What caused the riots? It’s more than just the economy, stupid.

Aditya Chakrabortty has a pretty compelling article in today’s Guardian scrutinising the political responses to the past few days’ rioting under the concise headline, UK riots: political classes see what they want to see. He summarises the binary analysis that has dominated:

If you’re a leftwinger, the causes of the violence and looting are straightforward: they’re the result of monstrous inequality and historic spending cuts; while the youth running amok through branches of JD Sports are what happens when you offer a generation plastic consumerism rather than meaningful jobs.

For the right, explaining the violence is even simpler – because any attempt at understanding is tantamount to condoning it. Better by far to talk of a society with a sense of over-entitlement; or to do what the prime minister did and simply dismiss “pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick”. You can expect to hear more of the same rhetoric in today’s debate in parliament, especially from backbenchers on either side.

He then points out the obvious — ‘Offering up a single explanation for the violence and looting that began in one London borough on Saturday and has since spread as far as Birmingham and Salford must be a nonsense’ — before noting that the underlying causes of the disturbances are not hard to fathom:

Many economists have spent the past few days passing around a paper on the Hindu-Muslim riots in India in the 80s and 90s. Written by Anjali Thomas Bohlken and Ernest John Sergeant in 2010, it finds that “just a 1% increase in the [economic] growth rate decreases the expected number of riots by over 5%”. Recessions are good for riots: perhaps no surprise, there. What matters, they argue, is when people suffer abrupt drops in living standards – and that goes for Hackney as well as Athens.

That point is rammed home by a new paper from the economists Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth. Titled “Austerity and Anarchy”, it should be essential reading for all those who want an academic take on what spending cuts made in Whitehall might mean on their local high streets. Ponticelli and Voth look at social unrest across Europe from 1919 to the present – and find a clear link between “fiscal retrenchment and instability” that goes beyond the misery caused by recession.

The point is, in a sense, pretty obvious: when the economy dives so do the hopes of many of those affected. That this is accompanied by an austerity programme — albeit one which will see public spending continue to grow throughout the lifetime of this parliament, from £669bn (2010) to £770bn (2015) — accentuates that sense of hopelessness, of despair. This has found an outlet in this week’s violent looting spree.

Does that mean we can easily brush off this week’s turmoil as an inevitable outcome of economic distress? That would be too, too easy.

Look at Spain, a country whose economy is in a far worse plight than the UK’s, with youth unemployment (ie, the number of under-25s out-of-work) at an absolutely staggering 46% (compared to 20% in the UK).

Yet contrast this week’s nihilistic pillaging with the Spanish reaction, the 15-M Movement, a peaceful but deeply political response which started in Madrid (pictured) and spread to 58 cities across the Spanish regions. Just a couple of weeks ago, the 15-M Movement delivered its demands for far-reaching reform to Spain’s political and financial system direct to the outgoing Socialist premier, Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

It’s a far cry from raiding Foot Locker.

As Chakrabortty notes:

London in the early 80s was marked out by a generation of black and Asian politicians who were able to serve as interlocutors for their communities. Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others were not Labour frontbenchers and often to the left of Michael Foot and the party leadership: they were able to serve as credible representatives of areas in turmoil. David Lammy is an admirable MP, but he does not have the same heft. Which is partly why this week’s disorder has often seemed so apolitical.

True, it has been apolitical. But what has perhaps frightened most of us has been the casual disdain for common humanity: violence has not been targeted against ‘the establishment’, but against anyone who happens to be in the way, even if they’re an ordinary member of the local community.

This was purposeless lawlessness. And there’s little point in blaming today’s current crop of politicians, of whichever hue, for that state. This is a deep-seated problem in our society, a failure of families and community and the economy and politics.

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  • Thirteen years without the Tories in power and we saw no mass public disorder. One year of a Tory led Coalition and we are witnessing massive social breakdown; homes and businesses have been torched, mayhem has come to our streets and people are living in terror. Nothing to do with the removal of the EMA? The abandonment of the future jobs fund? The withdrawal of Surestart? The removal of benefits? I could go on and on. When is your government going to assume responsibility for the consequences of its economic and social policies?

  • Yes, we have politicians who casually embezzle five figure sums from the public purse (David Laws coming back soon?), bankers who pocket millions while the banks they work for are rescued by the tax payer, a mayor of London who fathers children with women who aren’t his wife while his Old Etonian and Bullingdon chum at Number 10 blames parents for having no responsibility, despite his own parents paying his school to look after him, then there are police who shoot somebody and lie about the circumstances…

    We even have a party whose sense of personal honour is so warped that they renege on a personal pledge made to the electorate for a sniff of power.

    There is a problem in society and it’s not just in those that rioted, it affects everybody and undoubtedly today’s crop of politicians share some blame and far from leading by example they illustrate the unresolved problem that if you are privileged you can get away with it and if you are not then you are blamed.

  • Daniel Henry 11th Aug '11 - 9:22am

    Didn’t read the article then Mack?

    It acknowledged that cuts increased the chance of unrest, but then it compared the political protest in Spain to the apolitical violence and looting here.

    I get the feeling you’re more interested in using this problem to slam your political opponents than you are in finding out that’s really going on.

  • The cause is in fact very simple. We have trained an entire section of society, over generations, that they deserve to receive everything for free and without lifting a finger. And so these “deprived”, Blackberry wielding youths, simply took our lessons one step further. They deserve free stuff. They deserve free TVs. And whoever is keeping them from getting their free stuff (the police) is the enemy.

    I think, if we can draw any conclusion from this, then that left-wing economic policies have summarily failed. And, in order to maintain a social safety net for those who wish to contribute to society but are temporarily or physically unable to, the welfare system as we know it needs to be radically overhauled and shrunk.

    And people are not employable at almost £6 an hour, maybe we need to lower the price floor so that, if their work is worth £3/hour to the economy, for instance, they are then legally able to find work, instead of being legislated into unemployment.

