it's all back to normal in thatcher's britain
a fascinating array of mischievous ironies dances round the flames of croydon and tottenham.
it would be foolish to ascribe to any single cause this generalised and widespread outbreak of lawlessness, but anti-authoritarian it certainly was. it has been highly instructive to compare our media’s response to these events as opposed to the “arab spring”, which of course has the advantage of being far enough away that we cannot smell the smoke, and also entertaining to hear china and our rugose, chubby-faced prime minister in perfect accord over the restriction of the social media. twitter and facebook (which is to say the free exchange of information and opinion however trivial) are everywhere the enemy of authoritarianism, and the blackberry messaging service, so controversial in saudi arabia (a country where spring is not likely to arrive) is similarly disparaged in this other notable bastion of free speech and democracy, the tiny, primitive island of old englandshire. what is really irritating to the forces of authority about the blackberry service is that it is not public – not at all true of twitbook which would surely provide a moderately diligent police force enough ‘intelligence’ to correct for their natural lack of it. that is, if they were they enabled to investigate it by having the necessary backroom staff, those very non-front-line employees the government is so determined to dispose of. so our friend dave now finds himself in perfect accord with the governments of saudi arabia and china over civil liberties issues and receives support in his attack on multiculturalism from russia, (long a bastion of tolerance and liberty, those democratic values on which we so pride ourselves, of course):
“I think the events occurring in the English cities have at least two reasons. One is fundamental: it’s the death of multiculturalism, a eulogy which the heads ofGermany,FranceandGreat Britainhave recently delivered,” Mikhail Margelov said.
however, part of margelov’s analysis might not go down so well;
“The economic crisis bedevilling the economy of the West in its fourth year, with no end in sight, is one of the causes of the events in British cities…..”
a political class which has only recently ceased its own public demonstration of ‘indifference’ to right and wrong in the form of an expenses scandal, which supports – even to the extent of bombing – insurrections held in other countries, and which continues to subsidise the outrageous worldwide lootings of the major banks is in a dubious position from which to browbeat a generation which finds itself deprived of economic opportunity. this is after all a government and a nation which is rapidly withdrawing the remaining ladders leading out of the sewers in which this same generation is confined.
i am sure that many observers less jaundiced than myself shared my feeling that on television over those few days i was watching a game which was being played by only one side. looters looted and to an extent also rioters rioted as is right, natural and proper and has been a constant theme in the history of this tiny and quarrelsome nation. but the police, the natural obstacle to this behaviour, the opposing principle in this dynamic, the other side in this game would not play. the custodians and guarantors of order were concerned only to observe and hold a line of their choosing, in tottenham to preserve the police station (where after all they had their canteen) whilst the area around was laid waste, in croydon to seal off the high street, allowing a large family owned furniture store to burn to the ground and in most other places to make sure they outnumbered ill-equipped rioters four-to-one before chasing them from the wreckage or so much as shooing them from their kill. and this from trained men with protective helmets and breastplates, shoulder guards and shields. drunken newspaper sellers with bad hearts must have been in short supply, and lacking the numbers required to contain, kettle or otherwise broil and poach the available youth the police declined even to deliver them the standard beating or arrest them on suspicion of concealing an offensive skin.
david cameron now reveals the authoritarian instincts that circulate within his transparent flexibility. the jelly that is cameron is transparent but cloudy, and things lurk within him that are older than moses, vicious, primal, atavistic yearnings; bland deterministic certainties, ugly old lies of all sorts. so his libertarian butterflies have been annihilated by these ancient sharks, and his sympathies are now thoroughly disengaged from the urban youth. presented with the fruits of free speech in his own country rather than intunisia, oregyptperhaps our friend dave’s reaction is to call for the power to shut free speech down. because we’re all in this together, the evil greedy little bastards at the bottom and the greedy little evil bastards at the top, mister osbourne. we’re all in it together, but some of us have boats we inherited and we float on top of it, and some of us are about to be evicted with our mother from our secure tenancy in a council home because our brother has been sent to prison for six months for stealing a bottle of water.
