As a Londoner born and bred who knows almost every nook and cranny of the Old Smoke it caused me much sadness, pain, shame and extreme anger to witness the riots of recent days. What has surprised me is that being 1,000 miles from home the events seem to be followed as much by Gibraltarians on giant TV screens and talked about in huddled conversations as by Brits themselves.
I have lived through riots before in Battersea when nearby Brixton went up in flames in the 1980s. However the photographs of buildings engulfed in an inferno and the burnt out skeletons are purely from the days of the blitz. I am not old enough to remember the war years but my grandparents and parents lived through the nightly bombing raids so it is part of my historic memory to which I will return later. When I walked about as a child the blackened ruins were all around me as stark memorials.
Make no mistake what is going on in London is pure criminality and has nothing to do with social exclusion or any of the other buzz words used by politicians and social workers to attempt to explain away the indefensible. On Thursday the British Parliament met to discuss this national tragedy. Rightly Labour Leader Ed Miliband condemned the mindless violence but there are those in his ranks, such as Ken Livingstone, who will try to portray it as a symptom of the coalition’s programme of cuts. Livingstone is an idiot who should spend more time with his newts!
So could such mayhem, senseless violence and looting be visited upon Gibraltar? My strong hunch is no, except in one scenario which I will return to later. However Gibraltar has a violence problem and whether the government wants to admit it or not it is there and needs to be tackled.
You may have followed the claims and counterclaims in PANORAMA over the Bayside School situation. If so I will leave it to you to decide which side is correct. However violence does exist in Gibraltar’s schools, whether it occurs in a set time frame is neither here nor there. In an email to PANORAMA the Royal Gibraltar Police stated: “...In the past year starting as from April 2010, six incidents of assault at Bayside Comprehensive School that have been reported to police, there has been one incident at Westside School also of assault.”
The Minister of Justice has been stabbed in broad daylight whilst walking through the streets with his children. There are also serious drunken assaults on Gibraltar’s streets at night. It was only weeks ago that the Leader of the Opposition, Fabian Picardo, was attacked with a friend as they returned to their car after dining out. A number of other attacks occurred the same night. I happen to know the man with Picardo has a disability which meant the GSLP leader not only had to defend himself but protect his friend too. Curiously the chief minister never contacted Fabian Picardo to express his concern over the attack, a basic human response, but instead bizarrely issued a press release to assure the public his “family” had nothing to do with it.
I happened to chat to a local lad yesterday, not a politico or a university student but a regular youth. First he told me there was indeed the fear of violence at local schools and he had witnessed it himself. I prefer to believe him than a No.6 press release. Then as we watched the London riots on Sky News he told me his parents had told him of similar violence in Gibraltar.
Of course what he was referring to was the “Palomos” disturbances of 1968 largely instigated because of the actions of a group of six, including two Triay’s, one being the father-in-law of the current chief minister. On April 6 of that year around 1,000 angry Gibraltarians rioted and attacked their properties with the Governor Sir Gerald Lathbury calling out troops in support of the police who had lost control.
The youth, in whose historic memory those events are enshrined just like the blitz are in mine, laughed that Peter Caruana with his Andorra solution was trying to recreate the same scenario as Triay and “Los Palomos”. I don’t believe Gibraltar will suffer a summer of discontent but equally I do not believe the majority of Gibraltarians will accept joint sovereignty with knobs on as in the Andorra model. If Caruana tries to impose it, he could well feel the political heat.