09 August 2011

How's that Big Society working out for you now, Dave?

Less than fifteen months into the new Tory regime in the UK and the country is already experiencing riots at least as bad, if not worse, than were ever seen in Thatcher's days. After three nights of violence and looting every police cell in London is full, extra officers are being drafted in from as far away as Yorkshire and politicians have been calling for a response that ranges from curfews and water cannon to the deployment of combat troops fresh from Afghanistan on to the streets of London. With the Olympics less than a year away the prospect of this all being used to turn the UK into even more of a locked-down police state is frighteningly real.

It may not be organised, it may not be ostensibly political and it certainly cannot be condoned, but there can be no doubt that what we have witnessed is a reaction to the divided society created in the UK, as elsewhere, by extreme wealth inequality, and exacerbated by Tory policy that continues to protect the wealthy elite at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.

These riots aren't rows of purple-clad liberals asking politely for Proportional Representation or trustafarians demanding Bono pay his taxes by waving a few flags at Glastonbury, nor even middle-class students storming Tory-HQ angered that they might have to take part-time jobs to get themselves through university, this is the most marginalised in society, those neglected and stigmatised by successive governments, the media and by their fellow citizens who live in a fugue of ignorance and manufactured fear, these are Les Damnés de la Terre and, as Darcus Howe said today, this is an insurrection.

Now let us not fall completely into classical middle-class liberal guilt here and lipstick-up this media-engorged pig. What has happened on the ground is horrific, especially for those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. The mob did not target the richest 1% or the apparatus of the state, they fed upon their neighbours and those equally marginalized by the inequalities of 21st century England. The mobs were not out to make a political statement, to highlight the inhumanity of their plight, or even to cry out against the perceived brutality of the Metropolitan Police, the mobs were out simply to smash and burn and grab a plasma TV or two in the process. But the mob itself was created by the economic realities of the UK, just as much as if it had been an organised act of political resistance.

It is impossible to see the video footage without calling to mind Jack London's description of the 'People of the Abyss' from his 1908 dystopian novel "The Iron Heel":
"The next moment the front of the column went by. It was not a column, but a mob, an awful river that filled the street, the people of the abyss, mad with drink and wrong and roaring for the blood of their masters. I had seen the people of the abyss before, gone through its ghettos, and thought I knew it; but I found that I was now looking on it for the first time. Dumb apathy had vanished. It was now dynamic - a fascinating spectacle of dread. It surged past my vision in concrete waves of wrath, snarling and growling, carnivorous, drunk with whiskey from pillaged warehouses, drunk with hatred, drunk with lust for blood - men, women and children, in rags and tatters, dim ferocious intelligences with all the godlike blotted from their features and all the fiendlike stamped in, apes and tigers, anaemic consumptives and great hairy beasts of burden, wan faces from which vampire society had sucked the juice of life, bloated forms swollen with physical grossness and corruption, withered hags and death’s-heads bearded like patriarchs, festering youth and festering age, faces of fiends, crooked, twisted and misshapen monsters blasted with the ravages of disease and all the horrors of chronic innutrition - the refuse and the scum of life, a raging, screaming screeching demoniacal horde.

And why not? The people of the abyss had nothing to lose but the misery and pain of living. And to gain? - nothing, save one final awful glut of vengeance."

- Jack London, 'The Iron Heel', Penguin, pp232-233
I never condone violence in any circumstances, but when the most marginalized in society finally do rise up what other tools do they have? The way to prevent horrific scenes like these are through education and an equal and just society, but somehow I cannot see that route being taken under David Cameron.

I hope our own political masters are watching and taking notes.

Update: Hmmmn, it would appear that those plucky downtrodden youth at the margins of society burned down a Sony distribution centre last night. This distro centre was also used by dozens of independent record labels, many of whom now appear to have lost their entire stock. Amongst the affected labels are Ninja Tune, Kompakt, Soma, Thrill Jockey, Mute and, horror of horrors, WARP.

This better not delay the new Plaid album.

I've changed my mind, hanging's too good for these ruffians, up against the walls with the lot of them. Bring back corporal punishment in schools, and compulsory military service, end welfare now and sell off the NHS. Harumph, harumph, harumph.

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At 4:40 pm, Anonymous Felix said...

The whole thing is a total horrorshow and you have summarised here very well the situation of political unrest which has bought it about.


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