  • Thanks an interesting and thoughtful peice I shall look at the Guardian article.

    @Mark What about Bradford and Oldham in 2001?

    Surely we have to look at the multiple issues that may have led to this. If it as simple as not cutting EMA then we wont have rights I am not acutually sure that is a good arguement for an educational benefit.

  • ” albeit one which will see public spending continue to grow throughout the lifetime of this parliament, from £669bn (2010) to £770bn (2015)”

    A ridiculous point as it takes no account of the current (rising) rate of inflation….

  • @Steve Way no, not a ridiculous point at all, because while inflation is rising tax revenues are not. In fact, the government is plugging the funding gap with a very moderate mixture of tax rises (left wing demands, generally speaking) and spending cuts (right-wing demands, generally speaking). And yet, despite all the cuts, leviathan will still be spending more money in 2015 than in 2010. Of course, in real, inflation-adjusted terms, that will be worth less, hence the use of the word “cuts”. But it shows you how moderate the cuts really are.

    Personally, I think they need to cut much more sharply, I think the only way to get sustainable economic growth is for public spending not to surpass 35% of GDP. But I suspect other party members probably wouldn’t agree with me (though some would, like the ones over on Liberal Vision).

  • A well balanced post, Stephen. I was similarly heartened by Nick Clegg’s comments on this morning’s TODAY, putting some clear water between him and Cameron.

    Incidentally, is there a fundamental difference between those looting from shops (after they have been damaged) and those taking advantage of faulty ATMs:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2574242/Faulty-ATM-spews-out-free-cash.html ???

  • David Parkes 11th Aug '11 - 10:02am

    I think I agree with pretty much everything written here, in the piece I wrote on Monday which was published here on Wednesday, I criticised Labour for opportunism in linking the riots with the cuts.

    Many I think assumed that I’d taken the right wing view that explaining the violence is tantamount to condoning it. I hadn’t but when I closed the article saying: “The civil disorder we are witnessing has far more to do with local issues, local politics and local policing” I was in fact arguing there are causes, explanations, but they are not quite as cut and freeze dried as Labour and the left would have us believe.

    What this article does is actually pick up where I left off and actually goes into a lot of the detail as to a) how when you consider the likes of Spain, the deficit reduction excuses doesn’t hold water in itself and b) looks at the apolitical and nihilistic nature of the unrest. I think these are excellent points.

  • Interesting article. I do believe the cuts to youth service, sure start, EMA and others are factors but not sufficient alone to explain what is a very multi-factorial situation. An angle that is perhaps underplayed (maybe politicians don’t want to face up to it?) is the utter breakdown of many younger people’s respect for the establishment/authority. This is something that once but no longer ceases to shock me as a teacher in a south london school, many youths have an absolute disdain for the establishment …. politicians lining their pockets, police corruption, police stop and search, bankers gambling with futures (teachers … who knows what they think). And what is done to sort out Britains problems? Ask the young and poor to share the cost. You may think these views are unfair or a narrow view but that is their view and in this instance perception is reality. This mentality creates a lack of fear/respect which allied to a colective ‘f*ck you’ attitude is highly combustible.

    @john roffey. “I don’t think it requires an academic to recognise that there exists a moral vacuum within the majority of the younger generations”
    Nonsense – a significant minority perhaps but there is still a quiet majority of moral hard working youth who expect better but suffer from being tarred with the same brush

    this country hasn’t had left wing economic policies since the 1970s.

  • @ Robin

    Your 35% figure is purely plucked out of thin air. What about Sweden? High government spending levels (49% of GDP) yet dynamic growth (6.4% annualised in the first quarter). Or Germany? Not exactly a low tax economy, is it? Really, except in the mind of neo-liberal theorists, there is no link between low taxes and growth rates, taking economies at the same level of development.

    Where I think we have failed is at the bottom end of the employment scale. Working full time on the minimum wage in London is far worse than simply claiming benefits, given the much higher cost of living in London relative to anywhere else. A whole group of class is trapped in low educational achievement and poor social skills that means they are unable to hold down entry level jobs and still less to aspire to something better. All their employment opportunities (retail and services sector jobs) have gone to better motivated and better educated immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Very rarely in London do you hear local accents among people working in these roles. Raising the personal allowance to £10,000 will help tip the balance towards making work pay, but it is not enough. £12,000 would be more like it, maybe even more. We have too many people trapped in the safety net and we are not making it easy enough for people to climb the ladder out of it. As Liberal Democrats we need to be thinking about innovative ways of making sure that everyday living is made easier and more affordable for those at the lower end of the income scale in terms of everyday needs of housing, food, transport, heating etc. and articulating these clearly as a package of policies we would like to implement in the absence of the constraints imposed on us by having to work with the Tories.

    Talking about cuts in youth centres and EMA is also a rather facile approach. The EMA has been replaced with a more targeted approach aimed at those in real need. If the looting of shops is linked to the EMA, it suggests that youngsters were using it to buy trainers and mobile phones and that without it, they simply decided to go out and steal what they could no longer afford. After all, young people weren’t out stealing food and books, were they?

    @ g

    As for David Laws, he was entitled to claim living expenses and could have claimed even more than he did, so he was not motivated by any additional material gain because there was none. I’m not sure how an MP claiming less than he was entitled to motivates young people to go out and loot and burn.

  • Keith Browning 11th Aug '11 - 10:54am

    Education, education, education or lack of it.

    My daughter teaches English in a decent school in the middle of the London maelstrom. The school is better than most and the staff do their best, but its tough.

    The new pupil premium has given them one extra teacher and they are going to use this extra resource to improve English teaching for the most needy.

    One teacher trying to swim the Atlantic and with only a small dinghy as a support boat.

