Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

This is What Austerity Looks Like: Riots in London: UPDATED

It’s been 26 years since I last remember police cars speeding up my road to the riots at the Broadwater Farm estate in North London. Then – just like last night – a policing incident had been the spark that ignited latent social and political tensions that had been building for years. The previous Tottenham riot wasn’t an isolated incident: prior to that there had been riots in Brixton in South London, Toxteth in Liverpool, and Handsworth in Birmingham. And last night the same scenes returned to my beloved city.

Such looting and violence is never justifiable. When it happens in the poorer neighbourhoods, it’s exactly those who can least afford to cope with it who have to deal with the carnage and aftermath – the closed shops, heavy police presence, the sense of fear and the smell of charred buildings. Fortunately no one seems to have been seriously injured last night; but looting is not a legitimate form of wealth redistribution.

But apart from the moral or legal condemnations, what are the connections between the riots last night and the 1980s when these were almost a regular occurence? Surely, beyond individual morality or neighbour policing there is a clear cut connection…

We’ve returned to the 1980s agenda of Thatcherism: public service, benefit cuts and unemployment, with all the social consequences that follow

“There Will Be Riots”

There are many factors which made this summer of trouble foreseeable. Beyond and above the world recession, the key factor provoking trouble across Europe, especially in Greece, has been the sudden removal of benefits and social support for the poorest segments of society.

For all its faults, New Labour fought long and hard to provide investment, infrastructure, training and income support for excluded groups, especially young black men in the inner cities. Britain in the twenty years since Thatcherism and the Scarman report on the Brixton riots paid special attention to job opportunities, youth activities and support for the most excluded parts of society.

But since last year the Coalition Government enabled, in its Comprehensive Spending Review, the biggest cuts in public expenditure in 70 years, underprivileged youth has been particularly hit, as the video below – made before the riots – makes amply clear

As the speaker at the end says:

“There will be Riots”

A year ago I pointed out how unequally the austerity measures were hitting different sections of society:

The revered Institute of Fiscal Studies calculates the bottom 10% will, on average, lose about 5.5% of their net income compared to roughly 4.5% for the top 10%.

Let us remember that the 5.5 per cent cut will affect people on very tight budgets, who can barely feed themselves healthily. Whereas the cuts on the top 10 per cent will result in fewer luxuries being bought.

So those Chickens are coming home to roost. It’s not condoning criminal activity to show how economic austerity has social consequences. Indeed it would be immoral NOT to point it out. And the factors here are obvious.

1. A massive rise in Youth Unemployment

2. The Closure of facilities for young people

3. The Removal of the EMA grant which have 16-18 years a weekly sum for remaining in education.

4. A rise in VAT (sales taxes) and energy price hikes

If the Brixton or Poll Tax Riots are anything to go by, there’s a good chance this event will stir the government into realising how their economic policies are fomenting social unrest. We don’t have a Tea Party here, and the Coalition  – weakened by the Murdoch scandal – will probably not be able to pursue its destructive austerity measures.

And if you think your deficit cutting is bad, just compare it with ours

Back to the Future: A Recipe for Trouble

London is generally a peaceful safe city. I live in the centre, and – as I told American friends visiting yesterday – I rarely fear walking in any of its streets. But in the last few weeks, as the school holidays have arrived, I have noticed more bored teenagers roaming around. Their job prospects are poor to non existent. Their grants have been cut. Their youth centres closed. Many have parents who are stressed trying to manage the rising prices and decreasing incomes, or depressed thanks to unemployment, and probably having to leave the city because of the cap in housing benefit.

How can one assume than you treat the poorest 5 per cent like this with impunity? When kids are bored, depressed, hopeless – that’s a recipe for trouble.

Though no one would admit the economic connections with rioting in the 80s, the Thatcher government commissioned the Scarman report that did conclude economic prospects had a great deal of impact on social cohesion and law and order.

I wonder how long it will take politicians to catch up with the past.

UPDATED: As I feared on Sunday, this was not an isolated reaction of one community to a specific incident. That was just the spark that ignited simmering resentment, anger and disillusion

A third night of rioting has spread all across the capital, and to Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool. This is social unrest. The police have been overwhelmed.

Last night, as I diary here, my daughter narrow escaped the burning buildings, cars and looted in leafy suburban Ealing. Incredible and scary;

Some other brief points

1. Hundreds arrested. London prisons cell are full.

2. Police force will be tripled tonight in London. Armoured vans were deployed in Ealing and elsewhere – unprecedented outside Northern Ireland.

3. Cameron has returned from holiday to an emergency COBRA committee.

4. Parliament recalled on Thursday (twice this summer) Unprecedented.

I’ll be heading out tonight with a journalist to some of the trouble spots and bring you more news, though I hope it will be a much quieter night.

I’ll leave you with the brave and inspiring intervention of this woman in Hackney (I’ve linked rather than embedded because of autoplay)

In the clip, which includes strong language, the woman urges rioters to leave local shops alone, and concentrate on protesting against the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked the original riots in Tottenham.

The reaction on Twitter and other social networks was almost universally positive. One commenter wrote: “This woman has restored my faith in humanity somewhat today. I want to marry her.”

And just in case this is imagined through the lens of US civil strife, let me stress that these are in no ways race riots. The initial shooting of Mark Duggan, that triggered the first riot in Tottenham, had a racial and policing dimension. But even then the rioting and looting wasn’t dominated by any ethnic community. As it has spread across London’s inner suburbs, and even out to its leafier ones like Croydon and Ealing, the only pattern I can see is youth and poverty. I may be wrong, and nothing is monocausal, but as well as the amazing woman in the link above, let me add two images which show both the highs and lows of the current civil disorder:


  1. BlueStateRedhead

    Brit is wonderful but can’t do everything. Here are a few factoids that I added to his dkos version.