which brings me to another point. i would have thought that having been involved in a riot would constitute extenuating circumstances in relation to a charge of theft, as any experienced magistrate would be bound to appreciate the value of fitting in with the crowd, but instead riot is regarded as an ‘aggravating factor’ and being surrounded by scores of other people behaving in this way counts against you in terms of the severity of your punishment rather than in your favour. disused magistrates long fallen into disrepair, dredged up from leathery golf clubs in the middle of the night, kept awake with brandy and the promise of flagellation, sitting until dawn in judgement over a procession of scrawny, sullen, dishevelled, pale, spotty, pierced, hostile and uncomprehending hellspawn, some of them even black; this whole conjunction of unhappy stereotypes is leading to sudden outbursts of undisguised victorianism. dickens would have coughed out a tooth on hearing of a boy sentenced to six months in jail for stealing water. families are to be thrown on the street for the misdemeanours of a child. two men were given sentences of four years in jail for posting absurd invitations to riots which never happened. four years in jail for doing nothing, well that seems fair and proportionate, four years is what you might normally expect to be sentenced to for committing grievous bodily harm. the general reaction from the tory party to this festival of punishment is grunts of satisfaction: this is how things should be, the filthy lawless poor locked up and the key thrown away, but they are presumably ignorant of the fact that the average cost of a year’s incarceration is more than £40,000 on the latest estimates i could find, and these were several years old.
we are living once again in a brutal age. the divisions are stark. a lawless mob of delinquents faces a new and heavier repression from a delinquent mob of lawmakers. patriarchalism returns, nasty, vengeful and authoritarian. cameron foresees an army of volunteers licking the streets clean of dogwaste and vomit, polishing startled pensioners to within an inch of their lives and placing them back gleaming onto their mantelpieces, a smiley cockney watcha guvna kind of working class youth suitable for training up as a musical pickpocket suddenly revealed beneath every baseball cap or hooded top, all they needed was a good talking to and a bit of a wash after all, and now look at the twinkle in their eye. some of them might even find faith, under a brick, perhaps. and instead of the moral disgust evident within the peculiar puritan aesthetic/ethic of the punk rock that reflected and informed the last disaffected generation made poor by a conservative retrenchment this fiery riot is danced out among the spectral rantings of a brutalised consumerist gangster rap which sees success in terms of power and satisfied greed akin to the sheer dullness of that which opposes them. there is not poverty of aspiration here, or not in any material sense, there is a recognition that even the meanest aspiration is obstructed by barriers constantly increasing in height, a feeling that all the money has already been spent; borrowed and spent long before they were born on raising property prices to unreasonable levels which they will never be able to afford even if they could borrow the non-existent money that had been already been spent on repaying the debts contracted by the previous generation before it was even printed or imagined in the endless pursuit of higher property prices in an unending delirious spiral of inflatulence. all this leaving the next generation with nothing, or to be more accurate less than nothing since they have debts to pay off. of all this government’s many meannesses and miscalculations the abolition of the educational maintenance allowance might turn out to be one of those with the most far-reaching consequences. from those who had nothing they have taken away even the dreams. they have shut off the means to support the feeblest, the most attenuated of dreams. they have discouraged a whole tranche of children from going to school, impoverished them and turned them out of the classroom and onto the streets. now our friend dave intends those of them not already in prison to do a form of national service in their communities. how will he pay for this? because if he is not going to pay then i think he will find there are many who volunteer only to hang around in alleys, piss through letterboxes and set fire to abandoned buildings, volunteers who are saving up to go looting but cannot currently afford the busfares. i expect this huge society-transforming creche will be organised by an army of willing volunteers from the big society (an object of the imagination closely related to the broken society currently smouldering), a task which they will perform whilst working full time in a job they cannot get and acting as ideal parents and role models to their own children. and even though multiculturalism ‘has failed’, as our friend dave tells us it will be members of these various communities who are expected not only to sweep up the rubble left by the riots but also to transform the lives and outlook of the young and rebuild society whilst being slapped around the face by a government that takes refuge in a fictitious moral superiority.
so now an ‘arab spring’ which has concluded in stagnation in egypt and a brutal repression in syria is succeeded by an english summer. and we all know what an english summer is like: three days of warm weather followed by a thunderstorm. the thunder we can hear is the rattling of the cages in which the reactionary tory right had been restrained for some few years, fed on the scraps of inequality and warmongering thrown to them by new labour, but now they are loose again visiting retribution on the poor.
i expect there will be floods.
floods and a hosepipe ban.