Reading the riots: An alternative perspective

Posted on August 12, 2011

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I must begin by stating that I, in no way whatsoever, condone the actions of the rioters and looters in London and other cities within the UK over the last few days. However, in what follows I hope to add a level of understanding to what has occurred.

In the short term all Cameron and the ConDems can do, and it seems have done, is put the unrest down and do it strongly. Now that the worst seems to be behind us, it would be a real crime (to use a popular word at the moment) if they just let these events pass without addressing the reasons behind what has been happening. “Why?” is a question any society must be asking after a situation such as this. Though the media (by no means an independent group of commentators) have labelled it “mindless”, in fair and equal societies where those with abilities can achieve anything they want and those without abilities are not marginalised and disenfranchised, such events would simply not occur. Though the looting now seems to have been stopped down and those who were involved certainly need to be punished, we can’t simply put it down to “hoodlums” and “scum”.

Instead it is crucial that we look at the socio-economic reasons behind the 2011 riots, especially the fact that the people that consider this a valid thing to do and a way of getting attention have been marginalised and victimised by the extreme inequality that has developed in this country, an inequality that is entrenched in a system of “market democracy” that has demonstrably failed, where unstoppable economic growth (impossible, by the way) is considered more important than the well-being of many of the population. There have been riots before (including in Tottenham in the 80s), but our political establishment has consistently failed to to address the deep, underlying reasons behind them. What started with Thatcher declaring the end of society and continued through New Labour abandoning their constituency and Cameron (aided by Clegg) making the poor take the brunt of the pain from the banking (and capitalist) crisis has resulted in a broken society, and not one that an be fixed by wishy-washy and entirely irrelevant ideas such as Cameron’s ridiculous “Big Society”. Some commentators, notably Laurie Penny, have tried to address in the past few days, though most have offered predictably reactionary thoughts, entirely missing the underlying issues and the questions it raises for the society we live in. Petitions such as the currently popular one suggesting benefits should be withheld from rioters are both appalling and dangerous, and risk exacerbating the gulf that has already arisen within British society. The fact remains that our establishment and system has failed and is still failing, and major surgery is required to fix it.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics