soldiers patrolling our towns and cities. The police will restore order, politicians will argue, businesses will be restored, though regrettably some will not be able to and the country we should all love for that freedom will return to normal. These events are horrible but they are not reason to abandon freedom.
It's hard to be a liberal in such circumstances but I know it is still the right choice.