UPDATE: Monday August 15th How interesting that the Prime Minister has today come out with a nation healing speech which concludes with a reference to bankers’ bonuses, MPs’ expenses and an insistence that “There is no them and us. Only us.” (link below)
The FT ran a comment piece a few days ago expressing shock and horror at the riots and talking about “them” and “us”. It was well meant and talked about the affluent “us” needing to make society more inclusive. But it’s striking that the paper felt it could lecture on social cohesion without any need to acknowledge their bling weekend supplement called “How To Spend It” aimed at helping bankers spend those bonuses on 50 thousand pound watches and yachts. Of course spending it is rather different to looting it. And if I have missed a subsequent acknowledgment, I stand corrected.
3 years ago it was all different. But many of those bonuses are now only possible because of the bailout from the taxes of people like the Reeves of Croydon, whose family business was burned down, the shopkeepers of Stoke Newington who suspect the police were more interested in playing tactics over funding cuts with David Cameron, than protecting their families and properties, and bereaved father Tariq Jahan, who called for calm, instead of blame. In a political culture that costs everything financially, including the value of libraries to local communities, the cost of the riots is, in a strictly monetary sense, a lot lower than the cost of bailing out the banks.
Watching the looters target electronic warehouses and carefully try on branded trainers, (apparently a photo exists showing a pile of abandoned Adidas ones) it seemed odd that certain media organisations and politicians did not want to look at the culture — other than gang culture, or street culture, or as David Starkey would claim “black” culture. Plenty of good journalists did; including today, in the FT (see link below). But politicians especially don’t want to acknowledge the centrality of consumer culture to modern British identity and how its promotion might help explain, though certainly not excuse, the mess we’re in.
Last year the National Audit Office said bailing out the banks cost UK taxpayers £1.5 billion pounds a year; that’s on top of the billions paid out initially. Meanwhile politicians, whose normalised expense fiddling took millions of taxpayer revenue to fund second homes, continue to challenge attempts to impose an austerity culture on their generous final salary pension lifestyles.
None of this explains away the rioting or excuses it. With racial and class prejudices also rising to the surface, local councils following the PM’s encouragement, trying to evict as yet unconvicted alleged looters, this may be a dangerous time. But there’s also much more awareness by voters of some politicians’, financiers’ and media’s biased agendas. This potentially creates more common ground than division among Britons of all ethnicities. Russell Brand’s unexpected intervention from the Hollywood Hills is the most striking evidence of that. The Riot Wombles of the Riotcleanup campaign were a good example. Crucially attempts by the powerful to claim the moral highground and lecture about “them” and “us” are more likely to backfire now than 3 years ago.
Recommended further reading:
A politician who has made the link. Simon Hughes (The Guardian)
Fascinating piece by Rupa Huq on the riots in Ealing — the Queen of the Suburbs. (The Guardian)
Russell Brand’s website posting on the riots (also reproduced in The Guardian).
Text of David Cameron’s speech in the House of Commons Monday August 15th provided by the No 10 website.