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A desperately sad and sorry day for our capital city

August 9, 2011

Watching the dreadful and at times terrifying scenes of disorder taking place across so many London shopping centres, my first thoughts are with the business owners whose livelihoods have been destroyed. These hard-working folk supporting families and neighbourhoods deserve our deepest sympathy – I trust that government will give such people rapid practical support to get their businesses going again as soon as possible.

As a father bringing up two young children myself in central London I also fervently hope that families living in the areas directly affected by these riots will not give up on our wonderful city. As readers of my speeches and articles over the past decade know well, I love London. Not just the historic six square miles that make my constituency but the collection of villages that spawned suburbs which most Londoners know only from a cursory glance of the Tube map.

These districts are ones that I love to walk and whose variety and communities never cease to amaze me. Coincidentally only six days ago I ambled from the City through Hoxton, Haggerston and into central Hackney to Clapton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington. Little did I imagine as I strolled along Mare Street on that balmy day that within a few days it would turn into a front-line riot zone televised across the UK. I must confess that as I walked into the beautifully landscaped St John’s Churchyard, which lies moments away from Hackney Central station, I was struck by the tranquillity amongst residents picnicking and workers taking a break.

This area – like Brixton and Lewisham where trouble has broken out this week – has changed beyond recognition in the 30 years since the race riots of the 1980s. Huge investment has taken place in the public realm, gentrification has progressed apace whilst the ethnic and cultural mix has transformed. It would be naive to suggest there are not still some deep seated problems but the sense that much of Hackney is a lawless ghetto enveloped in hopelessness is well short of the mark.

I accept that there are some urgent questions that need independent resolution surrounding the conduct of the Met Police in Tottenham but this does not excuse the copy-cat rioting elsewhere. Nor is it down to “government cuts” (very few of which have so far been implemented, in any case) or “poverty”. These shocking actions are opportunistic criminality and it would be better that London’s politicians avoid any opportunistic posturing of their own as they seek to derive partisan advantage.