Our straight talking Lancashire lass takes a sideways look at the daily news.
Now is the time for questions
Last night the UK suffered more intense violence in our towns and cities. Whilst 16,000 police were shipped to London to keep the capital’s streets safe, regional areas were left at the mercy of armed thugs intent on causing as much damage as possible.
It’s clear now that the riots aren’t political, but the rioting is a political issue. The veneer of civil life is thin, and it didn’t take much for the toxic mess beneath to rise to the surface. But how did it come to this?
The police shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday may have been the flashpoint for these riots, but it lifted the lid on a nation of angry, disaffected youth warped by poverty and hopelessness, who were ready to blow.
Of course it’s not just down to poverty. I wasn’t exactly born into oodles of wealth, but like most normal people I knuckled down at school and with the support of my loving family I got the grades and got out. But that’s the clincher. Despite not having much material-wise I had a wonderfully supportive and stable family who understood the value of a good education. I suspect that for the vast majority of the hooded vandals – some reportedly as young as nine years – this isn’t the case.
Boredom may also have played a part. Back in July the Guardian interviewed a group of London teenagers after youth centres in Tottenham and Wood Green were unceremoniously shut thanks to thoughtless government cutbacks. The dynamics of gang violence is extremely complex, and youth clubs are an effective way of keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble. Not trouble as in the odd bit of graffiti, but ‘trouble’ as in gun, knife and drug crime. During these interviews the teenagers themselves expressed worry that the lack of things to do, the lack of work and the lack of money will result in riots. Looking back, this footage was eerily prophetic.
But many of those on the rampage were simply evil, nasty bastards. Footage of an injured youngster being helped by rioters who then raided the contents of his rucksack before swaggering off and throwing the contents on the floor show just how malevolent they are. As it turned out, the victim was suffering with a broken jaw after being attacked, so he wasn’t in a position to defend himself.
But this still doesn’t explain it fully. Boris Johnson and David Cameron – both members of the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University – used to routinely smash up restaurants, but they could afford to throw money at the damage afterwards. The only difference between a poor little shit and a rich one is the bank balance. It’s ironic that these two groups are utterly disconnected yet strikingly similar.
Which leads me to my final and perhaps most important point. We live in a criminal society from the top down. The banking bailout cost the UK taxpayer £850 billion yet despite public outrage the huge bonuses kept flowing like champagne.
The MPs expense scandal saw elected members of parliament routinely siphoning public money into their personal coffers. I have to say that I found Salford MP Hazel Blears’ condemnation of last night’s thieving in Manchester jaw-droppingly hypocritical given that she had to return £13,332 in dodged taxes during the expense scandal.
And against the backdrop of institutional corruption and a culture where rights are given precedence over responsibility – it is no wonder these kids wanted a slice of the pie. With emergency services cut to the bone, not to mention our litigious culture where police are too afraid to say ‘boo’ to a goose – the rioters knew they could get away with it. Many didn’t even bother to cover their faces.
So what now? Many of the rioters who were interviewed could barely string a sentence together. They have been failed by the education system and this needs rectifying. Trainers and HD TV aside, many were raiding food stores and stealing groceries and I think this is significant. You don’t steal food unless you’re hungry.
Tackling poverty, improving education and instillation of good values and self-respect is the way forward. But with rights come responsibility. There needs to be punishment, it must be harsh and it must be public. Otherwise the violence that we have seen will fast become a way of life.