Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

No liberty without order

In the face of the disorder in English cities in recent days, the debate has revolved around questions of individual responsibility or wider issues of opportunity and parenting. 

But there is a broader and more fundamental lesson in all this about freedom.  The past week has shown the crucial importance of liberty for a decent society to function.

We have been given a frightening insight into what happens when the order and control that we normally take for granted breaks down.  In its place come fear and a complete absence of liberty for ordinary citizens.

A friend of mine, in her twenties, described being stuck in her flat in Hackney for several nights this week while gangs roamed the streets outside as being trapped like an animal, unable to venture outside the door. 

As I helped a small businessman friend of mine in Wolverhampton clear the glass from his ransacked and looted computer shop I saw the fear in his eyes that this could happen so easily. 

On repeated evenings shops in our major cities have closed early, depriving traders of the freedom to trade.  Decent people have fled city centres by 5pm, leaving them to a combination of the police and threatening gangs intent on trouble.

All of this has been the destruction of freedom and its replacement by fear.  And when that freedom is absent normal life can’t function.

It is therefore essential that we restore order as soon as possible.  For in restoring order, we restore freedom.  Only once we have that can our shops and businesses get back to normal, can decent law-abiding citizens go back to enjoying our city centres in the evening, as well as during daytime hours and can young women feel free to venture from their flats at night. 

Only once order is restored can businesspeople take rational decisions about rebuilding what has been destroyed.

Only when freedom is restored can people go to work and the trade can resume that generates the tax revenues to fund the schools, hospitals and other services that are at the centre of political debate. 

Sometimes in political discourse, freedom and equality are posited as opposites, one traditionally owned by the right, the other by the left.  We should never allow that to happen.  The left should be clear that we stand for order and the liberty it guarantees.  For without this order and liberty we cannot build the good society we seek.

There has been some discussion in recent years about the Labour government having posed a threat to liberty.  It was never true and last week’s events have shown that it is not the laws passed by Labour in government which threaten liberty – it is the lawlessness we saw on our streets which terrified decent people, caused millions of pounds worth of damage and forced people to abandon public spaces.

We have seen a glimpse this week of what replaces freedom when order breaks down.  Order and freedom are essential for opportunity to grow and progress to take place.


Pat McFadden MP is former shadow secretary of state for business


Photo: George Rex

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Pat McFadden MP

a former shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills


  • Re Robert’s comment.

    I think all Labour MPs and loyal members are under orders not to say anything other than ‘looters are evil and should be punished very, very heavily.’

    I and many others are putting other views out there for debate, see my article on these pages.

    Dave Ward

  • Sigh, Pat,


    You can only impose order if the oder has legitimacy. It can only have legitimacy if those imposing the order are trusted to do so. You talk about “fundamentals” yet you exhibit little understanding of them.

    Freedom and order come into opposition only when rules are made that are unjust, when they are imposed upon the blameless majority who so far in the UK have exhibited tremendous patience with the politicos, the bankers and thos associated with the telephone hacking business.

    If people no longer trust the legislators (who can blame them at the moment) when legislators become incurably dumb or corrupt, or the people meant to enforce the law then the first people to “test” the law are thos who share similar flawed viewpoints, that society owes them somthing and that ethics, morality and strength of discipline can be discarded along with a grasp on reality and all sorts of immoral behaviours committed, regardlss of whether they have been made “legal” or are not so.

    A rule maker ensuring their immorality is legal is just as bad as someone breaking into a sports shop. And lets make this very clear MORAL legitimacy must be restored before Governments whatever their latest shallow fashion of colour are trusted with such potent authoritarain rule making.

    The public will only tolerate this as long as it protects them, the worst elements of the establishment are currently occupying the same “shelf” as the looters and cretins who thought the conduct of the weak minority gave license to stupidity and an open day on violence and criminality.

    The PLP has an opportunity to take a lead here and I am happy that Ed Milliband has been listening along with the media who I contacted yesterday regarding the continuing Constitutional crises that is occuring. It is shocking those MPs with law degrees are not even noticing it.

