John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for August, 2011

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Being volunteered to work for nothing: a new recipe for the likes of them | John Harris

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Cameron and Blair talk of a rump at the bottom of society – rhetoric that suits businesses getting unpaid labour out of it

David Cameron talks about the “120,000 most troubled families” in the country, and promises help from mentors – “family champions“, as the government calls them – who will apparently include Tory MPs and advisers. From some distant departure lounge, Tony Blair holds forth about a sub-group of people “outside the social mainstream” who demand “deeply specific solutions”.

Between the two of them there is some disagreement over how much looted shops say about the national condition, but they seem to share the same essential conviction: that there is a degenerate rump at the bottom of society, and no point getting hot and bothered about any apparently harsh or intrusive treatment meted out to them. They are, after all, nothing like the rest of us.

This belief is contagious. Even my Guardian colleague Jackie Ashley this week claimed that “many” of our poorest people are now “culturally hostile to work and social order“. And so, with the help of such welfare-to-work companies as A4e (whose chair, Emma Harrison, is fast becoming a poster girl for the government’s revived fixation with worklessness) the juggernaut of brutal welfare reform is being allowed to speed on, with barely a squeak of opposition. The silence is overwhelming, even when it comes to people being pushed into work for practically nothing.

Copied over from the last government’s Flexible New Deal, one of the central ideas of Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme is “mandatory work activity“: up to 30 weekly hours of faux-employment spread over 28 days, during which people have to do work “of benefit to the community” in return for their jobseeker’s allowance of £67.50 a week. If they decline the offer of “experience” paid, in effect, at a rate of £2.25 an hour, or fail to make a go of it, their benefit can be stopped – for a minimum of three months, and six months if the transgression is repeated.

It’s a strange thing: by definition, you cannot volunteer for this, so the appearance of mandatory work activity on a CV speaks of reluctance being met with compulsion – which doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would have an employer drooling. Moreover, there is nothing to rule out the four-week cycle happening again and again. When I called the DWP to find out if there was a cap on how often someone might be mandated, a spokeswoman said this: “It can be repeated, but you wouldn’t be forced back into a scheme for the sake of it. It has to be something that the claimant would benefit from.”

Nothing in this field is 100% certain, but the government insists that the “community benefit” proviso keeps people doing mandatory work activity out of the private sector. However, it sets the tone – and beyond that scheme there is mounting evidence of people being pressed into a fuzzy array of work placement programmes that provide big companies with a pool of unpaid labour.

When I contacted them, Tesco acknowledged it is co-operating with jobcentres to provide 3,000 four-week placements this year, and Poundland rather brazenly said that taking on unpaid benefit claimants “doesn’t replace our recruitment activity but adds to the number of colleagues we have working with us”. Neither of them, nor the equally placement-friendly Asda, answered a question about what “work experience” actually involves, though the clue is perhaps in the title. Work?

Partly because they tend to feel scared, the people at the sharp end of all this can barely be heard: we need to hear more from them, and fast. Last week the research outfit Corporate Watch published an interview with a woman they claimed had been dragooned into unpaid work at Primark. “I worked three days a week, 10am to 4.30pm or 5pm with one half-hour break,” she said. “[Primark] don’t pay any money … When I finished the placement I took my CV and I asked the managers if they had any vacancies. They said: ‘Not yet – we’ll call you when we do.’ I haven’t had a call.” If the economy continues to flatline and the supposedly workless still outstrip actual vacancies, we should fear the worst – this model of work being securely built into the economy.

It all blurs into a change in regulations aimed at the young unemployed, whereby people between 18 and 24 can now put in eight weeks of unpaid work without it affecting their benefits, and are seemingly being shoved into doing exactly that. “Work experience is an excellent way for young people to gain the practical experience and showcase their talents,” enthuses the DWP minister Chris Grayling; jobcentre advisers, says his department, are now being told that if a company has no vacancies for a young jobseeker, they should be “pushy” about the possibility of an unpaid placement. Such, it seems, is the transposing of a middle-class institution to parts of the economy where it really doesn’t fit: put another way, the system by which Jocastas and Crispins get to make the tea at City law firms and stay with Mum and Dad’s London friends is being reapplied to penurious weeks often spent at the very bottom of the service sector.

