The effects of these riots must not overshadow the causes

Unless you’ve been liv­ing under a rock the past week, there have been riots around Eng­land in the past few days. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve felt myself drift­ing towards the left in the past few months; while I was, I admit, a lit­tle skep­ti­cal of pub­lic sec­tor worker marches over the win­ter and spring, I’m rather sym­pa­thetic towards the orig­i­nal set of riot­ers in Tot­ten­ham and sev­eral other areas. There are obvi­ous par­al­lels to the eight­ies; a Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment, eco­nomic trou­bles, racial ten­sions, pub­lic sec­tor strikes, even a royal wed­ding. The only thing that needs to hap­pen now, come­di­ans have opined, is for Liv­er­pool to win the league. Sadly, though, it appears that peo­ple seem unwill­ing to learn the lessons from the eighties.

Riots, after all, are caused by a cat­a­lyst. Peo­ple do not riot because they want a new 42″ TV, what­ever the tabloids say. Yes, there are oppur­tunists buy­ing base­ball bats and bal­a­clavas, look­ing for a fight or a loot­ing oppur­tu­nity, as the EDL did in Eltham today, but there is always a cat­a­lyst. The 1981 riots were caused by racial ten­sions, as were the 2001 riots. The 1992 L.A. riot was caused by police bru­tal­ity against Rod­ney King, and the per­pe­tra­tors being acquit­ted of said bru­tal­ity. The 2008 Greek riots were caused by the country’s mount­ing debt. Even the riots after all the anti-cuts protest were caused by anti-state sen­ti­ment. And these riots were caused by the death of Mark Dug­gan dur­ing a stand­off with the police, in which there is evi­dence that Dug­gan didn’t even fire his gun, let alone first.

The sus laws were repealed in 1981, but its effects linger still. An inquiry into the Met­ro­pol­i­tan police in 2003 after the mur­der of Stephen Lawrence found a large degree of insti­tu­tional racism still in the force. And if it wasn’t for its age, its patron­age, the Met would be deemed unfit for pur­pose, after the way it dealt with the News of the World phone-hackings, its actions dur­ing anti-cuts and anti-tutition fees protests over the past year, Ian Tom­lin­son, Jean Charles de Menezes… and, with the excep­tion of Lawrence, this all hap­pened in the past six years. Reform­ing the Met is a key pri­or­ity to ease racial ten­sions between com­mu­ni­ties and the police.

There is another major rea­son for these riots, how­ever. If you look at the places where riot­ing started, an obvi­ous pat­tern emerges: Tot­ten­ham, Enfield, Brix­ton, Wood Green, Isling­ton, Streatham, Croy­don, and, out­isde Lon­don, Chapel­town, Handsworth, and Tox­teth. These areas have a large minor­ity pop­u­la­tion and a large degree of rel­a­tive poverty; sys­temic poverty over the past thirty or forty years. Indeed, Brix­ton, Chapel­town, Handsworth, and Tox­teth are all famous for major riots in the past. This pat­tern appears as a pre­lude to riots in cities: first it’s in the poor dis­tricts, and then town cen­tres, and then, leafy bor­oughs. It’s telling that the leafy bor­oughs of Brom­ley, Kingston, and Bex­ley have been rel­a­tively vio­lence free. The Guardian, for its faults, have picked up this, and pro­duced a pretty map that shows this correlation.

All three par­ties have lessons to learn on poverty, and most notably Labour and the Lib Dems. While the Tories will prob­a­bly never change, as there’s no votes in it for them, the other two par­ties need to change. Deprived areas are often Labour-voting areas, and they’ve been Labour for a long time. A cynic might say that they don’t do any­thing about poverty because they’ll lose a vot­ing base. But Labour, at their heart, are sym­pa­thetic to those trod­den under, the work­ing class and the under­class. It’s their rea­son for exis­tence, and the party need to return to their roots and work in com­munties. But change must also come to the Lib­eral Democ­rats. For sta­ble gov­er­nance and a bit of power, we’ve allowed the Con­ser­v­a­tives to enact poli­cies that hurt the poor. The cuts may be defen­si­ble, but we have to remem­ber that cuts to these poor coun­cils have an effect on its res­i­dents. Luck­ily, Con­fer­ence seems to be aware of this, and will debate drug reform and ESA assess­ment reform, two areas where we are con­cerned about the effects on the poor.

