This morning we woke up to images of the black, charred skeletons of double-decker buses, smouldering buildings, glass covered streets, looted shops and crowds of hoodie-masked youths standing off against police in riot gear; basically, scenes of complete lawlessness. We’ve seen images like this recently – in completely different contexts – but this wasn’t the latest chapter in the Arab Spring. This was rioting… in London.
The more I heard, the more I wondered. What sparked this? Was anyone expecting it? And why now? Is it just a coincidence that this is all taking place as world markets plunge? As the US credit rating is downgraded for the first time in history? As a debt crisis engulfs half of Europe? There is a palpable sense of uncertainty – even in Australia, our little island supposedly protected from financial turmoil thanks to buoyant resource prices and an emerging Asia.
The simple answer is yes; everything is linked. And yes, some people predicted this. When the global economy declines, the malaise eventually (and probably faster than you think) reaches all of us. Unfortunately, it is always the lower and middle class citizens that are most exposed to these economic winters. It is no coincidence that Tottenham, which is the epicentre of these riots, is one of London’s poorest boroughs. According to Mary Riddle from The Telegraph there are “10000 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy”. Fifty-four applicants for every job? It’s staggering. In the words of blogger Laurie Penny, “angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it.
Similarly, from Futile Democracy (http://bit.ly/rfszqA)
“There can be no mistaking that the rioting, vandalism and violence are motivated by and large, by opportunism… 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… is an obvious precursor to social violence from communities that feel ever more excluded.”
It is no coincidence that these riots have taken place against a backdrop of fiscal austerity, against a backdrop of escalating education prices, against a backdrop of corporate tax evasion, against a backdrop of ‘News of the World’ style phone hacking scandals.
There appears to be a sense of moral crisis in Britain.
People are feeling deeply alienated – they have no stake in society – and politics of cynicism and of desperation are filling that emptiness.
So basically, we have a group of people, not just youth, who are jobless (or underworked), bored, frustrated, angry and feeling ostracised and neglected. Whether they realise it or not, these riots are political.
Blogger Laurie Penny (http://bit.ly/qkjyns):
“Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.”
[These people] will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.
Apart from social protest, journalists, politicians and bloggers have given a myriad of other reasons for this unrest. Technology, like twitter, has been listed as one. The Home Secretary Theresa May put it down to ‘sheer criminality’ and others agree, with claims it is opportunistic theft and vandalism, nothing more.
Home Secretary Theresa May
“There is no excuse for violence, no excuse for looting, no excuse for thuggery, and those who are responsible must know that they will be brought to justice. I think this is about sheer criminality.”
Personally, I cannot even comprehend how hard life must be for some of these people. And I guess I can understand how years of marginalisation and alienation could burst forth in an explosion of violence and pandemonium. Because during that time, you’d feel a power and control that you would rarely feel in the ‘normal’ world. It doesn’t make it right, certainly, but it sure is an obvious call for help.
I wonder, could this happen in Australia? Or the US? We’ve never really seen anything like this (I’m purposefully not including the Cronulla Riots in this category).
Anyway, here are some interesting articles/blog posts I read during the last few hours:
Riots: the underclass lashes out – Telegraph http://tgr.ph/onsxtY
Rioting Widens in London and Spreads Elsewhere – NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/r7oYsH
London riots / UK riots: verified areas – Google Maps http://bit.ly/nTL83i
Penny Red: Panic on the streets of London. http://bit.ly/qkjyns
Panic on the streets of London: Futile Democracy. http://bit.ly/rfszqA