Wednesday, 10 August 2011


So we got riots in Nottingham too. We can still kick it with the big boys eh? We're still nationally relevant aren't we?

Obviously I'm being ridiculously obtuse for comic effect. Or it would be comic effect if it was actually funny. I ummed and ahhed about writing about any of this because I really wasn't sure if I had anything useful to say. Time will tell I suppose.

The thing I've been asking myself is why did riots occur in Nottingham? It's not like the entire country has been engulfed in civil disorder, it seems to have been confined to a few urban areas, London obviously, Manchester/Salford and Birmingham as far as I know saw significant problems, although there was some less serious trouble in Leicester. Why these and not, say, Leeds or anywhere in Scotland or Wales.

An easy answer of course is poverty. The Guardian made an interesting map of the London riots against deprivation and there certainly appears to be some visual correlation there. Nottingham does have areas which are very much at the upper lower worse end of deprivation indices. It's also probably not controversial to suggest a certain 'copycat' element  and of course, the reality is that individuals are making bad, selfish, destructive decisions about how to behave.

It's this latter element that the right wing tends to concentrate on in isolation whereas us lefties are duty bound to think about the first. I think there's more to it than that and it's important to remember that just because one explanation has merit doesn't mean that none of the others do. As a lefty I would never try to argue that a person in a hoody making his way into town and smashing his way into JDSports is entirely blameless and had no choice in what he was doing because it's poverty innit. Such a person is an individual and is capable of making his own decisions. However, context does, I believe have an impact in how often those decisions turn out to be bad but that context does not mean the individuals shouldn't be held to account.

Another crucial aspect of context is, I believe, the example set by authority. Again there is a certain amount of selectivity in how this is discussed by the right, concentrating almost exclusively on bad parenting, as if our parents are the only examples of behavioural standards in our lives. Of course this can be a factor and it's right to discuss that. But what is often forgotten, mainly because our politicians have an absolute vested interest in never acknowledging it in any way whatsoever, is the example set by those in power. I'm talking here about how politicians, police, judges, media bigwigs, councillors etc behave.

Things the British public have been expected to swallow uncomplainingly include MPs massively defrauding their expenses with only a tiny proportion held to account, bankers looting our financial system with barely a job lost, being bailed out by public funds and then going out and doing it again with bonuses back at boomtime levels. Meanwhile we're told that because of this bailout we have to endure years of austerity.

We have had to watch how the phone hacking scandal has unfolded after years of denial from the Metropolitan Police, now followed by numerous media figures arrested and a growing list of resignations and investigations into senior police officers.

Locally we have had to sit by as the Housing Allocations scandal has been covered up by local politicians who then feel able to threaten rioters (or their parents) with eviction*. There have been absolutely no evictions for illegally obtained council houses and one councillor publicly implicated was rewarded with a spell as Lord Mayor with the investigation into his behaviour strangely making no progress throughout his entire term of office and now extending way beyond the election. While our local police force appears to be dealing with the current disturbances well, they were entirely complicit in allowing NCC to cover up the housing scandal.

The Post has said the police are expecting an extra bill of £400k for the riots and this is clearly bad news but let's remember that they were happy to shell out £700k on a doomed and corrupt operation to stop a protest at Ratcliffe power station. A fine example to us all.

I understand of course that, just as we were all told by our teachers when we were very small, two wrongs don't make a right. But if you constantly see these powerful people constantly getting away with allsorts, while you can't get a council house and maybe got beaten up by the police at a demo recently, you may not feel as committed to the high minded principles of law and order and responsibilities for your actions as you once did. Multiply this up to a societal level and the chances of a breakdown of law and order is bound to increase as more people think 'why bother?'

So yes, of course those individuals have individual responsibility for their actions down at JDSports but our politicians and other people of power need to get their own houses in order and accept their responsibility for creating this context. I would at least then feel a bit more enthusiastic and supportive of the calls for condemnation that are being parrotted robotically by our politicians at the moment.

*Addendum - they have also issued calls for private landlords to evict people as well.


The Quizzical Observer said...

Agree entirely and can now cancel my own post on very similar lines :)

Andy said...

Write it anyway, these arguments need to be made as widely as possible.