Some might call it slavery. Behind flash corporate facades, we should wake up to the increasingly strong outlines of a latterday workhouse. But never mind: the poor are not the same as the rest of us. Are they?

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Football: big money, big clubs, big problems? | John Harris

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

As the season gets going, we want to know your thoughts about supporting smaller clubs and how finance affects the sport

A couple of weeks ago, we asked Comment is free users for their suggested examples of the way that the media often distorts local stories beyond recognition. Given that the riots had just started, the response was a little underwhelming: this is a subject to which we’ll return, ideally before Christmas – so if you know of any story that fits the bill – we’re talking about ‘Asylum seekers eat swans’ syndrome, essentially – please get in touch at

In the meantime, we’re going to focus the next instalment on football. With the start of the 2011-12 season and the imminent closure of the transfer window, it’s time to look at the effect that methods of modern business are having on the beautiful game. Massive sums are being spent, particularly by the kind of new arrivals in the top-flight represented by Manchester City. Manchester United have just part-floated on the Singapore stock exchange. Meanwhile, many clubs are struggling – though supporters are beginning to fight back via new models of mutualisation and community ownership (see the Supporters Direct initiative for details).

On Wednesday, we’re going to the clash between Chester FC and FC United of Manchester, both representative of the new wave of football mutuals. We want to feed in as much opinion and information from Comment is free into our coverage as possible. So, some questions…

What’s it like supporting a small club, particularly in the shadow of a Premiership giant? What’s the appeal of allegiance to a lower-league side? Has where you live lost a football club, or is it in the midst of a fight to save one? Do you support a big club, and have concerns about what big money is doing to the experience of being a fan? And to what extent do you think that the mutual/community ownership option is the way to go?

We’ll be back on the thread at regular intervals. Obviously.

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Who are the real looters – rioters or MPs? | John Harris

Friday, August 19th, 2011

You help yourself to hundreds of pounds worth of fancy chairs, rugs, lamps – are you not in the same moral ballpark as looters?

David Starkey’s now-infamous claim that the recent riots somehow saw white people “becoming black” is arrant nonsense – and this summer’s disturbances actually reflect an English tradition that dates back centuries, to times when just about all the occupants of these islands were caucasian.

One thinks, for example, of the London apprentice riots of the 1590s, 1688’s Bawdy House riots, 1769’s Spitalfields riots, 1780’s Gordon riots, the Swing riots and Bristol riots that took place between 1830 and 1831 – or any number of other disturbances, most of which resulted in a part of the riot-script now being followed to the letter: a great spate of draconian punishment, forever captured in the English archetype of the bloody assizes, a phrase first used in the wake of the Monmouth rebellion.

So, we now watch once again as good sense is set aside. Those two herberts from Cheshire are given four years each for incapably trying to foment disturbances that didn’t actually happen (as the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire puts it: “Bad drivers who kill kids do less – so do yobs who end a life with a punch then say they never meant to kill anyone.”)

The Mancunian mother-of-two Ursula Nevin is facing five months inside for handling a pair of shorts, looted from a city-centre shop by a friend. Twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Robinson took a £3.50 case of water from the Brixton branch of Lidl: he was credited with previous good character and credible remorse, but is still going down for six months. A 19-year-old Mancunian named Stefan Hoyle was caught in possession of a looted violin: no previous, but he still gets four months in a young offenders’ institution. Obviously, there will be much more of this.

In response, it is worth highlighting yet another English tradition: that of cant and double standards on the part of some of those fond of whipping up authoritarian storms. And as jails fill up and politicians continue to talk tough, it’s perhaps illuminating to go back through the dossier of MPs’ expenses claims. There are interesting moral questions here, which we’ll come on to – but first, some examples from the weeks and months that followed the first news of the expenses scandal.

You could certainly be forgiven for comparing the fate of the Facebook pair to the MPs jailed for fraudulently taking tens of thousands from the public purse – whose average jail sentence came in at around 18 months. But it’s arguably even more instructive to look at those who merely paid back hefty sums for claims they clearly thought had been indefensible, many of whom are now cheerleading for the sentencing craziness that has seized the courts.