    To take the challenge of educating the inner city masses there has to be a more radical approach. Swamp them with education, twenty teachers not one, and back it up with a tough line on the streets, so there are no gangs, drug users etc. Approach from both ends and you have a chance.

    Where does the money come from? Stop behaving like a 19th century colonial power and spend the money on your own people. A decent size missile costs the same as several teachers annual salaries. We are not short of money, its just where we spend it.

  • So Robin
    The cause of this riots is do-gooders and the minimum wage ! Honestly, this is gob smacking.
    The cause of these riots were initially a breakdown between the police an a local community and I would argue Boris Johnson’s fondness for flying squad police swoops with silly LAPD inspired names. This fed into a mixture of disaffected and apolitical youth culture and in essence became a kind of brief fad. But,and this is important, for the last year and bit there has plainly been a background swell of social unrest caused by expecting people to foot the unpayable deficit bill caused by the fiscal irresponsibility of successive advocates of unregulated Milton Friedman inspired economics.. The answer to this is more of the same? So the crashing markets, economic stagnation, and imminent double dip are just signs that the tough medicine is working.. I don’t think so and I suspect that another banking crash is on it’s way..

  • @Robin
    It is a ridiculous point in the context it was made. Talking about rises in cash terms have always been a way to not talk about cuts in real terms. Most sensible people agree there is a need for cuts, where they are targteted and the depth of them remains up for debate. Spending is falling in real terms, my point to Stephen was don’t try to hide this by talking about cash terms it shallows the debate.

  • Agree with comment on “casual disdain for common humanity” – very frightening indeed, terrifying really – but the social and economic alienation on today’s scales mean that youth communities become completely desensitised towards this. We can’t just dismiss these events as atavistic savagery and lawlessness and walk away from discussing underlying socio-economic causes, unless we’re content with our cities becoming like Harlem of the 80s or downtown LA of the 90s or contemporary burnt out Detroit.

    As many observers have said, this kind of ‘business as usual’ approach will cost the state far more in the future from ongoing urban distrurbances etc..far more that we’re saving from current fiscal retrenchment programmes in public services..as well as far more wasting away of future social capital…

    I really hope that in the Commons debate today we get some sense – the 2 things I would like to see would be:-
    (i) We appoint an Independent Inquiry Commission along the lines of the Scarman report that came out of the 1980s Brixton Riots
    (ii) We get serious about urban regeneration policies which address the issues of sink estates, housing conditions, failed schools and jobs/unemployment

  • Paul McKeown 11th Aug '11 - 12:13pm

    Great article by Chakrabortty; the final quote from Alan Sitkin, a Labour councillor from Edmonton stood out:

    Look, I’m a lefty; I believe in redistribution. I believe in the politics of the street. But to me that means Tiananmen Square; not some kids smashing in HMV. This is bullshit.

  • @muxloe I wouldn’t exactly call making an entire, massive section of society dependent on handouts; creating voters for your party by swelling the ranks of public sector workers; and wasting massive amounts of money on Keynesian bail-outs which the poor now have to pay for “right-wing”. Those are, in fact, very left-wing policies. More than 40% of every pound earned in this country goes to the tax man, yet the state is spending approaching 50p of every pound earned in this country. That is, indeed, a very left-wing state of affairs!

    @Robert C Yes, the 35% is plucked out of thin air. But I feel that something around that level is the “natural” level that the majority tends to be happy to contribute. After that, I believe work becomes disincentivised causing diminishing returns. Also, regarding Sweden etc. – I would say that is despite the tax regime. Also, every country has a unique set of circumstances and I could point you to other countries, for instance Estonia with it’s flat tax rate of 20%, that are booming (I think it’s current growth rate is in the double figures, unemployment halved in the last year).

    @Glenn The unpayable deficit bill was caused because policies were not Friedman-inspired enough. The whole point of the work of economists like Friedman and Hayek is to argue that we should avoid bubbles by minimising government intervention. What happened was the opposite: successive governments tried there utmost best to inflate house prices, for instance, which created a massive bubble which had to pop. Yet, did they then listen to Hayek and co? No – they chose to listen to Keynes. The result is that the inevitable resultant depression simply got kicked a few years down the road, only that now we have a massive debt load. It has been a catastrophe. Again, may I invoke Estonia, which chose to forgo Keynesian stimulus. Their economy contracted massively for one year. Now, they are booming, half halved unemployment in one year, and their national debt? 7.2% of GDP. They are now in a much better position than the UK.
    In terms of the riots: if you train anybody to become dependent on handouts, they learn that they deserve to get what they want without any effort. The rioting is simply a logical extension of the mentality our welfare state has created. That’s all I was saying.

  • There are many causes for what happened. A major factor is a failure of politics and politicians. It’s very easy to say that it was just criminality and mindless violence. But the question still has to be asked why. If politicians and the political classes took time to actually listen to the young people that they have assisted in demonizing they would realize how irrelevant they are thought of. They feel that their concerns are never considered.

    Look at how many young people have violently lost their lives. They look at the response of the political classes, and see that their lives are not valued. They look at the response of police, and see that the police are not there to serve and protect them. So they feel that in order to survive, they have to protect themselves and their friends; just has we have seen, in recent days, communities protecting themselves when they feel the police are not there to protect and serve them.

    The vast majority of young people did not take part in the riots in their communities, but a very large number would not condemn those that did. Why, because they are angry. Angry at what they see as a concerted effort to take away the already few opportunities that they have. These young people are not politically ignorant, they are fully aware of the banking crisis, and what they see as the bankers being allowed to ‘get away with it’. They saw the expenses crisis and formed the common opinion that they ‘got away with it’. They see corruption in the police, and them ‘getting away with it’. They see all these people, who behave in an irresponsible manner, calling for them to behave in a responsible manner.

    Unless we listen to young people, and address their concern, all we will be doing is sweeping the issue under the carpet.

