London’s Burning

London has been burning and across the country the damage continues. You have to ask why? You have to think that this is not just criminal, wanton damage but a deeper far more disturbing unrest within British society.

Last night the police were out in force. FB is full of comments of outrage. My old high street was trashed, not as bad as some but most unsettling had we still been there. My eldest daughter was sent home early from work in Crouch End as the police advised shop owners to shut up early and securely.

Yes, we are outraged by the mindless violence, the opportunistic looting; horrified by the Croydon girls who thought it was fun and that the rich deserved it anyway. Of course, they don’t understand that most of the independent high street shops are not run by rich people, but by ordinary working class people making a living the best they can. We know too about mob mentality that can fuel the fires of unrest – we know of the story of the American girl who was gang-raped outside her prom while hundreds of people watched and did nothing.

Is this just mob mentality, bored youths on their holidays smashing up an uncaring and hostile world?

Across the world people are rising up against oppressive regimes – Egypt, Libya, Syria: in Greece the ordinary people protest severe cuts to their living standards, while the rich remain rich and find ways not to pay their taxes, to move their money off-shore. In the UK these sorts of people protests are applauded – in other countries. When it happens here the rioters are criminals and some want to bring in the army.

Is the Cameron-Clegg government an oppressive regime? Has the conservative government under-estimated the anger and simmering resentment in the community? The London riots occurred by and large in the poorer parts of the city, not in Kensington or Hampstead but Tottenham, Peckham and Croydon amongst others. Here there are significant pockets of poverty, unemployment, welfare, gangs and unrest. Why are we surprised when disaffected youth use one simple catalyst – the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police to give themselves permission to run riot? Why be surprised that Notting Hill restaurants are ransacked and customers terrorised? Because the rich are the enemy and so are the police.

Remember this is not the first sign of hostility towards this government. We’ve already had the student protests that turned ugly as tempers frayed and protesters were ‘kettled’ for hours in the city as student fees for uni were raised to £9000 pa. Charlie Gilmour has been jailed for 16months due his public affray – swinging from the cenotaph, harassing Prince Charles’s Jaguar. Public servants have taken strike action as their pensions (not even remotely generous) are under threat.

All of these groups have felt the full force of the politicians’ venomous rhetoric. Public servants are lazy and out of touch with the realities of real workers, students are privileged and have no respect for our war dead and now the rioters are criminals.

The real criminals sit in Westminster unable to face what really is adrift in modern British society – the gap between the rich and poor is monstrously huge and growing every day. In this current economic climate the poor and lower middle classes are being squeezed – benefits are being reduced for the poor and costs on transport, food, heating, VAT, petrol (if you can possibly afford a car here) are all rising, well ahead of any cost of living increases as wages are frozen. How can gas and electricity companies all increase their prices by 11%+ while enjoying huge profits? Where is the customer service? Where is the competition that was meant to keep prices affordable for the ordinary person? Where is their accountability? Why isn’t the government looking at that issue instead of spending so much time on Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking that really is of the most ephemeral interest?

As more and more people find they cannot make ends meet there will be more violence. Yes, some cuts must happen, some of the Welfare rorts must stop, but what about dealing with the swag of people and companies who pay as little tax as possible? As the government strategies to fight the banking sector meltdown induced economic crisis bite there will be more people forced out of their homes, higher unemployment, and more crime and civil unrest will occur. People will feel less safe on the streets and in their own homes. Confidence in the police will continue to fall. Education will not save the day: C’s in Maths and English GCSE was never going to be enough to bridge the poverty divide and neither will keeping students in school until they’re 18, forced to do Maths!

The world is on a precipice – first world countries as well as dictatorships and the poorest parts of the planet are in crisis. Money rules all. It makes the world go around – or at the moment stop. The sad thing is that there is enough money for most of us to make ends meet, to have some treats. Much has been made of celebrity culture, of the bling society and expectations from that unreality. So, why are football players paid so much money? What does Jordan actually do? Why do bankers get such huge bonuses for spending someone else’s money? How can families afford to send their children to Svalbard for adventure camps when some don’t even leave their suburb? How can you blame the poor and ignorant for wanting more and thinking they should have it?

What should surprise the politicians is not that there is unrest or deep and abiding resentment within vast sectors of the population but that there has not been more unrest before now. We cannot look to other parts of the world and be smug: Britain is a mess. It’s a nasty place; it’s racist, homophobic, narrow minded and arrogant. There are too few haves, and too many have-nots.

This week’s riots will not solve anything: they will deepen divides. However, what will be of interest is how the mopping up occurs, how those who are tracked down and prosecuted are dealt with. Let’s see what the government does in the wake of this mess. That will tell us how Britain will fare over the next few years as the economic crisis deepens, as it will. Let’s see if Cameron has any idea about how to make society work before he even has a go at his Big Society.


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