The then shadow education secretary, Michael Gove, lately heard bemoaning an “absence of discipline in the home and in the school”, agreed to pay back £7,000, spent on furniture and fittings for his house in north Kensington. They included a £331 Chinon armchair, a Manchu cabinet for £493 and a pair of “elephant lamps” worth £134.50. Also: a £750 Loire table, a Camargue chair worth £432 and a birdcage coffee table that cost £238.50.

David Cameron repaid a £680 home repair bill. Oliver Letwin returned £2,000, the cost of repairing a leaking pipe under his home tennis court.

Hazel Blears stood up in the Commons last week and said:

“For me, the politics of law and order and of security and protecting our citizens have never been about the difference between right and left; they have always been about the difference between right and wrong.”

She should know: in the summer of 2009, you may recall the iconic image of her holding up a cheque for £13,332 in repaid capital gains tax, having apparently come to the conclusion that it wasn’t hers to spend.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee that will play a key role in investigating the riots, made a number of purchases that cost more than set out in parliamentary guidelines, including a £550 rug – and after questions about claims for a home 12 miles from Westminster, also repaid a handsome £18,949.82.

All this leads on to the kind of questions one hears in undergraduate ethics tutorials, or on Radio 4’s Moral Maze. Of course, rioting involves criminal damage and disorder. There again, as the Nevin case proves, plenty of people are currently being sent to jail for eyebrow-raising stretches for offences that involved neither.

And so the question arises: if you effectively help yourself to fancy chairs, rugs, tennis court pipe repairs and whatever else, and your wrongdoing is sufficiently clear-cut that you volunteer to pay back the money, might you be in the same moral ballpark? If so, might that be proof of the fact that if the riots are part of some “slow-motion moral collapse” (cheers, Cameron), the people in charge had better take their share of the blame? And if that’s the case, might our politicians find a slightly more nuanced way of holding forth?

In fact, come to think of it, all this might suggest a more sensible way of dealing with the riots’ aftermath than cramming our prisons to bursting point. I’ll quote from a recent letter to the Guardian from one Michael Trevallion of Birmingham:

“In view of the huge numbers of riot offenders now clogging up the magistrates’ courts and threatening to overburden our prisons, why has no one suggested offering an amnesty for those convicted of stealing goods up to an estimated value of, say, £500? This could be called the Hazel Blears option: an offender in full public view hands into the court a cheque for the amount of the goods stolen.”

Brilliant, you have to agree.

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For a progressive, Cameron is sounding very Thatcherite | John Harris

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

The prime minister’s fightback speech failed to display the consistency or understanding needed after last week’s riots

A week has passed since he sped back from Tuscany, and David Cameron is still not having the happiest of crises. His visits to Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Salford have been woefully quickfire affairs, mostly enacted behind closed doors. It seems strange that though he has been to Croydon, Tottenham, Hackney and Peckham have yet to be graced by his presence. The government’s quixotic decision to pick a fight with the police has played badly with the public, polls show. To the average Joe, Cameron surely looks like a man caught on the hop, reprising his old tunes and desperately writing unconvincing new ones – with the noise surrounding Bill Bratton’s quest to become chief commissioner of the Met forming a particularly bamboozling detail.

Today Cameron made the “social fightback” speech intended to seize the agenda via claims of a “slow-motion moral collapse”. His chosen location: a youth centre in his well-heeled Oxfordshire constituency. Whose idea was that? Perhaps the aim was to make an appeal to Britain’s better nature from a middle English cradle of law-abiding stability. Maybe Cameron thought the hip-hop mural behind him would suffice. It didn’t, and the clumsy choreography made things worse. For Ed Miliband’s appearance at his old school, the audience was made up of young people and community activists from places affected by the riots, who asked questions immediately after his speech; Cameron had to be reminded to engage with the assembled youth by the Guardian’s Michael White. On this evidence, he’s rather losing his touch.

And the content? There is no point in people like me having a pop at, say, John Redwood for his failure to recognise the importance of inequality. But Cameron was meant to be slightly different. And if the “progressive” persona he once affected had been transposed to today, who knows what would have happened?