    We are in a constitutional crises, that is why Parlaiment is hung and all three major parties were stuffed in Scotland in favour of the SNP, why the BNP and UKIP prevailed in Europe and why people are seriously fed up with shallow PR and shallow corrupt polticians both locally and Nationally.

    I came very close to leaving the Party and am still borderline, as I have said before only the commitment to new ideas and placing the people first keeps me here and you ca help the staff at progress too who have put up with me.

    We have to take the opportunity to seize the trust of the public and hold onto it, the agenda of many politicans will have to, its a question of peace or war either at home or elsewhere as we enter a very tough time. I warned on the Labourlist blog time and agian what was going to happen this summer you were all warned as MPs were warned over their expenses and on so many other issues last year and yet doggedly and stubbornly blundered into every disaster blinded by irrational greed and with no grasp of reality.

    We still have a massive problem and you need to make some painful changes to the PLP and I am very sorry about that. I am a Councillor, not an ambitious one, I have no “angle”, I took the position out of necessity not personal greed. You have to start listening to people at depth, this shallow nonesense must end for your own sakes if not for the people you are supposed to represent.

    No more Nepotism.

    No more special favours forselves that the public do not have.

    No more “big money” schemes (I hope you are reading this Milburn and Lord Reid).

    It has to stop now.

    Because the alternative, as with the solution is only a step away. So lets seize the opportunity to make labour mean something again, no more blame gams, but a potent political force that is of the people for the people.

    Its your call, all I can do is badger you all and the press.

  • Apologies for spelling: (I type very fast)

    Many agendas of politicians will have to be dropped.

    The staff who administer this site deserve a bloody medal for having to put up with me as I can very demanding over what i place and have removed…so thanks guys.

    Its a tough time, for those of us who give a damn its been a bloody awful two years (except dealing with BNP with Margaret Hodge MP and Councillor Darren Rodwell) for Labour too and those who have been profiting from all of this had best remember it.

  • So how do we address the issue of these disaffected people who have run amok?

    Restoring law and order is just square 1. These people need a reason to adopt good values which they clearly do not understand at the moment.

  • Some will not like what I have to say but the realities are it is some of those harping on about the so-called disaffected youth who are the problem.

    Unlike most commentators sat in the comfort of the room with their computer and reference guides I have actually dealt with youth offending and like it or not being tough is the answer.

    Provision in terms of youth clubs etc helps but for some, for example those who turn up either with alcohol or drunk before clubs start its not what they want and when you engage with them they say what they want is to do whatever the hell they like, which is often rephrased as “have fun but without any rules”.

    If the rules in place prevent this they don’t attend, attempt to cause problems for those that do or seek out opportunities or locations were they can have complete disregard for anyone or anything that gets in the way of them having fun.

    For some moral compasses are broken and MP expenses, hacking and all other noises being put out as excuses are irrelevant sound-bites that can be dismissed by the simple fact that the moral compass issues has been around long before these issues became media knowledge.

    It was around when I was a kid doing my youth offending and while I was lucky and had my moral compress checked associates now serving long prison terms didn’t and they didn’t care one jot about anything other than their own selfish gain.

    Until moral compasses are sorted out, which isn’t done by saying look at MPs etc. as examples of good or as excuses as examples of bad problems will continue.

    We need to look at all that is wrong in our communities, deal with them, including things like why stop and search exists and show it is those who create the need for it to exist who are the problem not the law that is in place to deal, stop appeasement and while dealing with the causes of crime make sure we are tough on crime whenever it rears its head.

    It isn’t all about youth offending either, those who dismiss the law until they need it are as much if not bigger problem than the disaffected youth through the example they set but the moral compasses of some members of the ‘lost generation’ is a very good starting point.

  • if Cameron wants to ‘ wage war on gangs’ then surely it is largely trade in illegal drugs yet again that needs to be tackled. Aren’t a lot of gangs where they do exist , about defending territory where a certain drug leader may use young people to distribute ? Those who buy of course will be from all walks of life from city traders,rich party set, university students so on….

  • My advice to Ralph Baldwin (who is on the brink of leaving the Labour Party) – be brave, Ralph, and do it (then we will have one less person expressing silly childish views that bear no relevence to a sensible understanding of last week’s events).

