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Monday, August 08, 2011 

London's theirs, if only for tonight.

It's more than safe to say now that what happened on Saturday night in Tottenham has very little to no relationship with the violence and looting taking place across London tonight. It was however obviously the trigger: whether it was originally anger at the unexplained death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police which then, somehow, motivated the hundreds if not thousands of youths to target their own or nearby communities, or seeing the police completely incapable of taking control of the situation which has subsequently emboldened them to go out and take advantage we're not going to get anything approaching a straight answer to.

Equally clear is that this is now on such a scale that anyone who attempts to provide a socio-economic explanation, or suggest spending cuts have had some impact, as reasonable and possibly based in fact as such points are, is going to be pilloried. Ken Livingstone's various appearances across networks tonight were not the best idea, even if he was mostly saying things that would normally win him support, although he was filling a vacuum which the government was refusing to fill. The Daily Mail, finally seeing some concrete evidence that the youth of today, however tiny a proportion, are completely out of control and aware of their rights but not their responsibilities (as Shaun Bailey et al have been arguing) is already running a piece attacking "left-wing cynics" for blaming the government. This is only going to grow over the next few days, especially as the politicians return and will have to respond, quite necessarily, when media and public pressure will be massive in what will almost certainly be the strongest possible terms.

This isn't to suggest that some of the rioting hasn't been motivated, not only by the rumours swirling around following the shooting of Mark Duggan, some of which suggested he had been laying on the ground prior to being handcuffed when he was shot, but also by discontent at continuing harassment from the police which will have only been felt all the more keenly during the school holidays. Nothing though can justify the completely indiscriminate self-defeating stupidity of so much of what has happened both yesterday and tonight, the targeting not of police, which could at least be easily understood if not condoned, but of everyday small businesses providing a service to the very people who have now seemingly inexplicably turned on them.

I say seemingly as there is no bigger misnomer than the term "mindless violence", especially in this context. Those carrying out the looting are not doing it out of sheer bloodymindedness, or for no particular reason. While some of the attacks have been on soft targets, much of it has been focused on particular businesses, whether it be sportswear, mobile phone or electrical goods shops. And while there is poverty, and economic hardship, most of those taking whatever they can almost certainly already have close approximations of the stuff they're carting off. Normally you might suggest that this is just more evidence of the cold, hard reality of consumerism and materialism, inculcated into those with little into always, perhaps reasonably, wanting more than they've got. This though is wanton, unabashed thieving simply because those doing it can. It's as simple, and as brutal as that.

The reckoning to come in the months and years after this is going to be equally harsh. As tomorrow's Guardian editorial states, screamed at in the comments by those looking for political advantage, the riots in the 1980s led to improvements in policing and also politics. The various reports in the aftermath fingered the discrimination which contributed massively to the rising of young black youth. This time round, not only is it clear that despite the ravings of some that those committing the violence are from different racial backgrounds (whom I'm not going to link to, you can guess who though), the Met has cleaned up its act considerably. True, there can always be improvements, and the numbers of black and Asian men being stopped and searched is still massively disproportionate when set against the proportion they make up of the population, not to mention the police's recent track record in at best misleading the public about the deaths of those at their hands and at worst outright lying initially about what had happened, but it's naive and wrong to put any responsibility on their shoulders for what's took place over the last 48 hours.

At a stroke it's fair to bet that the remaining leanings towards liberalism both on prison and crime policy will be neutered. Almost any power the police suggest they need, regardless of its efficacy, will be at least temporarily given the go-ahead. Stop and search powers have already been extended, and will probably remain so for some time to come. Those whose actions, however slightly, were influenced by discontent at their lot have almost certainly doomed not just themselves but their entire peer group to the kind of treatment that will constrict their everyday life for years. And this time there will almost certainly be very little that can be done to stop the worst excesses which will inevitably follow as a result, especially when numerous people's livelihoods, if not lives, have been ruined thanks to their enormous irresponsibility.

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Wow. So very establishment. I was waiting for 'There's no such thing as society' to crop up there near the end.

Disappointing, really.

This country has spent 30 years breeding this problem, and now that it's exploded in our faces, we blame everyone but those ultimately responsible.

Of course there are long-term causes of some of this. This isn't though the time to make that case, especially if there's any going to be any chance of persuading more people that what's going to happen now is going to be unbelievably counter-productive.

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