Even while making the case for personal responsibility he would have acknowledged the causal links that run between deprivation, and crime, disorder and family dysfunction. He might have highlighted the lines to be drawn between all those images of people stealing whatever they could grab, and what he once called “insatiable consumption and materialism”. There is masses of this stuff in the archives: as late as November 2009 he was paying tribute to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level, and saying things like this: “There’s a massive difference between a system that allows fair reward for talent, effort and enterprise, and a system that keeps millions of people at the bottom locked out of the success enjoyed by the mainstream.” He was talking about modern Britain. What happened?

Today he sounded cold, cynical, and occasionally quite odd. How did he end up making no reference to youth unemployment but decrying the Human Rights Act and that hoary old Aunt Sally, health and safety culture? Given that the leader of the opposition ties together looting, City chicanery, MPs’ expenses and phone hacking partly because he knows it’s a message that resonates, why did Cameron confine any material on that idea to a one-sentence afterthought?

Too much of what he said sounded like a rehashed version of the kind of stuff the blessed Margaret uttered back in the 1980s, tangled up with the modern small-statism that runs from the shrill aspects of the press into the rightwing blogosphere. If a moment like this demands a voice that might unify a country still reeling from last week’s events, it is probably best not to sound the kind of notes beloved of Melanie Phillips.

And even on this score Cameron was not consistent. When it comes to families, more government is apparently the new idea: “We’ve got to be less sensitive to the charge that this is about interfering or nannying,” he said. But on education, the state should apparently get out of the way and leave things to small urban platoons headed by the likes of, say, Toby Young. Such is the contradiction that cuts straight to the confused heart of the prime minister’s politics. All too often, they make no sense – which is maybe what happens when apparent beliefs are actually mere flags of convenience. “Within the lifetime of this parliament we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country,” he said, though much of the surrounding Tory noise suggests unlikely methods of doing so: evicting them from their homes and cutting their benefits?

And so to one of the more baffling no-shows: a public inquiry. There is no point in mincing words: it is insane that after events of such horror and gravity the prime minister would not commit to one – instead pushing a fuzzy across-the-board policy review “to mend our broken society”. Thirty years ago William Whitelaw commissioned the Scarman inquiry two days after the riots of April 1981 had ended. Miliband is talking about how to build something that will be more open and ambitious than the standard Whitehall talk-in, and threatening to do it himself.

The ghosts of 30 years ago are all around us. Over the weekend, I read an out-of-print paperback titled Uprising!, co-authored by my Guardian colleague Martin Kettle. What hit me was that even if most of the recent disturbances have been very different from the riots back then, their respective aftermaths are remarkably similar.

Then, as now, there was a spasm of over-the-top sentencing and political rhetoric accompanied by a rising sense that something in society was very wrong, which too many people at the top failed to grasp. On 8 July, the week after one of two disturbances in Toxteth, Margaret Thatcher appeared in a party political broadcast and displayed her usual ice-cold obstinacy, much to the annoyance of the Times.

“She failed to raise the tone of her remarks to the level of events,” it said. “Not for the first time, she was unable to strike the right note when a broad sense of social understanding was required.” Give or take the pronouns, that verdict might just as well have been written about what we heard yesterday.

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West Midlands riots: tense and weary residents take stock

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Gangs, police, boredom and education cuts are all seen as part of problems that led to looting

The atmosphere in Wolverhampton was tense and weary, as if the place was trying to emerge from a hangover. It was Wednesday. In twos and threes, fluorescent-jacketed police patrolled the city centre, keeping a careful eye on Queen Square, the compact public space where rioters had gathered the previous afternoon, under the watchful eye of a statue of Prince Albert.

In shop doorways, people taking fag breaks or sheltering from the drizzle talked about nothing else. By half past two, as shops closed early, the muted hubbub on the main streets had been joined by a new, unsettling sound: the low screech of electric screwdrivers, securing boards to shop windows, lest trouble should flare up again.

Outside a smashed and looted menswear shop called Le Monde, a 54-year-old glazier called Martin Frost was trying to improve on the defences that had been breached the day before. He scowled at the mention of looting. “I want to set up a vigilante group to calm the place down,” he told me.

Riots are usually big city affairs. In the UK, certain place names evoke what happens when cramped living, relentless pace and cheek-by-jowl inequality ignite violence: Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworth, St Paul’s – and lately Tottenham, Hackney and Salford.