  • (answer to ‘Andy’)
    I totally agree with you that having a moral compass is essential to addressing we have seen. What you call “being tough” I prefer to describe as “being firm but fair” i.e. adults being in charge of youths whilst exercising care rather than becoming Robocops programmed to see only one side of human nature. I depart from you completely on ‘stop-and-search’ measures. The universal mantra emanating from gang members, ex gang members, their parents and a number of black media chatterers is that the police are to blame (basically, just for existing) particularly for racist and too frequent use of stop-and-search. One example of this attitude was voiced by Terry Christian last Sunday morning on BBC 1. He quoted the case of his nephew who was attacked by the police and had a gun pointed at his head “just because he is black”. No other aspect of the incident was mentioned by T.C. so the viewer is expected to believe that a group (gang?) of policemen saw this black man and decided to attack him, force him to the ground and point a gun at his head because they are racist and out of control? Nobody other than an anti-police bigot (like T.C.) would believe his scenario for one second but, unfortunately, such untrue opinions are all too frequently expressed on our screens.
    I do not believe that our police (particularly the Met) are racist (just as I believe that our teachers and medics are also not racist – sorry to contradict you, Diane Abbott). The people who are anti-police tend to be also anti-law abiding, like anti-teachers youth (or should it be ‘yuuf’?) tend to be anti-social and incapable of learning as a member of a school community.
    The problem does not lie with the police or schools but with the chosen alienation of so many of the looters and causers of civil disturbances.

  • A bit confused by your comments to what I said about stop and search.

    The gang members etc say that it’s down to police being racist but I’d expect nothing less from them I was referring to all those who automatically jump on your doing this because I am black and your racist. Their argument should be with those who created the need for them to be stopped not with the Police who have stopped them for fitting a profile.

    On Question Time there was a bloke moaning about being stopped loads of times despite have a good job etc. His argument should be with those who brought him the hassle by doing what they do, giving the need for him to be stopped to also see if they are carrying etc.

    It’s not nice but as someone who was stopped on a weekly basis just because I owned an XR2 and happened to be driving it at the early hours of the morning when these types of cars were normally being nicked my argument was never with the Police who pulled me over, on my way home from work but with the car thieves.

    I just wish the officers had been around when mine was nicked.

    There will probably be a response about this relating to everyone is innocent but people are stopped all the time to be searched for example at football matches.

    Nothing is said then because they know full well why it is being done and it should be the same mindset for any innocents stopped on our streets.

  • @Mickelmas

    I suggest as someone who does not use your own name that you keep your advice especially with reference to the word”brave” or “courage” lol.

    Had you actuually read the points I raised that you deemed “childish” without addressing a single one and then going on to talk about the same old issues people were discussing long before the riots occured is merely repeating history yet again. This issue goes well beyond stop and search, well beyond parenting and the development of a “moral compass”, there are plenty of “amoral” people who still fear/respect the Law in the world.

    It was not as you and Andy identify, the generally reasonable people our rioting and looting by and large and that is the whole point. it is in identifying the catalyst that geve these people the excuse to call “open day” to spreading chaos and mayhem.

    Some of us warned there would be trouble in the summer and the senior politicans did not listen when they should have, they have a tendency to react rather than prevent.

    In terms of my leaving the Party, that will depend on whether the party can be fit for purpose in addressing the core issues rather than going over the symptoms again and again without a clue to solving anything. You see some of us enter politics for a reason and take their responsibilities to their constituents very seriously too and are answerable to them. if thats childish, we need more children in politics rather than careerist elitist ignorant strange folk that embarress us all continually.

    meanwhile Ed Millibands speech recently was excellent, and its that kind of straight talking, if he can back it up with good policy that will keep hard working people in the party working.

  • I am struggling to find which bit of my post even remotely suggested it was “generally reasonable people out rioting” but let me be absolutely clear if that impression was given that it wasn’t the case.

    I have been warning for decades about the people who were out rioting, the tools not being used to stop them, earlier intervention not being done etc and while I blame the political elite for a large part of it I also blame those who represent at council level who have simply not implemented the key objectives of their community safety strategies in full.

