Tuesday, 9 August 2011

It's The Economy, Stupid

The riots in London and other cities across the UK are to be condemned. We are witnessing nothing but criminality and stupidity. May those responsible be caught and punished severely for their crimes.

But it is no coincidence that the riots are occurring against the backdrop of economic austerity, even despair.

Since the coalition government came to power last year, we have seen several violent demonstrations by students, strikes, half a million people on the streets in a trades union rally, and now the biggest display of civil disobedience in several decades. The common theme linking all of these events is the cuts, the UK government's high-risk strategy to reduce its budget deficit at break-neck speed.

The demonstration that turned to a riot in Tottenham on Saturday night was initially a protest at the police's shooting of one man. There are undoubtedly still problems with the Metropolitan Police's general relationship with certain areas and certain populations within London. Stop and search is still a big issue in the eyes of some communities.

Since then, however, the question has moved on. What causes hundreds of youths to come out onto the streets each night, to set fire to local shops, to loot and ransack their own neighbourhoods? This was nothing to do with Mark Duggan.

What caused youths to attack police on the streets of Belfast last month, to set fire to a bus, to roll burning cars down the street at police lines? This was nothing to do with Orange Order marches or uniting Ireland.

The answer to both questions: it's the economy, the unemployment, the cuts, the rising cost of living, the inequality of our society.

In the UK, we have now seen decades of rampant consumerism, the nurturing of a way of life: buying more and more stuff on ever more credit. We have been taught by successive political parties that economic consumer-driven growth was a panacea, a goal more important than any other. And in the past fourteen months, we have seen policies that are already exacerbating the problems of deprivation and inequality in our society.

The front page stories are all about the violence, the skirmishes with police and the burning buildings. But the real story is the deeply divided and broken society in which we live, and that we will not see an end to these scenes unless we understand and tackle the context in which they have been allowed to arise.

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