This time, disorder spread into seemingly unlikely places: Croydon, Ealing, Beckenham, Bromley, Gloucester. Such, perhaps, was the new model of disturbance facilitated by social media, and events based not so much on local factors as on sociology common across the UK: scores of people with nothing to lose and a tangle of grudges against authority.

In the West Midlands, Birmingham was the main headline, with the hit-and-run deaths of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Hussain and Musaver Ali. But trouble also happened in West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton, where about 300 youths ran riot through the afternoon and evening of Tuesday.

There have been civil disturbances in Wolverhampton before: in 1981, 1987 and 1989, when a police raid on a pub sparked arson and looting. Ask anyone under 30 what it’s like to like in Wolverhampton, and the same answers tend to come back: “boring”, “nothing ever happens”, “you’ve got to get out as soon as you can”.

On Broad Street, I met Sham Sharma and his wife Sinita, standing in what remained of a computer shop called Sunitek, one of two they own in the city centre. They looked exhausted, and poleaxed by what had happened less than 24 hours before.

“While I was cashing up,” Sham told me, “people smashed through, into the shop. Literally hundreds of them. They grabbed me by the neck: ‘Where’s the money?’ I opened the till, and then I managed to get out.” As he spoke, Sinita stood behind a broken counter, fighting back tears.

Just about every conversation I had in Wolverhampton reflected aspects of the riots that have become cliches at speed: this one pointed up the national sense that, at least initially, police merely stood and observed.

Sharma said there were riot police at the end of the street, but they told him they could not move until they had received orders. So it was that just about everything in the shop was ripped out and £300,000 of investment was destroyed.

He showed me smears of blood on the walls, and the forlorn remains of his stock: two or three crates full of plugboards and software CDs.

“In big cities, you might expect this, but not here,” he said. “And they didn’t look hungry or deprived. They were wearing designer clothes.” He sighed. “Opportunist thugs. The UK’s gone soft. Too many do-gooders.”

Outside Beatties department store, a trio of young men – two British-Asian, one black – stopped and talked to me. “It’s just a domino effect,” said 20 year-old Ricco Jhara. “London does it, Birmingham does it, so Wolverhampton does it. And it’s a load of dumb shit. Just to get clothes or a hat, you wreck a small business. Dumb, dumb shit.”

Gangs, they said, were ever-present in local life, something proved by sporadic local headlines about such outfits as the Pendeford Crew and the Firetown Gang. Last year, Jamie Price, the son of the DJ and musician Goldie and a member of the Firetown Gang, was jailed for a murder bound up with the two gangs’ rivalry.

“They’re everywhere,” said Jhara. “Everywhere. We have postcode wars, and all that. It’s all about making money, man.” I mentioned drugs, but no-one would be drawn any further.

For 10 more minutes, they spoke about looting, but it didn’t take much persuasion to introduce another topic: their equally dim view of the police. “This is a rough, broken-down city,” said Tobias Bailey, 19. “The police will pick out people, and bully and harass them.” This year alone, he had been stopped and searched about 30 times. “They always say I match a description,” he said. “Then it’s, ‘We stopped you, so we may as well search you.’ “

Outside McDonald’s, James Holmes, 23, explained what he knew of how the riot – the action, said everyone I spoke to, of a mixed crowd of black, white and Asian youths — had been organised. Early on Tuesday afternoon, he had been skateboarding in a nearby park, where people received word via Blackberry Messenger (BBM) that looting was in prospect at the Bentley Bridge retail park.

A group of 13- or 14-year-olds had been dispatched as an advance party, but had come back saying there were too many police.

“So I assume that’s why they came here,” he said. “You could feel the tension. And it didn’t take much to ignite it.” He laughed. “They even broke into the Jobcentre.”

Close by, 14 year-old Zico Horton was sitting on his bike. He answered my questions in that taciturn, distracted, mildly amused way in which male adolescents talk to anyone significantly older. I wondered: did he know anyone who took part?

“Yeah, loads,” he said. “They were following the crowd.”

Why did people do it?

“So they could brag about it,” he said.

Would it happen again?

“I think so. Down at Bentley Bridge again. That’s what everyone’s saying on BBM.”

West Bromwich is 10 miles south-east of Wolverhampton, and six miles from central Birmingham. It has the feel of an afterthought: in London, it would sit at the end of a tube line.

