“Theresa May: We can cut police budget without risking violent unrest”
– Home Secretary Theresa May, September 2010.
I love London.
There is no city on Earth like it. I miss living there, every day. There is an odd sort of pride and even serenity in the crowds of people coming to experience such a great history. Watching it burn is saddening, but not surprising.
The riots have spread across London. Tottenham was first, Croydon and Hackney were hit. Brixton rioted. Reports that Camden High Street took a battering; the electric ballroom was smashed to pieces and the stretch between Camden Town and Chalk Farm Underground Station has been blocked by police. Peckham is under siege. Oxford Circus – a group of 50 people throwing rocks at shops. Bethnal Green Road has a youtube video showing the extent of the violence. BBC reporting that Canning Town in East London was hit, with cars smashed on Portabello Road. A five minute walk away from my old place in Southwark, Old Kent Road was attacked. An horrendous fire has been lit at a Sony Distribution Centre in Waltham Abbey. It isn’t just London either. A police station in Handsworth, in Birmingham was set alight tonight, with 87 people in the city being arrested. Bristol is experiencing riots. Police in Liverpool are advising people to keep away from Upper Parliament Street, after violence erupted in the North. It is utter madness.
The motives are of course opportunistic. There appears to be no political motive. It has purely brought out the violent and senseless mob who are achieving nothing but the destruction of their communities. But the social and economic situation in relation to these riots cannot be ignored. We must accept that when one person commits a crime, it is an individual problem. When thousands commit the same crime, on the same day, there is a deep social problem. Certain tweeters have said they watched people looting supermarkets of nappies and milk. The underlying issues need addressing. Many of the Greek rioters last year, were opportunistic in nature. But the economic pressures created an atmosphere where rioting was essentially inevitable. A government who go out of their way to initiate a shock to the system that forces unemployment up deliberately, whilst living cost and rising inflation also rise purposely, is a government that is committing economic criminality. It is similar in the UK. A study by the business information group Experian found that inner city poorer areas are not equipped to deal with economic shocks like that of austerity, because they are still dealing with the after affects of the economic shocks of the 1980s. It found that Elmbridge in Surrey was the least likely to be affected by austerity, coincidentally, Elmbridge in Surrey was labelled as the town with the highest quality of life by a Halifax Estate Agency, and the “Beverly Hills of England” by the Daily Mail. The looting of the public services and economic violence from the Government, will absolutely always lead to social violence and criminality.
Bringing business to poor areas doesn’t always help. This is where the public sector, can and should step in to fill the gap. The study by Experian showed that:
areas such as Islington and Tower Hamlets in London have relatively high business resilience compared to their people, place and community scores.
– Business may pick up, but the affects of austerity on a place like Tower Hamlets and its community, are far deeper and widespread. Unsurprisingly, rioters struck less than a mile away from the Tower Hamlets border. It highlights the importance of the State to provide better educational opportunities rather than taking away EMA. Bringing more low paid jobs to an area like Tower Hamlets, does not increase the overall feeling of worth and belonging. Making opportunities to better oneself through the education process is the key. And it begins with absolutely key programs like Sure Start.
The riots are quite simply, the culmination of an aggressive and regressive social engineering project.
There were warning signs:
Pre-election Nick Clegg warned of Greek style rioting, if a Tory government was elected and pushed through deep austerity. In October last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the austerity measures would hit the poorest areas of England the hardest. On the earlier point of looters looting for nappies, it is no coincidence that the IFS said that the poorest people, with children, would be the hardest hit of all.
A teacher posted on Twitter:
“Taught in E17 10 years ago- clear this was going to happen- kids have been made to feel like nothing for so long.”
– If people are surprised that a growing inequality gap between the poorest and the richest, increasing under Labour, exploited and increase further still by the Tories has resulted in widespread riots in low socio-economic areas, they are incredibly naive.
We are a nation that condemns. If you’re homeless, if you’re on benefits, if you’re taking drugs. if you’re foreign, if you’re Muslim, if you’re Gypsy, if you’re poor. We condemn, without trying to understand, and yet we feel alienated when people don’t understand our problems. It is true that the rioters are a disgrace to the Country; but the issues that lead, and have always led to riots and rebellions are still not being addressed. It is all economic.
