In some ways the riots in London last week represent a rather tense negotiation between the Nation and its disaffected youth. Does looking at it like a negotiation give us any fresh perspective on how to address these events?

Certainly if someone is pushing you around, it’s important to push them back. In any negotiation, you have to stand up to tough guys by making their behaviour the issue. So, imposing tough sentences on people who behave badly is as it should be.

However, if you accept this as a “negotiation” then pushing people back cannot be the only tactic required. It’s important also to try to influence the “state” of people on the other side so that they behave the right way not just out of a fear of retaliatory measures but also because they want to. If deterrence is the only response then the negotiation can’t really move forward.

So how do you reach members of disaffected gangs and alter their negotiating state? It has to be done with dialogue of some kind, which interrupts their pattern of behaviour and alters their state of mind.

Recent activity by Strathclyde Police may give us a clue. They have managed to reduce gang violence through adoption of a programme used by Police in the US. It offered kids a way out by saying that if they stopped the gang fights they could have access to help with training, housing, education and community groups – but if they carried on with the gang behaviour they would go to jail. 400 gang members signed up and violent offending among those undertaking the most intensive programme fell by 73%.

This kind of dialogue can make a difference. So can making rioters confront their victims (in this instance the shop owners who have lost everything as a result of their looting and vandalism). This may be the best thing about the many Referral Orders that have been made in the wake of the riots.

Whilst harsh punishment is an understandable reaction given the severity of these crimes and the public unrest created by them, employing ‘Push’ tactics in response to ‘Push’ behaviour on the other side is only a partial answer in any “negotiation”.