Nina Power Annoys Me Utterly

Right, I think this is ripe for a good fisking and a good fisking I shall give it.

First off I shall skip the headline and the tag with it, on the basis that they were presumably produced by a subeditor and therefore she gets a day pass on those.

Now to the meat:

Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago

Good, so the subject is clear. From the context, you see, I thought it was about rioting. Silly me.

the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march

Oh, Nina, you silly romantic, I can hear the Internationale from here. How stirring!

and now unrest on the streets of the capital

… excuse me? So, framing this as a culmination of a trades union movement. Have you cleared this with the TUC?

(preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year)

*blank face*

Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures.

And indeed a backdrop of acceleration due to gravity being approximately 9.8 ms^2, my having nasal hair, and the MPAA bringing lawsuits. Putting two things in the same sentence doesn’t excuse you from showing reasons for your answer. Now, please explain the difference between “cuts” and “austerity measures” — because it looks a lot like they mean the same thing and you’re just using them to park some spare adjectives. Talking of which, “enforced” leaves me near-speechless. I’d love to know what that word is doing other than rather calculatedly sitting there, looking at me with big, soft eyes, welling up with tears as a jackbooted Tory hits it repeatedly with a chain for not being rich enough to care about. What appalling condescension.

The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven’t seen since the early 1980s.

Because the increases in spending planned aren’t large enough? Doesn’t it really risk sparking a strain of polemical journalism — of which I think both sides have more-or-less occasionally been guilty — which cares less about accuracy than about getting the Tories out no matter what? And isn’t it the wind-up articles and the argumentum ad nauseam which insidiously tells people that these things are “understandable” and “happening in context” which actually lower the moral barriers to mass unrest on that scale? In short, are you making a responsible use of free speech?

With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak.

Sorry, you’ve lost me. Yet again, you’re putting two things in the same sentence and assuming this means they are related, or that it’s obvious they are. Let me bring bad news: it isn’t. I am reading this to learn. You are showing little evidence of being interested in teaching me.

The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms

No, really, this simply won’t do. Please explain this division to me. I am interested. What is it? In which “extreme terms” has it been clarified? The most extreme things I can think of are the housing benefit changes and the ESA reassessments, and whilst I can understand there being a legitimate debate about them, I don’t read them as “extreme”.

but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police’s treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment.

I do believe you just actually made a point, presumably by accident — although I see you couldn’t resist a weaselly “ordinary” in there. Though I don’t necessarily agree with you — any policing policy which did not increase its levels of monitoring in response to an increase in an area’s gun crime rate, for instance, would have to produce a pretty convincing explanation of why doing so was a bad idea.

One journalist wrote that he was surprised how many people in Tottenham knew of and were critical of the IPCC, but there should be nothing surprising about this. When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.

The IPCC are not the Crown Prosecution Service, so they don’t decide whether to bring criminal proceedings or not. They are also not the courts. They are also not juries. You may well have identified one of the reasons to have suspicions of the IPCC’s “I”, but I don’t think you have given enough to achieve your “quite reasonable”.

Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear. (Haringey, the borough that includes Tottenham, has the fourth highest level of child poverty in London and an unemployment rate of 8.8%, double the national average, with one vacancy for every 54 seeking work in the borough.)

I might not agree with it, but I could understand an argument which read protest as a product of poverty and unemployment. I could understand one which described a grieving and legitimately aggrieved community rising up. I think we both have to say that your account doesn’t provide very much in the way of explanation for looting. Or at least, if it does, you’re not prepared to help me get it.

Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture:

Sorry again — “the events” is weaselling. Which ones? The riots? The looting? (Oh, all these terrible, loaded, negative terms for pilfering, committing larceny, having a relaxed sense of ownership….)

Anyway, you’re warning me: I would do well to look at the bigger picture. If I don’t, you imply, there will be Consequences. And they are:

a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

Right, I’m still waiting for you to make a point. Too many people are poor: I agree. Yes, bad. Jolly good, you’ve said something we can all agree on. What’s that? Ah, you’re objecting to the rich, not the poor. I think that’s rather a silly focus, personally. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Jones! Your poverty may be crushing, but rest assured that we think people having a lot of money is bad.” Anyway, back to your argument. The consequences are:

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Oh Lord, you’ve read a book. You’re so happy about it, you’ve decided to put the consequences off for another paragraph. But anyway, let’s tackle this one. I’ve not read The Spirit Level but I’m aware it’s this year’s Nudge and I am bad for not having read it. You’re saying: there’s no such thing as [society *cough*] “social” problems; they are at root economic ones. Although you do manage to mangle equality and financial equality, which I think is rather a limit in your view of humanity. In those countries where the poor are not so very poor, you have less crime, better health, etc. (Alternatively, you’re saying that if Bill Gates moved to Britain tomorrow, I would be statistically slightly more ill than I am at present.) Because you’re not going to let an interesting point get away unruined, you repeat yourself (“better distribution … less gap”).

You then list some things you think are bad (Boo! to individualism & competition) and then run off on a different limb for a while (“state-encouraged selfishness” is going to keep you out of the speechwriting trade for a while)… until you get to yet another point — that we are unequal! Huzzah for paragraphs. Bear in mind though that the inequality in your terms is caused by “selfishness” and “competition”, which is good, because it relieves you of the moral duty to actually do anything about poverty per se and gives you the simple option of passing the buck. Phew!

Images of burning buildings, cars aflame and stripped-out shops may provide spectacular fodder for a restless media, ever hungry for new stories and fresh groups to demonise, but we will understand nothing of these events if we ignore the history and the context in which they occur

Oh, those nasty demonising media. Thank heavens you’re not up for any demonising yourself.

I approach this as a piece of persuasive writing and I think it fails. It is too woolly, too ineptly rhetorical, too polemic. It makes claims greater than it can deliver. It is overbroad. It is lazily structured. It is self-satisfied and unquestioning and incurious and coercive and utterly dismaying that this is something the Guardian would publish with every appearance of intending people should read it.

I am an equal opportunities fisker and will happily fisk anything I find this annoying. Please send me things you think might enrage me and I will happily fisk them for you if they do.