The rate of youth unemployment here is 33%; the town centre has a pinched, sad ambience, and there are precious few of the usual high street names.

On Wednesday, I arrived at three o’clock, and instantly heard incessant chatter about what had happened the previous day: about six hours of trouble involving between 50 and 100 young people, who smashed windows with bricks, and tried to barricade High Street using a van and a Range Rover, which were set on fire.

Now, the only sign of any arson was a scorched patch of tarmac, outside an Indian Sweet Centre owned by Ranjit Singh-Dhillon. The two vehicles had been his. “Terrible,” he said, quietly. “I’ve never seen anything happen like this in West Bromwich.”

I walked down High Street, as far as the pink and black exterior of The Public, the “creative, community, cultural and business space” opened in 2009.

The local Labour MP Tom Watson, diverted from his campaign against News International, was pacing the pavements, having already entertained the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper.

His small-talk to local traders was self-explanatory: “Pretty grim, isn’t it? Have things calmed down a bit?” As in Wolverhampton, everyone was closing early, pulling down shutters and staring anxiously up and down the street.

Watson introduced me to two local men, both owners of textile businesses, and regulars at the Guru Har Rai Sikh temple. “The hooligans were throwing bricks,” said Jaginder Singh-Purewal, 58. “And the police were just standing there, not doing anything.”

“Just staying back,” added 60 year-old Parmjit Singh-Mann. “Either they were undermanned, or they’d been given commands to stay back.”

“There were not enough police,” said Singh-Purewal. “The same as everywhere you see on the TV.”

They told me what they had done to defend the temple, after stones had been thrown at it: in the early hours of Wednesday, as many as 30 men had stood sentry outside, before groups of five or six worked in shifts. The rioters they had seen, they told me, had been “mixed, but mostly black”.

In the shabby environs of Sandwell shopping centre, I managed a snatched conversation with six male teenagers – five black, one white — who admitted, between smirks, to having been in close proximity to Tuesday’s trouble .They had the look of joiner-inners rather than instigators: callow, you might say; a bit daft, if you were being less generous.

Talking to them, I was reminded of scores of kids I can recall from school: the kind who would take no encouragement to go shoplifting, or render a classroom uncontrollable.

Contrary to stereotype, they were hardly feral: well turned-out, and fairly polite, they even issued the odd sentence that revealed traces of social conservatism. When I mentioned the issue of parenting, one voice shot back: “If you can’t beat your children, they’ll be naughty.”

Besides an amusement arcade, the other shop that suffered serious damage was West Bromwich’s branch of the big-box chain Staples. “When Staples was getting trashed,” said a 16-year-old who called himself Critz, “the police were just standing there. Four riot vans; 20 or 30 police. It was like they wanted us to do Staples.”

Why did people do it?

“Free shit,” said a voice. “And fucking the system.”

“You smash up the shops,” said a boy who would only identify himself as Corey, “and you get free stuff. Everything’s about money these days, innit?”

“If they’re stopping EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance],” added another, “what do they want us to do?” Hearing this, I wondered whether this was a line cynically pinched from some talking head on the TV, and parroted back at me, but all six said they wanted to go to college – a music course was mentioned, with retakes of GCSEs – but in the absence of the EMA, they were now wondering whether it was worth it.

And from there, we plunged into the familiar topic of police harassment, and their claims to have extensive experience of it. “Here’s my quote on that,” said one voice. “If you’re not white, you’re not right.”

When the photographer requested a picture, up went the hoods, and out came the black bandanas: we were now facing feral youth, straight out of central casting. They threw a few cliched shapes, and then dispersed, apparently rattled by the attention of the police.

The same kids collared us 10 minutes later: Corey, they said, had been arrested, after being approached by the police and refusing to take off his coat. We watched him being loaded into a van, while an officer squatted by its door, apparently filling in the requisite paperwork.

“People was running round with machetes yesterday,” marvelled Critz. “The Feds did nothing. And he’s just been arrested for not taking off his jacket.”

We were standing outside The Goose pub. In front of us were a single police van, and six officers. A spread-out crowd congregated, seemingly waiting for something to happen.

Nothing did: on Wednesday and Thursday night, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich stayed quiet – decidedly tense, perhaps, but back to that pained model of existence, where life plods on, and the outside world takes no notice.

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