However, if we're to move on constructively, we need to get some basics clear first. I take issue this morning with a sentence in an otherwise sensible Telegraph leader;
Maintaining social order and stability is the primary function of government.Well, it's the primary function of government to ensure a national framework of civil and criminal law and maintain an equitable system for the administration of justice, but is it really the primary function of the State to maintain social order and stability? Isn't half the problem that we've abnegated this role to the State, but the State alone has neither the resources nor the capability to fulfil it? I think this leader writer should rather have said "Maintaining social order and stability is the function of a healthy society" - that within a framework of law maintained at national level, a variety and diversity of actors and intermediate institutions implements compliance.
Finally, the distinction between the offences of 'riot' and 'violent disorder'. Following the Bradford Riots of 2001, 137 people were charged with the offence of riot and close to 100 convicted, with the average sentence being 4 to 6 years. So far I don't know of a single charge of riot made as a result of last week's disturbances - most have been for the offence of violent disorder, an offence with a lower standard of proof and a more lenient sentence. Perhaps it was the nature of the outbreak - termed 'shopping with violence' by one commentator, as opposed to an explosion of righteous anger - that defines it as falling short of a riot. And the point has also been made that if the disturbances were really about unemployment, poverty and lack of work opportunities, why were there not more 'resting' actors among those arrested?