  • So far am disappointed by the Commons debate. It’s as if MPs are too scared to address socio-economic issues, for fear of being branded in the House as on the side of the looter and thugs. Some MPs making worthwhile points about responsibility, morality and moral breakdown, but moral codes and the erosion of moral codes erosion do exist in a vacume but in social and economic contexts. Labour crowing opportunistically about police budget cuts. As regards the 2 responses I hoped for above, what’s on offer feels like it falls short of what’s needed:-

    – Independent Inquiry – Miliband asked for one, but instead there will be a Home Affairs Select Ctte inquiry and a Whtehall review of gang culture assisted by and American. I’m not saying this is the wrong approach, but these are political responses when we really need an impartial evidence base response and Inquiry (at arms lenghth from Government and Political Parties) into the causes of the violence etc

    – Regeneration – Cameron anounced that there is some new patch up money available for worst affected comunities aimed at repairing businesses etc – again welcome but nothing like what’s needed to tackle the urban blight in these communities

  • Robin.
    Estonia has a population of around 1,341000. You could just as easily argue that the lesson it teaches us is that Cities of about the size of Leicester should declare themselves independent nations, scrap the pound and create new currencies linked to deutschmark. or that Britain needs a period of Balkans break-up complete with all the racial and ethnic atrocities of the resultant political chaos. Or for that matter that we should look at the stability and social cohesion inherent in the Vatican !
    Now the housing bubble was not created by western governments in general . It was created by British and American governments in the wake of post-industrial monetary thinking and then shipped to economies such as those in Southern Europe because it became fashionable amongst advocates of deregulated markets to see dept generation as positive. Indeed, when debt is viewed in terms of potential interest payments it looks like profit. This is exactly what is giving the banking system the illusion of solvency now.
    What I would say about Keynes is that his conclusions were never intended to be long term props for poor fiscal policy. They were primarily aimed at developing physical infrastructure and getting workers back to work at a time of financial collapse. And they worked on that level.. It is the inability of successive governments to see the value manual work and the over indulged influence of the stock markets and stockholders that has resulted in handing over the manufacturing base to countries like China. Both the Left and Right are guilty of viewing working class in degraded terms. Ultimately you have to provide things for people to do that they are capable of doing, rather than pretending that we can make everyone aspire to the same things. The devil makes work for idle hands.

  • Glenn, that’s why I said in the same post that every country has unique circumstances (culture, for instance?!) which is why I find these country comparisons not particularly helpful either. However, I don’t take your point about population size. For instance, in many ways Austria is a remarkably similar country to Germany (not just in terms of language), although it has only 10% of population. when you are making comparisons on a per capita basis, the point you make becomes completely irrelevant.

    Concerning the housing bubble – the point I was making was that it was not the cause of too little regulation, but a cause of the wrong fiscal and monetary policies. From planning law all the way through to the Bank of England’s MPC, pre-crisis it was the state’s only concern that house prices should continue rising. Votes depended on it. This is what ultimately proved so toxic.

    On a free market, much more capital would have gone into investments creating development and long term growth, and thus jobs, and far less capital would have flowed into housing, artificially inflating a humongous bubble.

    And without Keynes, we would have had a much more severe recession when it happened, but things now would be looking a lot rosier. Oh, and also, there would now be far fewer, certainly less well fed, bankers.

  • Kevin Colwill 11th Aug '11 - 4:16pm

    @ Robin…the rioters/looters are actually the logical conclusion of “greed is good” capitalism.

    If you begin by creating a society where a person’s worth is defined only in economic terms all else follows.

    Whatever the solution it is not about cutting minimum wage (by the way, ever lived on minimum wage for an extended length of time? Might not be so keen to cut it if you had). It is not about starving people into accepting exploitative pay, terms and conditions to keep them off the streets. The working class, or the so called under class are not monkeys in the zoo.

  • @Robin:
    On a free market, much more capital would have gone into investments creating development and long term growth

    All your assumptions about the free market are completely destroyed by the situation in the US.

    They have a much more free market than we do. And much more inequality & social exclusion. Their free market has not invested in “creating development and long term growth.” The entire free market is based on short-termism and maximum profits for those at the top. They’ve pocketed the money, they have not invested it at all.

    If the free market really did “trickle down” and provide investment for those at the bottom, then why is poverty in the US now at its worse state since the great depression? Why is there little to no investment in the poorest in the us?

    I think you could do well to read this: It is a truly heartbreaking story of how your precious market is leaving everyone behind.

    I’m originally from the states and I will tell you, looking you in the eye, that many Americans are waking up to the once forbidden thought that unfettered capitalism and a “get rich or die trying” society is failing everyone except those at the top.

  • Robin population size does alter things radically, These includes the. amount of viable work, the potential for civil disorder problems, crime rates, the cost pf policing, transport, fuel consumption. drainage, medical treatment, schooling,, housing and just about everything you can think of.. Other free-market shock treatments in bigger countries have produced military coups and, social collapse.
    And please these fiscal stimulus packages had nothing to do with Keynes who actually advocated a short term stimulus aimed at reducing unemployment amongst mostly manual labourers., Browne’s fiscal stimulus plan was a panic stations reaction to the meltdown caused by decades of faith in the mystic powers of Market forces. Should he have let some of these banks collapse. Absolutely. But I suspect we will always disagree on why he was wrong.



  • If, after the most catastrophic public disorder seen on the English mainland Liberal Democrats are taking comfort from the fact that countries such as Spain haven’t rioted and are using this to justify continuing with their disastrous economic and social policies then their heads are even deeper in the sand than I imagined. You have abandoned all of Labour’s carrot and stick approaches (ASBOS and EMA plus many others), you have also given the criminals the impression that you have abandoned custodial sentences, and look what’s happened. But you can’t say we didn’t warn you. Yes, of course the appalling violence and criminality on our streets is unacceptable and rightly has to be condemned, but we are fast reaching a situation where anyone who suggests that government policies have almost certainly contributed to this social breakdown is immediately characterised as condoning the vilolence. Not true! It is anti-intellectualism of the worst kind to suppress debate in this way. And anti-intellectualism ultimately leads to fascism. One good thing to come out of this terrible week, however, is that both Tories and Liberal Democrats have been forced to accept that CCTV is absolutely necessary to catch and prosecute criminals.