    Understanding where Tottenham is and what it is not.

    Many may know the Tottenham Crt. Rd and tube station in Central London as tourists or visitors. Many many more will have seen the Rd as the raucous place to which Hermione apparats when the deatheaters attack the wedding in Deathly Hallows I.

    Those are one and the same;they are not however Tottenham.

    here is Tottenham:

    …. a multicultural hotspot with many different ethnic groups inhabiting the area. It is often referred to as a black area because it contains one of the largest and most significant populations of African-Caribbean people. ….  South Tottenham is reported to be the most ethnically-diverse area in Europe, with up to 300 languages being spoken by its residents….Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London and the 8th highest in the United Kingdom. It therefore has some of the highest poverty rates within the country.


    Although Tottenham is well known for its diversity and culture, it has also been one of the main hotspots for gangs and gun crime in the United Kingdom during the past three decades.

    Finally, it may help to explain that an estate in UK British is not first and foremost a large country property, although that meaning exists.

    BRITISH an area where there are many houses, usually built at the same time by the same company. Many estates are owned by local government and have cheap houses for poorer families. The American word is development

    sources are all wiki except for harry potter, which is his wiki.

    I asked what the corner building with the clock tower which i burning in the slide?  It must have been an important asset, offices, shops, whatever….all those jobs now gone.

    It seems upon inspection to have been a recent construction pseudo Victorian high street style and have been a mall with shops on both floors and something on the roof –outdoor restaurant maybe.  

  2. Strummerson

    …and featuring the recently deceased Amy Winehouse to boot.

    Phenomenal music is no compensation for the social pain that spurs it.

  3. BlueStateRedhead

    It’s vile. Any word or thought seems to be an excuse to go off, as in exploding and the going off topic sense.

    take European/UK history which I know something about. Mme Guillotine and Wall Street, chain stores chasing out high street merchants(which happened when, in the 1960s?, anything is fuel for the fire, however unrelated by logic or time.

    Which leads to my questions.

    I  wonder if you have you a sense of what the position of the  majority of commentators are on riots in the USA? Possible, probable, to be feared, of like Mr Mme Guillotine, desired?

    And I ask you as a lowid Kog, is there an increased level of anger and permitted expression of desire for violent acts?

  4. in your favourite city…

    One of the first books I read on my new Nook was Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. It was a fascinating insider’s look into poverty in those two cities. Reading about the lengths people had to go to in order to survive day to day was very enlightening and troubling. One thing Orwell brought away from his experience was a reaffirmation of the aphorisms “There but for the grace of God…” and the Native American proverb “Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”

    The reason I bring this up today is that I just finished reading a piece on the BBC site by Emma Jane Kirby – On the trail of George Orwell’s outcasts. It is well worth a read. As is Orwell’s original book.

    Some 80 years after George Orwell chronicled the lives of the hard-up and destitute in his book Down and Out in Paris and London, what has changed? Retracing the writer’s footsteps, Emma Jane Kirby finds the hallmarks of poverty identified by Orwell – addiction, exhaustion and, often, a quiet dignity – are as apparent now as they were then.

    Quarrels, and the desolate cries of street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing-orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing and the sour reek of the refuse carts, made up the atmosphere of the street…. Poverty is what I’m writing about and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum.

    Such was George Orwell’s recollection of what he called the Rue du Coq d’Or in Paris, 1929 – the real-life Rue du Pot de Fer. Today it’s pleasure rather than poverty that defines the Latin Quarter that Orwell frequented 80-odd years ago. The chic pavement cafes are full of contented-looking people leisurely sipping their vin rose, and the air is perfumed by the sweet smell of crepes and tourists’ money…

    The last paragraph of Orwell’s book.

    Still I can point to one or two things I have definitely learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.

    Orwell’s book is in the public domain in Australia and listed on the Project Gutenberg Australia web site –… Readers in other countries, like the U.S. where the copyright runs for 70 years after the author’s death, will have to wait until 2020 for it to go into the public domain.

  5. DeniseVelez

    after the first “riots”.

    I met with members of the local Black Power Movement and Black filmmakers.

    The same year the Scarman report was issued by the government.

    Fast forward to Britan 30 years later

    Almost half of black people aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed, compared with 20% of white people of the same age, a think tank has claimed.

    The left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research said a survey of 7,200 young people showed a wide variation in unemployment by ethnic group.

    Black unemployment had risen 13% since March 2008, compared with 8% among white people and 6% among Asians.

    Campaigners said action was needed from government to help the black community.

  6. creamer

    Back people into a corner with no resources and wonder why they get angry. Paint them as criminals and try to ignore thge root cause.

    We’ve seen that over here more than once.

    I really don’t know enough about Englands economy to know if the draconian cuts where nessasary, even if thats the case now things didn’t reach that point overnight. I hope the deficit hawks over here are watching and not drawing the wrong conclusions.

      I hope things calm down.

  7. HappyinVT

    thinks that all those rioters ought to join the Army since they can’t find jobs.  7 people “liked” her comment.  {{{sigh}}}

  8. …with my film maker friend. The capital is eerily deserted, and thanks to being one street over from Hatton Garden, the diamond district, I have five vans each with 20 police in guarding my street. The only action we saw was a small fire 100 yards from my door, set off by some sad lonely rioter, and rapidly extinguished.

    The police were friendly and kind, though a bit wary of my friend filming. One young officer said “Cameron has to do something… increase police numbers… but get jobs for these kids. Get them college places. Reopen the youth centres they closed.”

    A strange world we live in. London stood up. I think the worse is over. But as the young officer proved, a lot of soul searching to do.

    I’ll upload some videos if I get a moment

Comments are closed.