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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

UK: urban riots « Previous | |Next »
August 10, 2011

The urban riots in the UK, with their images of burning buildings, cars aflame, looting, kids in hoodies and stripped-out shops, are an indication of what happens when young people from the low income estates have no jobs, cannot afford education, are not part of local communities, live in poverty, and are constantly harassed by the police.

The backdrop to London burning is one of great inequality, large cuts to public services, and enforced austerity measures. Hence the rioters concentration on shopping and consumer goods? Their world is increasingly one of drugs, weapons, gangs--the world of The Wire.

RowsonMriots.jpg Martin Rowson

People reduce the stock market to the market, the market to the economy, and then represent the market as independent of politics. The urban riots indicate that it is impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics, and so we need to think in terms of political economy. This is to think in terms of whether the political system is capable of resolving the financial and economic crisis and making the financial elite, who caused the financial crisis, accountable.

What has happened is that the political class has spent large sums of money to stabilize the financial system, generating massive debt in the process, and they have continued to allow the financial elite to manage the system to its benefit. So we have a political crisis generated by an economic one; a political crisis over the manner in which the political elite has managed the financial crisis and the subsequent recession. This, in turn, makes the economic crisis worse.

Ironically the judgement of the markets is that democratic elected governments cannot do what needs to be done, leaving it unclear what it is that needs to be done by the political class. More austerity? Cut large swathes through civil society, third sector bodies and community services? Britain becomes a less civil and more unequal place to live.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:58 AM | | Comments (18)


Yes you are essentially right there Gary. Its tough in the UK at the moment as it is in a lot of places that arent burning.
The phrase " The people are revolting" has two meanings and in this case i think the latter is the correct one.

Nicely balanced essay Gary.
So much better than the superficial gushing blaming of the victims I saw on our mass media the last few days.

The contrast between the reporting of this event and virtually exactly the same sort of thing in Egypt, Libya, Iran etc where the authorities were demonised and the public praised is telling.

It seems the system of authority has completely broken down. What my parents used to call The Establishment. So much of our social system relies on the obedience of the majority. Yet it's always been the case that if big enough numbers of people stopped playing along the whole thing would fall over.

It's gruesome, but fascinating.

For the Conservatives the response to the riots will be about asserting the authority of the state through law and order and punishing the criminals, rioters and looters.

All Cameron's talk about The Big Society to replace the rolled back public sector will be forgotten. The socially and economically excluded underclass----the jobless and under-educated youths simply do not feel that they belong to a community--- will be ignored.

So the underclass form their own gangs and turn to violence---robbing
commuters on London trains and buses; knife assaults and gang shootings.

Camila Batmanghelidjh says:

Working at street level in London, over a number of years, many of us have been concerned about large groups of young adults creating their own parallel antisocial communities with different rules. The individual is responsible for their own survival because the established community is perceived to provide nothing. Acquisition of goods through violence is justified in neighbourhoods where the notion of dog eat dog pervades and the top dog survives the best. The drug economy facilitates a parallel subculture with the drug dealer producing more fiscally efficient solutions than the social care agencies who are too under-resourced to compete.

The drug culture emerges out of a bleak , socially run rundown Britain governed by one nation Tories disconnected from the urban realities and a disenfranchised underclass that treats authority with contempt.

The Conservative's "its just criminality pure and simple" line isn't going to get them very far in dealing with their political crisis. The Tory Right will press for tougher punishment of the law-breakers and bringing the lawlessness under firm control. That still leaves "Broken Britain".

It's funny how the tories look at things...

Turmoil in the stock market can be explained by investors rejection of a government's economic policies. Rational cause and effect.


Turmoil in the streets of England is just mindless opportunism.... apparently.

Fair enough.

Meanwhile Margaret Thatcher told us that there is no such thing as society (or community), but only individuals and their families pursuing their self-interest.

For all sorts of reasons, such is now the state of UK "culture", and of the USA too.

The war of all against all, in which everyone inevitably looses, including the presumed "winners".

Maggie also famously said: there is no other way.

Such is also the mantra of her many devotees.

I absolutely recommend Bill Mitchell's blog today.

It comes in two parts, the personal and the political-economic and puts the 2 together.
The second half is based on this :

EUROPE, 1919-2009"

This paper concludes that there is a correalative and causal [note the causal] relationship between budget cuts and social unrest.
Concludes thus:
"" a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability."

This paper was published ...wait for it ...a month ago.
Prescient hey?

Go read, you will be rewarded.

thanks Fred for the link to Bill Mitchell's blog post.

"austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability”

It's what you'd expect isn't it. The indications are that austerity will severely damage the economy--consumers won’t spend if they fear unemployment; firms won’t hire and produce if sales are flat.

Yet the neo-liberals say that austerity is good because budget deficits are bad and should be avoided. Neoliberals remain in control of the policy agenda

The rozzer's seem to have a good grasp on what's happening, and why.

"London's Metropolitan police has blamed “copycat criminal activity” for a second night of violence across North London..."

Well f@&k me, Sherlock!!! Isn't that how a riot usually works??

So the riot was caused by a lot of unrest, by a lot of people.... in a lot of places. Brilliant stuff, that.

According to the prime ministerial response they're all going to prison. Every last one of them. Even if it means having to build more prisons to keep them all in. That'll fix things. And justify spending all that money on CCTV. they have to be taught this sort of behaviour is wrong, because apparently they didn't know that before.

According to the conservatives it's all pretty obvious. We all know it's illegal to smash shop windows and steal things. The rioters are criminals who belong to a generation with a false sense of entitlement, created by the victim culture fostered, and leniency displayed, by the criminal justice system.There is nothing to explain and the only response should be plastic bullets, water cannon and troops on the streets.

Some of the conduct looks like a giant shopping spree--those on the margins of society were not just looting, but trying things on first. It was teenagers smashing shop windows to walk off with plasma TVs and trainers. For the tabloids the rioters are gangs of mindless yobs, morons, thugs and criminals who should be jailed.

Gary Sauer-Thompson points us to the "Broken Britain" article (24/1/10) where The Guardian says (among other things): "By some measures, Britain is in better social shape than ever. The government points to falling crime rates, a trend confirmed by figures published last week.

"The average person is less likely today to be robbed, burgled, assaulted or murdered than a decade ago. But the statistical average conceals pockets of real social decay..."

This is a bit old, but typical of middle-class opinion. Only violent crime or theft of goods are really crimes. Fraud isn't. So in the aftermath of the riots, we get violent denunciations of "criminal behaviour" which were notably absent when the lies and cheats in the international financial system were brought to light by the GFC.

From the US, here's a little essay about why that sort of criminal behaviour was never punished. I would imagine the situation in the UK would be parallel:

Criminal behaviour is in the eye of the beholder.

Isn't it strange that Alan Jones and his crew thought that the Cronulla mobs were reacting to perceived grievance. And understandable reaction to being provoked.

Not that I'm suggesting that Jones would try and justify such unlawful acts... gosh, heaven forbid!

But this thing in England is ENTIRELY different. Yes?

Underclass - sure. Deprived youth - sure.
However, Primary-age children
need to be safe, and accounted for, and uninvolved.
I propose a permanent curfew for under-11's (?). Say 'twilight'. Unless accompanied by a responsible adult.

how would that work re enforcement of the curfew with the Cameron government reducing police and community services? Vigilante parent groups?

Nan... I suspect THAT is one of the ironies of these past few days. It would take a very brave government to reduce police numbers in this climate.