  • I’m actually a bit worried about how many people are wanting to stop us debating this issue in any way. It seems that any time someone wants to know why these riots happened and what the causes are, they are accused to “excusing” or “justifying” the riots. Even many prominent Tories, like Michael Gove, are trying to shut down debate.

    @Mack is right: this sort of thing leads to the marriage of corporations and the state, commonly known as Fascism. And the fact Cameron is “looking into” shutting down Twitter and BBM at times of strife is highly, highly worrying.

  • Robin – I fail to see how making poor people even poorer (by cutting the minimum wage, as you advocate) will be good for either social cohesion or the economy.

  • Kevin Colwill 11th Aug '11 - 9:30pm

    @An honest Bookeeper… Esther Rantzen to blame then? I guess it’s not the wackiest analysis I’ve read but it comes close. Don’t wanna go the whole hog and call for a return to birching?

  • Keith Browning 11th Aug '11 - 9:59pm

    There is a natural human desire to do the best for you and your family. It is fairly classless. The East End poor in the 1880s attended night classes and they built the Peoples Palace of learning in Mile End. The social housing blocks all had a library and learning and betterment was part of the vision of the ‘do-gooders’ of the Victorian age. That was the beginning of Social Liberalism and led to the extension of the franchise, votes for women and trade unions.

    Ironic therefore that in the Sky News description of the riots in Clapham the reporter noted that ‘Waterstones was left ‘untouched’ by the rioters.’

    The desire to improve is missing in these people and they will continue on a downhill path and take a lot of other people with them unless it can be restored.

  • The 1st thing is to get a sense of perspective, most places saw 2 nights of Rioting; the numbers actively involved were very small, a few thousands in a Nation of 50 Million. Wales, Scotland & England North of Manchester saw no trouble at all.
    Most of those involved were young, working class, male & poorly educated. There were a lot with mental health & drug problems. In short they mostly showed the typical profile for criminals. The big difference from “normal” crime was the collective & open nature of the events.
    We saw a mix of people with different aims. Some were into looting, some wanted violence & a lot just wanted excitement.

    Most of the underlying causes lie very deep & can only be tackled slowly but there is one short term cause that becomes obvious if you watch the various interviews with participants & their supporters. There was a lot of “Left” rhetoric being parroted, references to the EMA etc. The Authoritarian Lefts romanticisation of “Direct Action” as shown by The NUS/UKUncut etc has clearly filtered down.

  • I came across this article in the Spectator, and it was a pretty interesting view, if utterly depressing:


  • Paul Barker.
    The authoritarian left you are talking about are essentially a bunch of students and graduates. I suspect that they are simply rationalising after the fact rather than influencing the events.And I’m not sure that this is even relevant unless the suggestion is that we start banning left-wingers or something..
    What I do find a little disappointing is the continued attempt by some people to close off any political debate and deny even the possibility that political and economic choices play any part in the problems whatsoever. Personally. I think the causes are multiple, not least of which is boys misbehaving because it’s exciting, but ultimately come down to the loss of a drive towards egalitarianism and the acceptance that the way things are is natural, which is in reality a relentless drive to the bottom. But that’s me all horrible and liberal and wishy washy.

  • paul barker, the authoritarian left as you call it never granted the power to use plastic bullets and water cannon in Britain, as the Coalition have just done. They never advocated shutting down social networks like some middle east dictator, as the Prime Minister has done. We seem to have a government determined to lurch further to the right than Thatcher ever did.

    Is this what a liberal government means or will your party finally stand up for its principles?

  • Paul Barker – not sure whether you are trying to say that “direct action” has no connection with L(l)iberalism, by mentioning its connection to the left? If you are, you are way off beam!

    Keith Browning – I am afraid your history’s a bit “late” here. The TUC was formed in 1868, and Unions went back much further eg to the Tolpuddle Martyrs 1830s, activity around the time of the Combination Acts at the turn of the 18th/ 19th Centuries etc. What you are calling “social liberalism” were then Radicals, whose history went way back – and of course the widening of the franchise started with the 1832 Great Reform Act, with the next (and you could argue even more significant) change made in the 1867 Reform Act.

    Of course there was plenty of industrial and working class organising going on in the 1880s, which ultimately led to the formation of the ILP, and some time later the Labour Party. It is arguable that the Liberal Party of the time was far too timid in embracing the “new politics” of that time, and sacrificing its own future – and especially in prevailing attitudes in the Liberal leadership to the Suffragette movement rather later. Again, arguably, the modern day Lib Dems have travelled the same timid route when “new politics” and a new likely political world as we have entered a new century again.

    As I have posted previously, I am concerned that these activities of looting and mayhem will be used by some to discredit those who wish to use public demonstrations as a way of highlighting genuine grievances. I also think people will be put off attending such demos, and I think that is a very negative thing. One I imagine David Cameron and friends will be very pleased about, though.

  • PS I notice that a number of reports are talking about the influence of “gangs” in London on the mayhem – but I don’t think I have read anything which gives more than snippets of “evidence”. Is there anything substantial out there about this?

    PPS No trouble west of Bristol, in addition to Scotland, Wales, the NE of England etc. Although there were rumours that some attempts were made to stir people up in Plymouth and Exeter on Facebook and / or Twitter, which failed.

  • Keith Browning 12th Aug '11 - 9:40am

    Tim 13.

    I was trying to equate the two situations. East London then and now.

