The Public Gallery: Tough on raves, tough on the causes of raves

By - Thursday 19th June, 2014

Tom Black writes that the race for Croydon Central has begun, in case you hadn’t noticed

Last Saturday, an illegal rave was held in the former East Croydon Royal Mail building. Police stood a safe distance from proceedings and masonry and fire extinguishers were thrown from windows onto the ground. The following day, tram services and the road itself were disrupted, and Croydon experienced its first culture war for quite some time.

‘They’re just kids having fun,’ cried one side. ‘They’re hooligans who endangered lives and disrupted ours,’ cried the other. ‘But if they were provided for they wouldn’t feel the need to do things like this,’ said the first lot. ‘You’re a bunch of hippies,’ said the second.

Comparisons were made to the riots. While riot victims themselves were quick to point out there was little comparable damage, the behaviour of the police was highlighted as similar – they stood back from the action, claiming they had neither the resources nor manpower to get involved in the situation and shut it down.

The difference between the approaches of Labour parliamentary candidate Sarah Jones and incumbent Conservative Gavin Barwell was noticeable and interesting, however. Barwell was quick to respond on Twitter and in a blog on his website. He wrote of the need for those responsible to face “the full force of the law”, attracting accusations that he was being unduly harsh.

Both parties accuse each other of politicising the death of a fifteen year old boy

Jones, meanwhile, described Barwell as being part of the “hang-em-and-flog-em brigade”, and called for a look at why the young people who organised the rave, and those who committed acts of criminal damage, felt disengaged from society enough to do such things. She also questioned recent national and local Conservative cuts in policing. In her case, some questioned the link she drew between the end of Education Maintenance Allowance and youth discontent.

Then, late on Monday, came the tragic news that a fifteen year old boy had died as a result of his drink being spiked at the rave.

The Conservatives were quick to point to their man’s initial toughness. Both parties began to accuse the other of politicising the death of a young person. Looking at their statements, it’s difficult to argue that anyone was doing this.

A narrative is emerging – Tory macho man versus Labour’s hand-wringing intellectual

But this week’s sniping match has made interesting reading nevertheless. A narrative is emerging that may stay with us until May 2015. Jones – who has been relatively quiet until now – sought to portray Barwell as a ‘macho’ politician throwing his weight around and being unduly authoritarian toward the ravers.

Barwell, by contrast, defended his actions (as did his aide, Cllr Mario Creatura, in somewhat more politicised terms) in the light of Monday’s tragedy and a statement from Council Leader Tony Newman that also called for tough punishments for those involved.

Candidates slyly nipping at each other on Twitter will soon appear to be fishing for quotes that can be taken out of context in more traditional forms of electoral communication, such as leaflets. There is a wealth of precedent for such behaviour in recent British elections.

One legacy of New Labour’s brushes with authoritarianism is that much of the reputation the Labour Party had for being soft on crime has disappeared. Jones herself used a version of ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ in her piece. Nevertheless, it looks as though Barwell – who told me back in February that he identifies as a traditional conservative on crime and is proud to do so – has smelled blood here. He is a man who believes he knows his constituency, and he clearly thinks people in Croydon Central want a tough approach to policing and crime. Painting Jones as ‘soft’ may become a priority for Barwell’s campaign.

The starting pistol has been fired for Election 2015

The risk for Barwell is that it could backfire and play into Jones’s narrative that Barwell is a testosterone-fuelled macho man, out of touch with ordinary people in Croydon.

The risk for Jones is that Barwell’s strategy may work, and the abiding image of her will be a hand-wringing intellectual who is soft on crime and out of touch with ordinary people in Croydon.

Whatever happens, expect more of it. The starting pistol has been fired for Election 2015.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent piece, as usual. From what I have noticed, however, Sarah Jones is the only Labour person who wants the “softly, softly” approach. Every other Labour person prefers that we get tough on these people.

  • David White

    Anne is, not for the first time, out of touch. Sarah Jones isn’t calling for a “softly softly” approach so far as those responsible for the problems at the rave are concerned. In her article she says “We need to catch the real criminals – those who set up and organised the rave in the first place.”
    However Sarah is also concerned that we don’t tar all those who attended the rave with the same brush.
    If Anne had looked at Twitter this week (beyond her own small protected account) she would have seen lots of people, including many Labour Party members and councillors, agreeing with Sarah. Many ideas were put forward about ways of engaging with young people and encouraging the provision of safe and legal facilities where young people can express themselves and have fun.

    • Stephen Giles

      Stirring it up as usual I see – please get it into your and others’ trotskyist skulls that the organisation of this rave was criminal activity, and if you hadn’t noticed – clear tax evasion!!!

      • Anne Giles

        Hello Steve. You are replying to David, saying that Sarah’s article is a great article, I believe.

        • Stephen Giles

          To clarify, I am referring to Tom’s article.

    • Anne Giles

      Hello David. You may well be right. :-)

    • Anne Giles

      The real criminals are the ones who profited from this – They will have made thousands and there was no health and safety involved. What if there had been a fire, for example? But the thugs who hurled missiles at police are also criminals, as are the ones who spiked the 15 year old’s drink.

      • David White

        There’s no dispute about this. But the other important question is how we react to the vast majority of the young people who attended the rave. They are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such.

        • Anne Giles

          I certainly agree with you on that one. They just thought they were going out for a night of fun. I don’t think they will be treated as criminals though.

  • explodingdog

    Great article

  • Anne Giles

    Another thing we were discussing this morning – we never went to raves. My husband Steve went to rock gigs, I danced three nights a week, we had parties in one another’s homes, my nephews equally, and my greatniece at university has been to parties, not raves – no drugs involved. Steve’s sister and brother-in-law (a school head) were always very strict and their sons did not go to raves – one has his own rock band now (has played at Croydon’s Screamlounge, in fact. Our Indian neighbours across the road have a son who has never wanted to go to a rave, and the same applied to the Oriental family next door. The teenager next door has to be home by 11 p.m. So I don’t think we can say that youth needs to party and to let their hair down and that it must be a rave. Th

    • Stephen Giles

      And of course there may be money laundering involved in organising these events, which cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

      • Anne Giles

        And tax avoidance.

  • Anne Giles

    The Rum and Bass Collective had taken themselves off Facebook in order to prevent police from locating them. However, they were happy to talk to The Advertiser, with loads of promises about age limits and making the raves safe. Pity they never thought of that before. In any case, they should be prosecuted.