Guest post by Dr Wayne Hope
Identifying the “causes” of major civil disturbances is always difficult, there are so many to choose from. Even the mundane vagaries of the weather have to be taken into account. Nearly all urban riots of recent vintage happen in the summer, hot sultry evenings are ideal, and it seems that rain has, of late, dampened the spirits of enthusiastic rioters in the Midlands and northern cities.
In fact one might plausibly argue that without the typically dreadful English weather, riots would be more serious and happen more often. The underlying and proximate cause of urban rioting have been festering quite nicely in Old Blightly and I for one am not the least bit surprised over recent developments .
If we start with Tottenham, police racism, police brutality and a police culture disconnected from local communities is a perfect Molotov cocktail to set things going. Such was evident in the Afro-American race riots of the 1960s and the Parisian riots of 2005.
There are many other examples; a spark to set off the cocktail is all that is needed.
Now, it also true as the Tory press and politicians have tirelessly pointed out that thugs and “yobbos” have joined in the action. These outgrowths of Cameron`s “broken society” belong to postcode gangs who have formed alliances of convenience to loot, take on the police and cause mayhem.
This has echoes of the “Babylon’s burning” era of the late 70s and early 80s, since then 20 years of neo liberalism have embittered a new generation of white and non white gangs. No suprises there. Out of this general milieu there were also, without doubt, disturbed individuals who gained immediate pleasure from burning out cars, smashing plate glass windows and torching buildings.
And then we had the pilferers, “illegal shoppers” who just wanted to grab stuff because, well, it was cheap and armfuls of trainers and iPads are are tidy little earner, covertly on Facebook or down at the markets. This was the spirit of self reliance and entrepeneuralism that politicians from Margeret Thatcher to Tony Blair have been trying to promote. To put it another way this was consumerism by other means.
As far as I could see the illegal shoppers and their accomplices covered quite a wide demographic, some were black dispossessed youth, others were low to middle income people of both genders who were relieving the frustration of not being able to afford the relentlessly advertised fashion items and electronic goods. Still others ,of more comfortable means enjoyed the thrill of it all. I agree somewhat with the conservatives on this matter, there has indeed been a breakdown in social ethics in British society.
However, I must point out in the strongest possible terms that ethical breakdown is endemic at ALL levels of society from the bonus swilling tax avoider and financial speculator propped up by powerless taxpayers to the political classes of in the Commons and Whitehall lining their pockets with the baubles of office; to the media elites who hire professional privacy invaders to hack the communications of anybody they choose in order peddle defamatory lies and half truths for a tidy profit.
With these shining examples of cynical self interest why not join in?
It’s bloody obvious innit, everybody’s out for what they can get. And then there is the nihilism ,the purposelessness of bored youth. I saw them during my last visit to London, in Camden Town, hundreds of them just hanging about after 1am, waiting for nothing to happen. So then, what has been the establishment’s response?
I think we saw it in a newsphoto from Clapham of a young blonde woman standing among a group of angry gentrified Clapham residents,they were out to clean up the mess with their brooms, the young woman wore a teeshirt which said “rioters are scum”.
So here we have the preconditions for the next riot, “them and us”, class war, batten up the hatches and let’s continue with our strategy of systematic social exclusion and seclusion of the better off. More police, more security guards more electronic surveillance and lots of finger pointing. Cameron`s “broken society” thesis is not far off the mark.