    My family were very much in the centre of that social revolution in the 1880s and 1890s, and it did take place then. The poorest place in England still had the desire to improve itself because of the moral and financial support of some rich men and the work of the Non Conformist Church. The crime and filth were there in abundance, but the people created a positive culture. The area had been the home of the Hugeonots, then migrant Brits and then the Russian Jews. Now it is the home of the Bangladeshi community. Each group used it as a ‘staging post’ and then moved on a generation later.

    The People’s Palace was built by the people not the state and the literate people taught the illiterate on a voluntary basis. Everyone helped everyone else.

    The transient nature of the East London community has not changed but the attitudes have, which is why these inner city ‘problem’ areas are not seen as transit points any more.

  • Keith Browning 12th Aug '11 - 9:53am

    A little bit of bedtime reading for those who want to see what it all looked like 100 years ago.

    History does tend to repeat itself if you let it.

    Jack London – People of the Abyss

    An American who came to London in 1903 because he couldn’t believe that the richest country in the World also had the greatest poverty.


  • Fantastic article in the Telegraph today :-


    Hits the nail on the head I’d say

  • Mark Argent 12th Aug '11 - 1:57pm

    I fear that the causes of the riots are unclear. This is dangerous as it means it’s all-too-easy to look at the riots and assume that they legitimate whatever position one already has, so they will be read as reasons for everything from a tough new law and order regime to serious expenditure on social welfare.

    This is worrying because there is a good chance that part of the problem is things not being heard/expressed in society (whatever those may be), and defaulting to standard positions will continue to not hear those things: there’s bound to be huge pressure for “action” consistent with what the (non-rioting) majority think caused the problem.

    I fear that what this actually needs is a proper enquiry and some serious social science investigation, but with pressure for results rather more rapidly than social scientists would usually see as practical.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Aug '11 - 7:58pm

    1 in 5 of the rioters so far arrested are 18 years old or younger. This is therefore not a youth problem but a symptom of a variety of social and economic problems not, as an honest bookkeeper states, simply a result of a change in family dynamics. These riotsseem to me to be as significant as the Peterloo massacre, not because of the reaction of the authorities who shot protestors in the 19th century, but because they may finally provoke those in power to a significant change in their priorities. We have allowed increased social polarisation over the last 30 or so years until now, in some places there are 3 generations of people who have never worked. Of course they have no committment to the “community” and nothing to lose by violent behaviour except their freedom for a few month or years and they really do not have much of that at home. Poverty is a great narrower of horizons. The fact that they took part in these riots and the punishment they receive will be a badge of honour as far as they and their friends are concerned. As well as the excitement of being on the telly.
    We don’t just need a Parliamentary Enquiry we need as many investigations into all aspects of the causes of this behaviour as possible. People who have no hope are the most dangerous people because they perceive that there is no benefit to good behaviour nor real punishment for bad because their lives are enough punishment and there is no way out.
    Of course the rioters have to go through the law courts and be punished but we have to put developing a more cohesive society much higher up as a political target. At the same time I have never understood the reasons why somone who is medium to long term unemployed but perfectly fit for work shouldn’t be paid for appropriate work in the community. There is enough to be done after all and a large variety of jobs from gardening to bookkeeping that they could receive training for that would lead to proper employment later. It just requires enough political will to set up the necessary strucutres to implement it.
    Meanwhile Mr Bookkeeper you may like to know that in Salford, where my daughters live, people have been thanking the police for guarding their local shopping precinct and have been giving them cakes and sweets. I wish that this got as much publicity as the riots did.

  • Let’s take it as read that community unrest is more likely in periods of widely shared affluence and less likely in perioids of relative austerity – whatever government is in power. The pope is also generally thought to be of the Catholic persuasion.

    What we need to be examining – without fear or favour – is what are the underlying issues which have led to behaviour of staggering cruelty and appalling lack of regard to fellow human beings in a disturbingly large minority of our people – mainly but not entirely young people, mainly but not entirely relatively poor people.

    For some time it has been clear that a strong streak of selfishness and exaggerated sense of entitlement has pervaded many of our indigenous population. How is it that so many immigrants almost immediately seek and get jobs when they arrive here while so many people born here stay unemployed and sneer at (for example) the Eastern Europeans for taking jobs they consider too menial or low-paid? Now it’s got a whole lot worse – some of the said work-shy indigenes have in the last week been destroying the places of employment that they eschew working at. How striking it has been to see how many of the businesses attacked and looted have been owned or run or staffed by hard working immigrants, several of whom have been brutally killed in attempting to defend their premises and indeed defend the community in general.

    I have been a Liberal all my life but I do not regard it as illiberal to suggest that there is a degree of (yes) sickness in sections of our society that will not be cured by throwing more public money around. How on earth can we even get an honest debate about this let alone find solutions?

