I would imagine that at some point today, the Commissioner of the Met, Sir Paul Stephenson, will be ringing the Home Secretary to tender his resignation. That is the honourable thing to do after the attack on the Prince of Wales yesterday and the desecration of our national monuments. If he doesn't, the Home Secretary should fire him.
It's evident that the police have decided on a policy of containment for these riots and they are very conscious of the number of photographers, news cameramen and every man jack with a mobile phone. It will have been hammered into every officer that one mistake can be a career ending incident. It's also clear that there is apparently an "acceptable level," of violence below which the police will not respond aggressively. As anyone who has faced rioters knows, this can only end badly.
Before we get into the meat of this, let's immediately clarify a few points,
* There is no tumultuous groundswell of support for these rioters around the universities. Students are just not that passionate about something that doesn't affect their generation.
* As with every protest, a large number of the miscreants have been no closer to a university than I have. They're agitators and trouble makers.
* We can be grateful it is winter; if it were summer, the riots would be ten times worse.
If the riots are to continue without a robust response then the agitators will escalate the level of violence. Someone will go "tooled up," or with petrol bombs and someone else, probably an innocent as it usually is, will suffer. Obviously, the violence could happen the other way, for example, "white van man," gets a hold of one of the protesters and gives them a hiding.
So what is a robust response? The police must deploy in force and meet any violence with a commensurate response. They must also seize the initiative by using snatch squads to make arrests. Speed and aggression is the key to dealing with riots; absorbing violence feeds it. Given their nervousness of the media I'm sure that discussions are on going about the deployment of water cannon to deter rioters. The problem is that it is an indiscriminate weapon which has not been used much in the UK but does, protect the individual baton wielding police officer from having his face transmitted across the world in seconds. Dye added to the water is a nice touch and as a gesture to public health the police could chuck a couple of bars of soap into the melee.
As police officers are quietly going through the footage of yesterday's events and comparing it to things like Facebook accounts, I think we can expect a wave of arrests shortly. The criminal justice process must then be expedited and swift sentencing should follow.
What about the students who are sincere in their protests? Well, given they're supposed to be our brightest and best they're not doing very well. They are being neither innovative or creative in their campaign and what public sympathy they had is very quickly receding. Just sitting down in the road is large numbers and in silence would, for example, have a much greater impact than defiling Churchill's statue. I am reasonably sympathetic to their case. I don't see why, for example, I should subsidise students in Wales and Scotland who will not pay fees yet pay for my own children first through taxes and then through fees. When our children graduate they compete with students from all over the world for jobs; why on earth would be make it tougher for them than it already is?
As I have written before, one of the consequences of ramping fees up will be a tightening of standards at universities. Many students have barely four hours of lectures a week and many, many courses could easily be done in two years rather than three. Parents and students simply will not tolerate subsidising the relaxed and gentle lifestyle of professors and obviously, many average universities that should be closed will be.
The other consequence will be that many of our best students will just take a hike to other countries where the value proposition is more attractive. Others, will not bother with university and many will be exactly the ones who should be there.
The structure of the loans too is deficient in open, clear thinking. On the one hand we have an aging population trying to augment their pensions but with interest paying less than 1% on their savings many are struggling. On the other hand we have an up and coming generation who need funds for education. Blow me..... is that supply and demand I see there?
HMG should issue "Granny bonds," through the taxpayer owned banks, RBS & Lloyds, and pay a decent rate. Just as an example lets say 3% and charge the students 3.25%. Obviously, many students won't make payments until after their studies or after they reach an earnings threshold. We can cover this by making the "Granny Bond," a zero coupon bond, ( a security that doesn't pay interest (a coupon) but is traded at a deep discount, rendering profit at maturity when the bond is redeemed for its full face value). Oh, and to spice it up we'll make it tax free..... that's clever "Big Society," thinking but then all parties involved in this nonesense haven't been very clever to date and while I think of it....... I didn't need a degree to figure it out.