Category Archives: UK News

London Riots – Update on Friday 12th August

I hope this’ll be my final post on the topic of ‘The London Riots and the Tourist’.

Throughout, the areas that have been affected are those which are unlikely to have been frequented by tourists unless they were visiting friends. It looks like things have subsided.

Arrests are being made, and people are being bound over by magistrates and sent to the crown courts.

Yes, the UK will have a lot of soul searching to do over the next few days, weeks and months – that said, someone landing from abroad will most likely not notice anything out of the ordinary (unless they look at the local news).

It will have looked bad, it was bad. The most difficult thing was understanding how quite so many people came out of the woodwork to behave with mass criminality. Although it was bad in many areas, these areas were relatively confined. The vast majority of the country was totally unaffected. Even in London, there were many, many areas which were not affected.

I know that if this had happened in another country, I’d think twice about going there due to my relative lack of information. Psychologically, I can totally understand how it is a difficult thing to step on the plane to the UK right now. That said, if I had friends coming to visit, I wouldn’t suggest a postponement.

Of course, as with any criminality, there are no guarantees – the same is true if you visit any big city. Personally, I’m a lot happier roaming London than I would be in many other major cities. The things I’d be concerned about would be the usual ‘big city’ thing: pickpockets and generally being alert to your surroundings. Despite everything in the last week, it’s a pretty safe place to be. If you’ve visited the UK in the last week, or are visiting soon, it’d be great if you could add a comment to give your experience.

Incident Map for the London Riots

I don’t want to speak too soon, but this morning it feels like a tipping point has been reached. Last night was not an escalation, but a calming – at least in London – and the police are starting to identify individuals. Last night, they raised the policing in London from 6000 officers on monday to 16000, drafting them in from elsewhere.

As a result, London seems to have had no incidents last night though there were some in Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Liverpool and Nottingham. Again, whilst terrible for residents, I don’t think it’s anything a tourist would be affected by (after all, a resident is tied to a place, and a tourist could simply get up and go). These places are still large cities, but it they are all much smaller than London, and so logistically it is tougher for the yobs to move from one place to another – and so it should be easier for the police to deal with. The key is London.

As I’ve said before, my wife commutes to London, and I went in myself on Monday (and will do so again soon). Central London is a world away from Brixton, or Hackney, or Croyden.

One weird thing is that on Monday, when I was in London, I felt totally fine – the newspapers could have been describing somewhere else entirely, however, on Tuesday, when my wife was in London and all I could see were the media reports, I was much more concerned. However, @bobbyllew was in on tuesday, and he had the same experience I did on Monday.

Just got back from old London town, have to say, where I went (central) there was absolutely no sign of anything rioty

It’s difficult to remember when seeing terrible pictures, but the media will chase the trouble – that’s what makes the story. They will show ‘where it is unsafe’, forgetting that the vast majority of places don’t fit that description.

If you’ve flights booked to the UK, and you want to avoid the big cities, there are many options. Try the Lake District or the West Country for instance. You could go to Norfolk and spend a week pottering on the Norfolk Broads. Indeed, these would be good options at any time – and are areas where you won’t see many tourists from abroad usually. A place not far from where I am now is the Jane Austen museum. This is somewhere that’s popular with Americans – and it has a nice tea room opposite. Or perhaps, if you want a town visit, try Bath. This is a very well appointed town with some lovely Georgian architecture as well as a geothermal spa and a great rugby ground (although my team is Wasps).

What I’m trying to say is, if you’ve flights to London – you’ll probably be fine if you’re in central London, but if worried, take the flight but change the location within the UK. See something else, something that wouldn’t normally be first on the list for a visitor from your country.

Returning to relevance: The Guardian has put together a map of the issues. On this map, a red blob is something that has happened in the previous 24 hours, a white blob is something older. As I type, London is in white.

I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet, but I have the sense that the worst is behind us. Fingers crossed.

Do You Know This Person?

There are several sites springing up to help catch the criminal yobs who are rioting.

The first is the Met’s flickr site, giving photos from Operation Withern, there’s also the Met’s website.

The next is Catch A Looter, which collates images collected from all over the web – although this would be better to filter some of the more general images, and only show those with a recognisable face.

There is also the long standing Crimestoppers, where information can be submitted anonymously (e.g. the twitter ID of someone boasting about their new riot acquired HDTV). This shouldn’t be an incentive, but rewards are available for information leading to a charge. You can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 – or use their online form.

