The one with the riots

For those of you who read this blog regularly you may be surprised that I am writing this as I don’t tend to blog about what is broadly topical and although the context of this blog is the events unfolding at the moment it is the reaction on the news and in social media, that has given me cause to reflect…

The ugly face of civil unrest has shown itself in the UK this week and personally, I am shocked and appalled at what I have seen on television this evening. The idea that the people who are looting and destroying property this evening are doing so in support of a cause seems unrealistic and it appears they are taking advantage of the situation for their own ends.

What happens in the coming days will no doubt captivate the media and the commentators and in the final reckoning it will be not the people who have been victims of these events that will get the attention but the institutions involved. What will be overlooked is the broader ramifications for our country and the focus will be who was to blame. I may be wrong but I would put money on it and I’m not a betting man.

My attitude towards the police is probably similar to a lot of you. I am respectful of them on an individual basis, my interactions with them have been confined to a few incidents involving radar guns and like any significant institution it would be easy to label them as a group when in fact they are a massive organisation but still made up of individuals.

In the coming blame game, it is the senior people who will be held accountable for their perceived failure tonight and that will certainly involve the Home Office and the current government. I read a statistic (don’t ask me where) that over 70% of organisational change initiatives fail and in whilst the current government will be held accountable for their failure to reform or realign the police, in their 15 months in government would it actually be realistic? I am not seeking to excuse the current government or the previous administration. The point I am trying to make is from an organisational perspective trying to change something as large as the police force is a herculean endeavour and while the police remain a political football, kicked from side to side of the House, is it realistic that lasting change will ever be made?

During a private conversation on Twitter this evening, someone remarked that the police should have gone in earlier and also called the army into play. With hindsight they may be correct, but hindsight is 20/20 and no one sees that clearly when something is emerging. Someone, somewhere tonight is accountable. Ultimately it’s David Cameron, but on an operational perspective, someone in a police uniform was captain of the ship tonight. Imagine being that person…talk about a catch 22.

If you make the call too early and go in heavy, you risk escalating an already volatile situation and also put the lives of your people at risk. If you make the call too late and the situation gets out of hand then civilians and property are put at risk. Either way you lose and the fourth estate will hand you a noose, without too much hesitation. Talk about an exercise in decision making…

No doubt that person has faced difficult decisions before, I would hope that to reach a Leadership role they would be well versed. But step back for a moment and ask yourself as an individual, what decision would you have made? It’s easy to be arm chair commentators, but think about the last time you had to make a difficult decision at work…how much did you fret, get angst-ridden and deliberate before you made it? Now imagine doing it with human life and property at risk and the press laying in wait.

The final thing that has been bouncing around my head is what the situation emerging today says about our values as a nation. You can’t move 3 lines in HR press without some mention of company missions and values. We all espouse them with ease and ask the people we work with to live up to them. Often, we include them in performance review and judge people against them. So what are the UK’s values? And how are we doing in our performance review tonight?

I’m now going to bed with the prospect of waking up to the FTSE yet again taking a hammering and hopefully some calm having prevailed in the parts of this country that have seen unrest today.

I don’t really know why I’ve written this. For one reason without writing it I wouldn’t have got to sleep for some time and it’s a definite way to ease the frustration I will undoubtedly feel as the blame game unfolds but mostly I wrote it in the hope that someone somewhere actually thinks about what all this MEANS and from that comes real change…but that may just be me dreaming!



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4 responses to “The one with the riots

  1. Alice

    Can’t help but wonder whether this is one of those situations where the media & social media has indirectly and most unfortunately inflamed the situation. It has been made so clear to all rioters thAt situation is so totally out of control and if they jog down to their local areas they will be able to help themselves to what they like, destroy what they like with no consequences other than some new gear!!
    I certainly don’t envy anyone right now in a position of authority accountable for this diem horribilis

  2. Karen

    I agree with Alice that the sensationalism created by the media after the first day almost acted as a rally cry to the yobs of London to come out. The police who are for the first time in its history are fighting the government to protect their conditions of employment and pension rights are demoralised and on a massive back foot. I feel no sense of hope that once the dust settles on this that justice will be done and I expect that the already creaking judicial system will administer the same woeful punishment on these ‘youths’ that they
    always do….
    the optimist in me also says maybe this maybe a turnpoint – a moment when all political parties realise that the plan ‘aint working’ and that social reform – especially involving the education, employment and deployment of our young people is ignored at our peril. The devil makes work for idle hands – you bet.

  3. Jules

    All I can say is I agree with you Rob,
    I wish I had got it all out of my head I didn’t sleep well last night through worry even though I called my friends to check they were ok.
    I guess its something in your gut that doesn’t sit well with that the people are doing.
    To top it off they are kids, they dont’ have a reason to be doing it they are bored and don’t understand that actions have conciquences (can’t spell sorry) and these will be paid for by the rest of us!!

    I have seen some crazy stuff before especially in Argentina however its a regular thing and they are more then ready to deal with it, normally within the hour its over as the military appeare with water tanks. This doesn’t hurt anyone as such but it clears them and when you are being pelted with high speed water makes you think again.

    There might not be 1 person to blame but someone started it and i’m not sure we are ever going to find them and i’m even less sure that the people doing this have any idea who that person is either.

  4. Thanks for this Rob (and indeed your other blogs which I enjoy.)
    I live in Ealing and so went to take a look at the damage for myself yesterday. Sad. Local businesses and people I know, suffering their loss.
    I hate the fact that commentators and politicians see explanation as excuse. Surely, we need to explain this action, whilst not excusing it.
    My own view is that this is a toxic coalition of powerless and disaffected youth, angry activists and criminal gangs all spotting an opportunity to create havoc/damage/theft and the social media providing the mechanism. And they’ve been fed with a recent onslaught of corruption amongst financiers, police, media, politicians. And now they all want the shiny things and to leave their mark by pissing on their local community or rampaging along with external gangs of villains. I can understand it and yet it makes me sick to see it.
    “Powerlessness corrupts. And absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. ”
    And in the end, you are so right to raise the issue of values. These rioters/looters haven’t developed any. And my generation has to take responsibility.

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