It would seem that the masked rioters creating mayhem in Manchester yesterday – August 9th – were roaming gangs of teenagers. On several levels, this should give us reason to reflect.
The likelihood is that these ‘copycat kids’ were in it for the kicks. There’s also the buzz they get from taunting the police, and the possibility of grabbing some loot from smashed-in shops. It’s unlikely that these people are politically motivated, although some may cite economic and social disadvantage as possible driving forces.
How much do we know of the socio-economic makeup of rioters in Manchester and other English cities? Is it likely they’re organised and operated from behind by some mysterious left-wing Svengalis? Or was the Tottenham shooting last week a catalyst for the underlying grievances of a growing group of disadvantaged and unemployed under-25s to emerge spontaneously, collectively and violently?
Although reprehensible, it’s only half the story to label all these people (in all these places) as ‘criminals’. Yes, they’ve committed criminal acts against the homes and businesses of hard-working and innocent people – and should be held to account.
What we need to look at, however, is whether the so-called rioters are impressionable young people craving some excitement in their otherwise dull and predictable lives? Or are they immature, vulnerable and naive people following politically motivated ‘leaders’ who know how to whip up a groundswell of anger – exploiting the dispossessed status of so many young English people – by the clever manipulation of social media and smartphone communications?
Heaven forbid, it could just be that some of the rioters have a case! Maybe the condemnation by the Establishment and the middle-class masses of Baby Boomers has completely missed the point? Maybe it is they who are responsible for creating a whole generation who’ve been priced out of the housing market, higher education and well-paid middle-class careers that are reserved for a new privately-educated élite? Or maybe we should round up a posse and drive those pesky bankers out of town?!
The enlightened liberalism that’s been sugared by decades of economic good fortune has blinded today’s older generation to the fact that there’s a huge swathe of humanity on their doorstep – albeit living on the poorer side of town – for whom rioting (or something akin to it) is an attractive, or only, option. Democracy clearly doesn’t work for people at the bottom of the pile, simply because the rules of the winning Establishment have been drawn up by the winners themselves.
People taking to the streets is nothing new of course. For the French, it’s been in their DNA since the 1789 Revolution – et vive La France! Scarcely a year goes by without their students or unions blockading something or other. In England, we’ve had our moments too. Think: poll tax; miners’ strike; Iraq war.
In those cases, the protesting was by people who had a stake in English society. This therefore gave their actions a greater sense of legitimacy. Peaceful protest has ben recognised as being part of the English way of doing things for centuries. Protesting turns to rioting only when peaceful means don’t work.
In the case of many rioters over the past week, it could safely be said that the many economic and social grievances which currently abound in our society have not been addressed. This, to some people, would lend justification to their actions. Many would also say that Tory policies have aggravated an already-sensitive situation.
What isn’t yet clear is whether those who were rioting in our cities were mainly opportunists, jumping on a bandwaggon for cheap thrills – or whether there was a political dimension to the acts of at least some of those involved.
As of 10 August 2011, it looks likely that there were some politically-minded agitators involved, and the rest followed their lead. Whether they can sustain unrest at a level that will make a political difference is debatable, especially given the Establishment’s track-record of successfully keeping a lid on foment created by undesirable ‘fifth columnists’.