    I agree with you that the issue goes well beyond stop and search. I said it included it because it does when we have the situation were the legislation and those enforcing it are attacked. If any attacking should be being done it should be with those who brought the need for the legislation to be brought in.

    Like it or not if it were people dressed as clowns who were responsible for most criminality in an area then the Police would be stopping and searching anyone dressed as a clown.

    Some innocent clowns would understandably be brassed off for being stopped but they should focus their anger on those clowns who gave the reason for them to be stopped.

  • Andy,

    Apologise for that. there is something you have said though that is very important, if I may;

    “It isn’t all about youth offending either, those who dismiss the law until they need it are as much if not bigger problem than the disaffected youth through the example they set but the moral compasses of some members of the ‘lost generation’ is a very good starting point.”

    Those who dismiss the Law. You see as we both know and as you have stated this went beyond any sinfle group as highlighted by the press when the daughter of a millionaire was said to have taken part. There were groups more inclined towards taking part in the criminality and who represent the ogoing problems you describe, in health, education, social issues related to family and wealth etc etc, they have been with us for a very long time but riots have not.

    So what was it that really ensured these people felt it was time to let rip?

    A moral compass?

    Of course that was always in the background and the comments we heard by those taking part hardly left justified in any way or way that would convice anyone that there was a legitimate reason.

    No this was always about the Law, its failure to be a deterrence and the lack of credibility of those making it. In isolation these matters mean nothing great, but place the poor conduct together along with the perceived weakness as exemplified by the minority of police and you have a “general feeling” of what people think they can get away with, those people who you describe as not having or using their “moral compass” or restraint.

    It was recent events and the idea that everyone is stealing from everyone anyway along with the market environment whereby people see adverts everyday showing them what they cannot afford, or TV programmes making it look as though the majority of people can buy homes in the near-millions that raises expectations and adds to the problem with contempt for those who will never earn such sums in their entire lives and who are ignored by politicians.

  • (to Ralph and Andy):
    Apologies if I misrepresented your views – maybe it’s a consequence of confused wording on your part. Many views have been aired on the whys and wherefores of these disturbing events and these debates will rightly continue. To make sense of what happened I ask myself the following three question areas (to which I attempt to find answers): 1) what groups of people were responsible for the mayhem, 2) what motivated them to behave in such a destructive manner and 3) what should society do to prevent a repeat of this anarchy?
    I have observed visual evidence of some of the looting, arson and violence that occured and heard a selection of comments from people immediately involved and affected as well as from the affected communities. I was not directly affected by the violent disturbances and can only justify my views based on objective observation and intellectual experience.
    I am more than ready to provide my answers to these three questions but I would be grateful to hear your answers.

  • Firstly as someone who lives with dyslexia I resent the comment relating to confused wording on my part and if that’s the best you can come up with I’d suggest that you didn’t bother.

    In answers to your questions:

    1. It was a mixed bunch
    2. Greed in terms of looters Fun in terms of those throwing bricks etc.
    3. Already been said

  • As I suspected from your comments on 19 August, Andy, you prefer heat to light. Allow me to enlighten you. Firstly, to describe the perpetrators of the mayhem as being a “mixed bunch” is as insightful as describing them as “humans”! It may be uncomfortable for some blinkered liberals but the TRUTH is: the overwhelming majority of London rioters and looters were black males aged 14-24. Accepting that FACT will help us provide answers to questions 2 and 3 (their motivations and how society should react).
    For what it is worth, my views are as follows: these black youths errupted into violence on our London streets because they lack any sense of social morality and concern for others; they exist purely to satiate their own desires. You may disagree with this analysis but it exactly fits the profile of someone who hates authority (police, teachers, society etc) because they restrict the self-centred views that lay at the core of their being. The answer to the question why these “aliens” in our society are predominantly black is the most important of our time and one, because of the ‘racial’ overtones, politicians avoid like the plague – hence the continuing deterioration in inner-city areas.
    The solutions are long-term and cultural. As a society we have to be much more proactive in ensuring ALL citizens not only benefit from our democratic freedoms and human rights BUT also bear a duty of care and responsibilty for others.

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