  • Radicalibral 13th Aug '11 - 9:50am

    As Liberals we have take on the responsibility of taking a balanced approach to matters such as these they are in our psyche. Not for us the knee jerk reactions of the latest diatribe. So I say to the Lib Dems in the Coalition NO! to the exaggerated claim by the PM that we have riots in this country every 5 mins as justification for ending someone’s “Social Landlord Tenancy”. Read these words carefully as this says there should be no hiding place for NON HOMEOWNERS WHO CAUSE THESE PROBLEMS. I appeal to London MP’s such as Simon Hughes to please publicly kick this one in to touch.
    I am not hear to make excuses for murder, looting, and other crimes against the person, and property. As a Brummie I have to be proud stance taken by the 2 parents who have lost sons in these troubles, one of which probably contributed to quite possibly stopping the riots because of the strength of his humility in the face of such overwhelming grief. We should use his example on how we should go forward to look at constructive solutions to our problems.
    Tories, and Libertarian Liberals have to recognise that with the riots our democracy was put to the greatest test it has been put to in living memory. Though we must recognise that rioting, and more generally civil disobedience though not looting is part of our historical past. It is associated with periods of unhappiness within British Society. Even Mrs Thatcher’s Government recognised this point. To this end even if there is no agreement about the cuts in public expenditure that are needed ther may have to be agreement about a rigid adherance to cutting the budget deficit in 5 years. Even the US will not be able to achieve this which is a fundamental consideration.
    So what are the counter arguments, or roadblocks to budget the budget deficit cuts being phased over say 7 years. Lets be realistic even if Labour got elected because this task was not completed within 5 years as they do not have an original ideological bone in their body at the moment they will carry on where this Govt left off. We can forget non economically enlightened newspapers ruling our thinking and QUITE RIGHT TOO!. The Markets. Well they seem to be doing a good job of trying to wreck world economies because they have no backbone, or individuals are in it to make a quick buck. As for Credit Reference Agencies they are no better at causing anarchy than the looters were.
    It is time for this Govt in particular having identified that private sector jobs will be the way forward to Britains recovery to start putting in the investment need to make that possible. They have done precious little on this front, and indeed some of their cuts have made it very difficult for young people in particular to decide what is the best way they can contribute to achieving this economic ideal. Too much thought has gone into deficit reduction and not enough into this. It is clear to economic thinkers of all persuasions that Economic Growth will start the process of improving the lot of all the British People. Lets have some constructive thinking going into this before our democracy collapses compeletely because we forgot about ALL of our British Citizens, and not just thought about a few of them.

  • Dennis
    I think you got the first paragraph the wrong way round. Social unrest is more like in times of austerity than in times of relative prosperity.
    I’m not going to have a pop at Eastern European migrants, but I do think that New Labour miscalculated the impact allowing unregulated economic migration within Europe. Before these changes temp agencies and employers of unskilled labour recruited locally. As a student, In the the late 80s and early 90s, I used to do temp work over the summer. I even worked in recruitment for a short period. There were not that many migrants doing those jobs. It was mainly a mixture of old blokes nearing retirement, the odd townie, youngsters who wanted to get a foot under the table in the hope that it would lead to permanent employment and the odd uni-kid type like myself. As this was the East Midlands this included young British Muslims, as well as white and black working class people. After the the European working laws were freed up this plainly changed. The most obvious reason for this is that unskilled temporary work relies on people fitting in very quickly. So . equally obviously a 28 year old forklift driver has a huge advantage over a 17 to 18 year-old who wants to become a forklift driver. It took the incentive to offer training out of the equation. Secondly.. employment agencies like migrants because they can charge for things like finding housing, traveling fees and they can recruit cheap. It’s not as simple as people not wanting to work, though in some cases this is a factor. Non of this is the fault of migrants, but it is not entirely healthy if we are being honest. Personally and it’s very illiberal of me to say so and as pro-Europe as I am, I think it needs rethinking.
    As for the rest of your point. I am a little tired of hearing the comfortable and the rich bemoaning the morality and alleged sense of entitlement of the poor. It’s not dignified. I would like to see a proper liberal fightback and amongst people who are proud to be do-gooders and advancers of their fellow citizens rather than kicking people when they are down in a race to the bottom of the barrel.

  • Sorry, Glenn – I did get my opening remark the wrong way round. Thank you for correcting me.

    However I do not accept your dissertation on the effects of immigration upon our job market. Frankly, while agreeing that there must be a level of inter-country migration which can be counterproductive, I think economic activity in our country would be floundering without a substantial inward movement of energetic and industrious people.

    As to the morality and sense of entitlement point, this is by no means confined to “the poor”. While seeking solutions can we not also be thankful for the many who manage to be good citizens despite a deprived background? In Northern Ireland I became fed up with the degree of understanding we were expected to show for murderers and thugs at the expense of the many from the same background who were the exact opposite.

    There comes a time – and here I bring in Radicalibral – when we have to look beyond the economic issues. Does Radicalibral really think those 3 brave young men who were murdered in his city and the Malaysian boy who fell among “Bad Samaritans” were victims of public expenditure cuts? Indeed cuts which have largely yet to bite?
    It’s a lot more complicated that that.

    Where I agree with Radicalibral is in his attack on kneejerk reaction. To throw out on the street a mother who has perhaps lost control of her son is no answer to anything. Was it this mother who subjected her son to swaggering foul-mouthed role models – lauded on the media? Did she invent the appalling computer games that are favourably reviewed in showbiz columns? There are many issues to be examined that go beyond the undoubted economic issues which are only a part of the problem.

  • Dennis.
    I take your point and i agree that migration is both necessary and positive. But I can’t help thinking that forcing youngsters with limited skills and, now, disabled and semi-disabled people to compete with with trained fit adults is entirely wise.
    Of course we could keep moaning about idle, feckless youngster and wasted lives, whilst beating them over the head with the wrong end of the stick, in the hope that it will turn them into the new intelligentsia. And we could equally cut benefits in the belief that it will create the thrusting go-getter economic miracle that is downtown Detroit, which is what these riots are really reminiscent of..

  • The Tory led coalition seems impervious to its own responsibility for encouraging the criminal activities of the rioters and looters. The criminals have perceived that this government is weak on law and order. This government has abolished ASBOS; trumpeted its opposition to custodial sentences (to save money), proposed that dangerous criminals by pleading guilty can have their sentences cut by half, created the impression that prison is ineffective; imposed cuts that will see police numbers reduced by 16,000; and has been strongly opposed to CCTV and speed control cameras which are indespensible for tracking down and convicting offenders. They have also abandoned identity cards which would have made it so much easier to monitor criminals. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have also previously opposed the public naming and shaming of young thugs. For the past year the constant message from the government has been that it is soft on crime and the criminals have taken it at its word. This, In combination with the government’s heartless, draconian economic assault on the underclass’s living standards and benefits has created the perfect circumstances for mass public disorder to flourish.

