Lockdown 2 (Day 2): Norwich

6th November, 2020

The fine weather continues, but it is cold.

I read two reports today of unrest in cities in England. I am aware that I must delineate this particular nation from the rest of the United Kingdom. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each has its own set of regulations and measures to address the Covid-19 crisis. Wales, for example has unrestricted movement within its borders from tomorrow 7th November, as opposed to England that has stated that only essential travel can be taken and that people must stay at home, except for compelling reasons: essential shopping, education, exercise, medical reason, supporting vulnerable neighbours or family members.

I want to address the unrest. Firstly students at Manchester University were confronted when they woke up on 5th November to the construction of fencing that encircled the campus and specifically their halls of residence. The fencing allowed for one point of egress and exit. This was manned by security staff who asked for ID to be produced by students coming and going from their place of residence.

Bearing in mind that the government has instructed places of education to remain open as a priority for the well-being of young people and to ensure that they do not fall behind with learning as much for the benefit of their mental health as instruction, surrounding these young people with fencing without any prior discussion about its installation is not a development that offers peace of mind. After discussion amongst themselves, a number of students trashed the fences around their site and gained an apology from the university management.

The Black Lives Matter protests and the Extinction Rebellion movement have all indicated that the exclusive nature of the first-past-the-post electoral system and the bias of government policies towards the elder, wealthier sections of society will need to be rethought. With an ageing population the most valuable members of society are its youth. Loading many of them with eye-watering student debts has heightened awareness among students of how the odds are stacked in favour of the owners of capital. If a 45% share of the vote delivers a parliamentary majority of eighty seats for the government the electoral system is clearly broken. How does one effect change if the system is deaf to 55% of the voters who then have a wait of five years between elections regardless of the damaging policies implemented?

Meanwhile, another section of England’s youth, around 30 of them from Buckland in Portsmouth, have been running riot around the fringes of that part of the island city. Police officers have been driven back under attack from fireworks. Some cars were set alight and two fire crews also had fireworks thrown at them meaning that they could not put out fires started by the masked gang, (strange how this detail was reported, when we are all encouraged to wear masks). There were also references to disturbances in the residential streets of that part of the city too, also attributed to these young people. The police will deploy CCTV footage and other methods to identify those involved. Under Lockdown 2, with people supposed to be staying at home, the enquiries may lead to arrests and prosecutions in short order. These are the young people, not attending university, probably without jobs, even if old enough to work.

The Guardian, a national newspaper reported the Manchester university rebellion. The Portsmouth News, the city’s local newspaper carried the reports of the riotous behaviour there. I wonder which is most worthy of national news coverage? The educated youth resisting unfair treatment and subsequently dismantling a fence, or a group of poorly educated youngsters in a densely populated city being able to acquire explosive devices, torching cars and chasing the police and fire service off their turf?

Why do we hear what we hear? Who decides what not to tell us in the news? The behaviour in Manchester is easily explained and resolved. The behaviour in Portsmouth arises from a more complex set of circumstances and is not likely to be so easily addressed. To which incident would you send your finest journalistic talent?

In Norwich, there has not been such disturbances to my knowledge. There are small groups of street-homeless gathering. The usual small-scale drug dealing exchanges are occasionally witnessed. Every now and then cars race around the 20 mph delimited streets with gay abandon. The population seem friendly and interact politely, giving way to each other on the narrow pavements to maintain the recommended physical distances.

The weather is cold. I think it was today that I saw a grey squirrel scrabbling about in the leaf litter. There are many swans drifting about on the Wensum by the Novi-Sad Friendship footbridge waiting for an old man to bring them bread. Other than that there are few signs of wildlife.

Leaves continue to pile up underfoot. Some people clear them from their driveways and the adjacent footpath. Others don’t.


CLP 6th November, 2020