Britain has not experienced such destructive violence since the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981. Yesterday, the Prime Minister had a very clear message; that those responsible for the wrongdoing will feel the full force of the law. "To these people I would say this," he remarked. "You are not only wrecking your own communities- you are potentially wrecking your own life too."
Front-page headlines around the world have carried news of the unprecedented events in Britain. "The British press dramatises and tries to understand," read the headline in Monday's edition of Le Monde. Back home, politicians, including Deputy PM Nick Clegg, Home Secretary Theresa May and MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, were quick to dub the events as mindless, counter-productive and unfathomable. Why loot your own communities and destroy the jobs and opportunities of others already underprivileged?
There is hardly ever an instance in which arson, robbery and theft can be justified. Though responses to the riots have been varied- ranging from anti-capitalist empathy to xenophobic expression, most commentators have condemned the violence, and rightly so. But does this make them mindless? Can such events ever be so generically ordained? The answer to this is no. The fact that the riots are not inherently political, that there are no chants or placards involved does not mean that they are not the symptom of socio-political reasons, and indeed, it would be mindless to deny the importance of cause and effect. Do any of these rioters, for example, actually care about the wrecking of their own lives?
The shooting of Mark Duggan and the subsequent response to it was a trigger for these events, but there are far more to these riots than the death of one man. There exists in England an underclass unseen anywhere else in Europe. Youth unemployment in Britain is now at 20.7%. At the tail end of the economic crisis, young people are suffering as a result of severe cuts. The government's withdrawal of welfare provisions; benefits, EMA, job opportunities and prospects of a higher education have only driven working-class urban youth into deeper shells of alienation.
Haringey Council has this year approved £84 million worth of cuts from a total budget of £273 million. Despite having one of the highest numbers of children living in severe poverty and an unemployment rate among the highest in the UK, it has seen a 75% cut to the Youth Service budget, which includes closing youth centres, children's centres and careers advice services.
A ubiquitous lack of morality is never easy to pin down, and even in the context of unemployment, public sector cuts and police violence, the recent anger cannot be justified. But it can be understood. Riots are an outcome of division and hostility. They are a means of not only expressing power, but feeling part of a greater community. In a profit driven market where the gap between those who have and those who don't is ever increasing, put together a society excluded from consumerist fulfilment with a prevalent subculture that glorifies violence and thuggery, and a sense of deprivation and ultimately, violence is not surprising.
And whilst most of us are left on the sidelines, making calculations and conclusions that are nothing more than talk and opinion, a sad truth exists; that these riots have ruined businesses, livelihoods and in some cases resulted in a loss of life. They will only further depress poor areas, and end in a blindfolded and reactionary conservative crackdown. In essence, they will drive the working class into further segregation.
So now we must fill in the gaps, and let us begin by asking this: had we had a hopeful labour movement capable of mobilising the disenfranchised, and of attracting attention from the young people it is currently non-existent to, would the country be seeing a different form of collective action? One in which innocent people would not have been so affected? If so, where was the outlet through which such misdirected anger could have been channelled?
As David Cameron ended his speech yesterday, one question followed him out of the room. "Have you lost control of events, Prime Minister?" But for decades, no government has controlled the events that everyday, go unnoticed in areas like Tottenham, Enfield, Hackney and Brixton. And unless the causes of these riots are properly addressed, control of them will not be gained. No matter how many offenders are arrested, charged and imprisoned.
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