  • Keith Browning 13th Aug '11 - 9:57pm

    Why has no-one mentioned the Bullingdon Club. Why is it not on every front page and in every TV news discussion.

    Is there an agreement by the media not to mention the glaring similarities between the events in London and those of this rich group of chums who pride themselves in trashing establishments, and whose elite membership includes the three most powerful politicians in Britain.

  • People are seeing what they want to see really. Anyway, here is what I see.

    The rioters stole for the same reason the police took bribes from the gutter press, the rioters stole for the same reason the MPs abused their expenses, the rioters stole for the same reason the gutter press hacked thousands of peoples phone and the rioters stole for the same reason the super rich avoid tax. Because they thought they could do it and get away with it. Because they thought it would benefit them personally and they didn’t care about the consequences of such behaviour for society at large.

    30 years of neo-liberalism from ALL the mainstream political parties that have been in government since Thatchers time have conditioned us to be utterly selfish and only care about ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’. It was different for several decades after WWII, but since the 1980’s we have been becoming more and more self centred caring only about ourselves and our loved ones and not our society at large. This behaviour has been learned and came from the top down.

    In short, we all need to look within and decide if this is really the sort of society we wish to continue to be.

  • @Keith Browning:
    Why has no-one mentioned the Bullingdon Club. Why is it not on every front page and in every TV news discussion.

    Because there is one rule for those on the bottom and most of those in the middle, but sadly, another rule for everyone else, especially those at the very top. An MP, let’s say The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt, can fraudulently claim £20,000 of public money on his expenses and only has to repay the money and “apologise”. A woman, a mother of two, who did not loot or riot herself has been sent to prison for five months because she accepted a pair of stolen shorts.

    And Wandsworth Council is moving to evict an entire fmaily for the alleged crimes of one member of said family. Cameron wants to shut down social media for awhile in times of crisis. Is it just me or did he not criticise Mubarak for shutting doing the internet in Egypt? What the hell is going on? Why are we rushing into these knee-jerk sentences worthy of your average Middle East dictator? Since when has collective punishment become something Liberal Democrats, or indeed any sane Briton, found an acceptable tactic? If we were to do this in war, we’d be breaking the Geneva Conventions.

    Surely something is very, very wrong here.

  • Richard Hill 14th Aug '11 - 1:07pm

    I think it’s a mainly problem that has always been there and always will. When your young you get fed, somewhere to live and in general everything provided. As one grows up there becomes a point where you have to go out and earn it for yourself. There is a resistance to this, greater in some cases than others. In fact the better off a society seems to be the worse this aspect gets. Lets be honest, A lot of them had designer gear, blackberries, vehicles to cart the gear off in. Hardly the deprived masses. If you want to get on in life it’s simple,work hard and look after what you’ve got.

  • Patrick Smith 18th Aug '11 - 10:11pm

    The causes of the Riots are complicated and ther is no single cause or remedy. I offer the following reflected views on what happened.

    As a Teacher of challenged teenagers and someone with step- parent experience it is important to get across that the key lesson is to know the difference between right and wrong. I believe that sustaining moral frameworks are vital to instill.

    Role models are problematic as the world of sport and celbrity provides a global image is only about being `acquisitive’ in terms of development and this does not help to build an all round character building that is underpinned by a moral framework.

    Teachers,Community and Sports Leaders and sometimes youth peer group mentors who stand up as character building inviduals are all there to inculcate that rights and entitlements come with responsibilities : and the purpose of life is to achieve to full human potential but never at the cost of doing harm to your neighbour either with violence,looting or theft.

    In London the riot trouble aided by youth rampage has been brewing for years and since the `underground’ invisable almost 200 `gangs’ have never been formerly well policed or inder social control they have existed adjacent to community in it but not part of it.

    The riots required a `flashpoint’ and have been waiting for their moment to cause rampage by the technology and media that had the means to help and facilitate youths `opportunistic criminals’ to run amok on the High Streets.

    Half of those who committed social and civil disorder were from latent `gangs’ and `gang culure’ already waiting to strike and the rest were comprized- as I understand- some 80% were re-offending persons as opposed to first time offenders.This number are best described as `opportunistic thugs’ and thieves of property belonging to their neighbour .

    `Gang culture’ is partly the ability of young persons to prefer to combine in groups and adopt new identities that combine power and bullying and violence and carrying knives and guns in a way that is empowering in a way that makes a social statement that is indicative to the rest of the world that school,law abiding friends or parenting roles have all failed.

    The P and DPM are right to challenge the impunity of the `gang culture’ in the strongest comdemnatory terms, as it needs to be fragmented in order to protect the majority of law abiding residents but how is this to be done?.

    If `Gang Injunctions’ are put in place then surely their implementation requires optimum and probably an increased police presence in the tougher neighbourhoods?

    New tactics in policing being seen to enter all the estates, in the communities where they have not been seen as a daily presence .Their resolve must be steeled to police all areas at night.

    I would like to see the incoming Met.Police Commissioner devise a new set of innovatory tactics to tackle and win back the third `Reluctant Gangsters’ and to regain ascendency in all streets in the capital.

    I am in favour of greater stress on recruitment of youth leaders for community and sports clubs,particularly as this is the golden opportunity year of the London Olympics 2012 Legacy..Everyone I know are asking for community projects that demonstate the provision of places where the East End is being regenerated, so that youth is the beneficiary and all younsters are being offered alternative resources to lawlessness.

    I see part of the riot solution as one to identify the wrongdoers as those who obey the law cannot and should not be allowed to loose out by dint of wanton episodes of looting,violence and theft and arson.When that task is done then we must see greater resources to provide help and attention to youth community projects and led by youth organisers who can form bonds and earn rand share activites and mutual respect.Parenting help is also required for those parents who hold their hands up with `challenging teenagers’.

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