But even so, the reac­tion of the party, both in Par­lia­ment and the grass­roots, has been noth­ing short of despi­ca­ble. It’s not lib­eral at all to advo­cate that con­victed riot­ers lose their coun­cil homes. And while it’s polit­i­cally pru­dent to duck the tricky issue of the causes to attack “pro­fes­sional loot­ers” or “pro­fes­sional anar­chists”, it’s not lib­eral either, and is kow­tow­ing to the press: one thing we were recently proud of avoid­ing. There have even been calls from 33% of the pop­u­la­tion for the use of live ammu­ni­tion, and calls from more for the rein­tro­duc­tion of the Riot Act 1715 and other heavy-handed mea­sures, even from the Lib Dem grass­roots. But you can­not, and do not, solve poverty with more poverty, or respond to anger at police bru­tal­ity with more police brutality.

And finally, there’s an air of hypocrisy in the air. Peo­ple who have glo­ri­fied riot­ing in Arab Nations or Greece have blanched when it came to Lon­don. They’re scram­bling to blame loot­ers, to make every­one in Tot­ten­ham and Hackey peo­ple just after a 42″ TV. Yes, there are a lot of oppor­tunists, but we must not ignore the gen­uinely down­trod­den in these times. Every­one, includ­ing oppor­tunis­tic loot­ers, the angry dis­pos­sessed, the angrier tabloid read­ers, and the politi­cians look­ing down and tut­ting needs to stop the esca­la­tion, oth­er­wise the lat­ter two will try to erad­i­cate the for­mer two, and this mustn’t hap­pen at all, and we mustn’t let it happen.

3 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yeah. I’m sure that wel­fare trash cares about what­ever hap­pened to a ran­dom drug-dealing piece of scum in another part of the coun­try. They just want to riot because it’s cool and it gives them flatscreen TV’s/expensive jewelry/etc.

    If some­one car­ries a gun and threa­thens to shoot it, the police should be able to shoot first. Not agree­ing means you are seri­ously detached from the soci­ety. If some­one points a gun at you, should you be wait­ing around for them to shoot at you and hope you’ll sur­vive to tell the tale?

    I hope they do use live ammu­ni­tion to show those kids it’s NOT okay to steal from your local shops and ran­dom peo­ple. If you really believe these kids steal and even kill men(Birmingham) because of the so-called police bru­tal­ity then you’re delusional.

  2. Sarah says:

    You assume that Dug­gan threat­ened the police, of which there is cur­rently no evi­dence. Yes, police can fire when threat­ened, but armed police, includ­ing the Met, have a rep­u­ta­tion for using that def­i­n­i­tion loosely.

    It’s not just about Dug­gan, though, just like the Arab Spring wasn’t just about that fruit ven­dor. The Met have that rep­u­ta­tion for mis­con­duct from events such as the G-20 or stu­dent protests. And like the Arab Spring, riots by peo­ple in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances will spring up after the orig­i­nal riot. It’s a domino effect.

    And by con­tin­u­ing out­right hate on wel­fare claimants, it only exac­er­bates the prob­lem. By con­tin­u­ing paint­ing them all as evil ben­e­fits scroungers, and by remov­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and incen­tives, no won­der they stay on welfare.

  3. Welfare Trash says:

    I think you also need to fac­tor in the decline in social mobil­ity. After all, if these kids were pre­pared to work hard, go to school, and obey the law, then what do they have to look for­ward to? If they’re lucky, a job in retail or a call cen­tre, earn­ing min­i­mum wage or less, sur­viv­ing on a ridicu­lously com­pli­cated mess of tax cred­its and ben­e­fits, and with no job secu­rity. Legit­i­mate soci­ety has very lit­tle to offer them.

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