The met police have a twitter account. If you see someone boasting of their new ‘riot acquired’ HDTV, for goodness sake, don’t tweet about it including @theirname – it will alert then to their stupid behaviour compounding their moronic behaviour and they’ll delete the evidence. Take a screengrab and use another route (e.g. crimestoppers), but do pass it on, don’t assume someone else will have done it. I’m sure the met would rather have several reports than none.

The website ‘Zavilia‘ uses cloudsourcing to identify rioters – you are shown photos, and asked to identify. When several identifications match, details are passed to police. Manchester Police have launched their own version, identifyrioters (with links for the cities).

If you find this collection of links useful, please retweet this. If you have new links, please add a comment.

Phone hacking

I watch the phone hacking scandal with disbelief. I can understand how average joe gets hacked, especially with regard to answerphones: the pin is four digits, and though it may take some time, this is guessable (why isn’t a text sent whenever there is an incorrect pin entry, with 5 wrong guesses causing a lockout for two hours?)

What befuddles me most of all is that Gordon Brown is concerned about phone hacking:

  1. If the PM (for he was once) is using a mobile, and worried about interception of signal, why isn’t it encrypted by default?
  2. If the PM is worried about the voicemail being hacked, then why is the default orange voicemail being used (or vodafone, or O2 or whatever) – have they checked the security? Are they sure no rogue telecom employees can listen?
  3. Most importantly, why on earth is there an automated system for voicemail at all? The phone isn’t answered because the PM is busy (a real possibility, surely) – but the phone call might be important (also a real possibility). In that case, forward the phone call to PMs private secretary who will take the message in a more secure way. If the phone is the PMs private number, then this can still be done by a professional and discrete secretarial service.

The focus of the ‘phone hacking’ story is all wrong. Right now, it shouldn’t be on ‘Did the News of the World’ indulge in hacking the PMs phone?’ – but it should be ‘Why are our communications so weak that there is even the risk that a tabloid journo could hack the communications of the Prime Minister?’

None of this is to diminish the naughtiness of hacking into the phones of other individuals, and that investigation should run its course; but right now, I’m mostly wondering ‘Why was the PMs phone so insecure?’ and ‘Could this apply to the current PM?’

Coalition Document: Confidence

I was meaning to write on the 55% proposal in the coalition document, and then I saw that mpk had said pretty much exactly what I wanted to say anyway, in his post ‘When a confidence vote is not a confidence vote’ – so here is his post (reposted with permission)

There has been much brouhaha from people who should really pay closer attention to the details about the proposals as part of the UK’s new coalition agreement for a fixed-term parliament to require a vote of 55% of MPs to dissolve it.

The essential thing to remember is that the government is not Parliament. The government is formed from among the ranks of Parliament, but the two are different entities and the two motions proposed reflect this:

  • A motion of no confidence is Parliament expressing a lack of confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, and can be passed – as today – with 50% of voting members plus one member. If it passes the government falls and we need to find a new one.
  • A motion of dissolution is Parliament expressing a lack of confidence in itself, and in its ability to produce a viable government from among its ranks. It will be able to be passed with 55% of MPs voting in favour. If it passes Parliament is dissolved and a general election is called.

It looks a lot less menacing when phrased in this manner, and what’s really inexcusable is the number of MPs who really should already know these kind of details sounding off about how outrageous the 55% threshold is. Is it really? We’re looking here at the same parliamentarians who passed the Scotland Act 1998, which defines the parameters under which the Scottish Parliament functions. The Scottish house already has a mechanism to dissolve itself in this manner – but there it requires a two-thirds majority. In other places with Westminster-style parliaments this is not uncommon.

What’s really happening is that with fixed-term Parliaments, the Prime Minister relinquishes the right to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament at a time of his or her choosing. There therefore needs to be a new mechanism to give Parliament the ability to dissolve itself – as a no confidence motion only forces the resignation of the government.

In a coalition government or under proportional representation, it’s quite likely that there will be multiple coalition possibilities. If the current Con/Lib coalition were to fall to a confidence motion, there would be nothing to stop Labour trying to put together a coalition of its own (perhaps the ‘coalition of the progressive’ touted last week) and being invited to form a new government by the Queen if it looks like they can make it work. This is essential if we are to move away from a de facto two-party system, but also to prevent tiffs among coalition partners from forcing elections at the drop of a hat. Only if a new Government can’t be found would Parliament elect to dissolve itself and force an election, and compared to the countries where 2/3 is the requirement I don’t think 55% is an entirely rebellion-proof threshold.

I’ve got no problem with people being opposed to the 55% threshold – that’s democracy – but I do have a problem with people not getting their facts right, as I am an obsessive nerd who cannot stand it when someone is wrong on the Internet.

Something is Wrong on the Internet