The song “Panic” by the Smiths keeps playing in my head when I look at what is happening in the UK right now. The causes are obvious to people in the UK who do not live the isolated, insulated lives of the elite. I used to live in London and know some of the areas. I probably taught some of the rioters when they were in high school. These are areas where the young males are being brought up in a society of joblessness, hopelessnes and exclusion. This is often the second or third generation living like this. Their families are broken, their homes and localities are often physcially broken and their spirits are broken. (I am talking about males here as they are the ones rioting…mostly! I am not being sexist!)
When society abandons entire generations of the working class and ethnic minorities to live in poverty and deprivation what can anyone expect except that all the anger and humiliation heaped upon them would not explode some day? Some people argue that they were poor when they were young and did not riot – but this ignores a huge difference now from say the 60s and 70s – the level of inequality which is at a level not seen since the last Great Depression in the 1920s. Everywhere there are signs of massive and obscene wealth in the UK and most of these young men are trapped without hope of ever attaining any of it. There are luxury cars and shops with expensive phones and clothing. There are mansions and holidays overseas to exotic places that the poor will only ever see in a magazine or on the tv. This daily humiliation of the poor breeds anger. Mostly it is turned on each other as the boys join gangs to replace absent fathers and brothers and fight each other for fun and criminal profit.
Inequality is being worsened while the elite rip off entire countries for billions, trashing entire economies and condemning even more to poverty and insecurity. This is the result of the neo-liberalism of the 80s being carried on today by the Tories and here by the National Party and its mates in Act. A UK blog commentator summed this up well;
Part of me thinks well, if you have a system that teaches everyone for decades that greed is good, trampling over everyone else is the way to get ahead and the law of the jungle is the only one that counts you can’t then turn round and act amazed when people show they’ve learnt the lesson” – blog post on the Guardian
The Tories in Britain, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have rammed through austerity measures aimed squarely at the poor and the middle classes. The poor as ever suffer the most as what few crumbs from the table they were being given in the way of education grants and community services were taken away, along with the last hope many had of escaping the poverty trap, or making it in some way bearable. The Global Financial Crisis was caused by the wealthy elite and the poor pay for it. That lesson is not unlearned.
“The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong.” PennyRed
The Right will bluster that any attempt to understand the riots is condoning them. Anyone actually trying to explain what has happened, as Darcus Howe found out when being interviewed by the BBC, will be silenced and kept off the media. Unfortunately for them YouTube has changed that game somewhat.
The reasons seem complex and the answers will seem complex. But it isn’t. It is really simple when you step back a bit. This is inequality in action.
The answer is equality. The only question we need to be asking is how do we get there?