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Revisiting the London Riots a Year on

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A year on from the riots which gripped parts of London and other cities up and down the UK, it is worth recalling that they were a predictable outcome to the economic and social pressure the communities impacted were under from a Tory-led coalition government, which had begun to dole out its punishment to the poor in response to an economic recession not of their making.

The spark for the uprising that ensued by predominately alienated youth was the shooting of Mark Duggan, a young black man, by the police in Tottenham. This had the effect of triggering an explosion of what started as an anti-police riot but quickly became a carnival of looting and mayhem lasting four nights.

Condemnation without context was the predictable response of those at the apex of society, as they sought to dismiss the unrest as nothing more than "wanton acts of criminality" or the actions of "mindless thugs".

While this may have been the accepted truth according to the norms of polite society, it failed to get anywhere near the root causes. But no one should have been under any illusion that this failure was the product of ignorance. On the contrary, it was exactly as intended. Assorted right wing commentators and politicians clearly had a vested interest in refusing to admit their own culpability in shaping a society more unequal than at any time since Charles Dickens was in his pomp as a searing critic of Victorian barbarism in the treatment of the nation's poor and working class over a century past.

The outburst of social unrest that was played out on the streets of London and other English cities had been cultivated over decades in the nation's boardrooms and state rooms by a class which in its greed, venality, and looting of society's surplus do more damage to the nation's social fabric in one hour than gangs of marauding disaffected and alienated youth did over those few nights of rioting and looting. The only difference between the two was in scale and aesthetic.

Indeed, what we saw last year was irrefutable evidence that we live in two Britains. One is populated by the rich and the connected, the children of inherited wealth, status and ostentation, living in rich ghettoes like Chelsea, Kensington, Notting Hill, and their equivalents in cities and towns across the country. Theirs are lives of luxury and comfort, people for whom recession is merely a word in the dictionary with no concrete meaning in their day to day lives.

It is their moral values which dominate the nation's culture, driving the blanket condemnation of those normally invisible members of society, the children of the lower orders, for having dared raise their heads and assert their will in a mass carnival of rioting and looting; the only recourse to self expression and self assertion left those who are expected to suffer in silence.

Of course, the looting and rioting we witnessed a year past was not undertaken out of any concrete political or even progressive motives. It was however driven by a primitive and instinctive rejection of a society that had long since rejected those involved and their communities. Gang culture grows out of need not desire, the need to inhabit an alternative society to the one whose values, culture, lexicon, and laws are associated with a status quo that has been stamped 'out of bounds' to the poor and poorly educated. In other words, the norms of polite society are as alien to the majority of those who rioted last year as they are to those in power proffering condemnation from the vantage point of lives defined by comfort and privilege.

At this time a year ago, the sight of politicians, members of a class who'd been looting the public purse for years, clogging our TV screens to pour vitriol on those involved in the rioting and looting of shops and businesses was stomach churning in its hypocrisy.

The surprise wasn't that the unrest took place. The surprise was that it hadn't taken place sooner, with Bertolt Brecht explaining the phenomenon most succinctly when he wrote, "The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it".

As David Cameron et al looked on with horror at the devastation that was wrought around the country under their watch a year ago, perhaps they would have done well to consider that as with Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, they were merely looking at a grotesque reflection of themselves and the society of greed, rampant consumerism and individualism which they themselves had forged.