Earlier this year, The Government had planned to cap housing benefit to £290 for a two bedroom flat. Though that is slightly misleading, because before the cap – the Local Housing Allowance was based on the median average of rents in that area (known as the 50th Percentile), now it is based on the 30th Percentile. Which means the £290 is the absolute maximum, and not many will be able to claim that. Couple that with LHA being cut for people on jobseekers for more than a year, and people are suddenly able to claim pretty much nothing. Poorer people absolutely will lose their homes. Meaning, whilst business is down, unemployment is inevitably high, government austerity means people cannot afford to now pay their rent. Social exclusion of the worst kind, during the most troubled of economic times. Piling the pressure on the shoulders of the most vulnerable, is a disastrous policy from a nasty party. If Tories thought that this wouldn’t culminate in social unrest, they are living on another planet; or a Villa in Tuscany.
Labour pointed out rightly, that cuts to the Sure Start program for poorer areas (specifically mentioning Hackney) would deprive a family of around £100 per child. Whereas, in an affluent town like Richmond, it was only £30 per child. A massive discrepancy.
This video accurately defines the mentality of kids from deprived areas, after having been further deprived, of their youth facilities due to government enforced cuts. A girl on the video says that the council didn’t alert the young people or prepare them for mass youth service closures, and that one moment the youth services are there, the next they’re gone.
The Guardian article from 2009, highlighting the apparent inherent racism of the Met was spot on in its opening paragraph:
Murder and racism, indifferent and incompetent policing combined with continuing injustice, make for a toxic mix.
– The Met’s record these past three years has been disastrous, and sooner or later was going to push the situation one step too far. From the killing of Ian Tomlinson, to the kettling of kids, they get it wrong every time, and then proceed to lie their way out of trouble. We have no idea what happened to Mark Duggan. But the silence from the Met is slightly suspicious. The leaking of Duggan’s death to the press, before even informing his next of kin, was in sensationally poor taste. In fact, it then took hours for the family to get any sort of explanation from the police. The Met are shameful. The pressure from the community became volatile. It was always going to happen.
An entire generation has been told that we must own stuff. That the purpose of life is to consume. We are given easy credit to fuel the debt needed to sustain an economy and a prevailing social wisdom built around consuming. People who have very little, who are told they will always have very little, living in areas where the opportunities are bleak at best and non-existent at worst, are still encouraged to consume. The materialist mindset that has dominated all other thought processes for far too long, must not be ignored as a contributing factor to the unrest; this can be seen quite evidently with the looting of non-essential, luxury goods. We are what we buy. And that is a problem. A generation of young people have had luxuries dangled infront of their faces by incessant advertising, only to be told they would never be able to afford them; well that temptation exploded and now they can get those desirable consumer items for free.
Whilst London burns, the Mayor is on holiday. The Chancellor is on holiday. The Deputy Prime Minister didn’t return early, but is now in London following the natural end of his holiday. The Prime Minister is in Tuscany having tennis lessons in his rented villa, and the only person to come home so far is Theresa May, the Home Secretary, whom during the outbreak of the News Corp phone hacking scandal, was being tipped as a possible challenger for the leadership of the Tory Party if the scandal brought David Cameron down. One suspects she is still positioning herself as an eventual successor, given that she’s the only one to bother coming home from an apparent government-wide holiday, to deal with these problems. I cannot imagine the public – especially those hit the hardest by austerity – would happily get on with their lives as they become more impoverished, with the knowledge that the people who have forced this on them, are holidaying around the World and indulging in tennis lessons in the sunset of Tuscany. Though I fully expect Cameron to give a speech in which he states “lessons must be learnt”, without recognising the irony in his statement.
Cameron is proving to be weak. First, his cabinet start announcing ridiculous initiatives without his knowledge; selling the trees for example. Then his Chancellor blamed the snow for poor growth figures. Then he has to backtrack on NHS reform. And now his long refusal to leave the comfort of privileged life in Tuscany, to come home and deal with the mess that the Country is in, after spending the past four years telling us only he could fix “broken Britain” is telling. Britain was fine. The Tories broke it. And now they wish to wash their hands of it. I very much doubt he will recognise the underlying economic issues that led to this crises.
There can be no mistaking that the rioting, vandalism and violence are motivated by and large, by opportunism. For many, the idea that one could get a free iPod by storming an Apple store in an area of London where police are no where to be seen because they’re dealing with the same shit elsewhere, is too great an opportunity to miss. It has no political motivation on the surface. But the underlying issue, the social deprivation, high unemployment, high VAT rates, the end of EMA, rising inflation, the mass of cuts to youth services, and the unfair and shock economic violence by a government that has grown up enjoying the benefits of a strong public service, only to loot it when they came to power, thus burning the ladder up which they themselves climbed, is an obvious precursor to social violence from communities that feel ever more excluded.