Saturday, 28 April 2012

London's Burning


London's Burning by Paul Hanes on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 6:29pm · London is burning. People set it on fire. Shops are being looted and whole streets of residential homes are being raised to the ground. Thousands of the city’s poor and disaffected have kicked off in a spectacular and frightening way. What the London riots lacked in the revolutionary direction of the Arab Spring, it made up for in the violence and chaos of the angry and alienated. The riots were on a large scale, dangerous; untargeted in those they attacked. Truly frightening. Unusually it all kicked off at the same time across London and as police reinforcements were being redirected to London cities from across Britain, its citizens began to trash and burn their streets.


It began on Saturday 6th August after a vigil outside Tottenham police station for Mark Duggan, who was fatally shot by police. It led to a riot of over 200 youths, which built and continued the next day. By Tuesday London was ablaze and wide spread looting had caused over a hundred million pounds worth of damage and violence had fatally wounded five people. Most of the media look to the shooting of Mark Duggan for the reason that widespread criminality and anarchy broke out. The media are also quick to accuse people they interview of supporting the riots, should they try and examine the reasons behind the outbreak of an alarming amount of violence on mass. For the truth of it all, Mark Duggan and London may have to wait for the details of the investigations which the Independent Police Complaints Commission will no doubt carry out. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of that investigation. However whilst rioters claim they are reacting to Duggan’s shooting, Mark lived within a London youth culture where young people turn on each other over something as simple as where they live or the colours they wear. In fact the majority of victims of crime in London are under 18.

 In fact there have been 333 deaths in police custody in the period between 1998 and 2011 and not one conviction of a police officer in this time. Rarely are there such wide spread disturbances following an incident like this even when police malpractice is evident. So why now? In the words of Labour Member of Parliament John McDonnell, the parliamentary debate he witnessed over the riots demonstrated ‘absolute hypocrisy’. The politicians were sharpening their claws for their people by authorising water cannon and baton rounds to be used on civilians. Water cannon has never been used on the UK mainland. Our House of Commons representatives were promising tougher sentences and criticising the uncontrolled greed of the rioters. This less than a year after widespread looting of the Treasury by MPs during the expenses scandal. Millions had to be paid back after MPs were caught red handed ripping off the taxpayer. One MP who claimed for eight laptops was actually allowed to keep the money as a legitimate personal claim. Other MPs were falsifying expenses and claiming for repairs and refurbishments on second homes they didn’t even live in. Overnight accommodation costs were also claimed by London MPs who could get a £10 cab fare home, as well as adult movie rental. John McDonnell goes on to say that: ‘nothing I say condones or excuses violence but if we are to have a proper debate about what happened there needs to be some kind of home truths spoken in the House of Commons…One of the basic home truths is that for three decades now the major political parties in power have allowed to be created a society of looters at every level of society.’ He also asserts: ‘today in parliament I sat with the MPs who looted their expenses, there were other MPs there including the Prime Minister David Cameron who had to pay back millions for dishonest claims for mythical costs. Some ministers have gone to jail, some are now consultants and directors for companies who they awarded contracts to whilst they were in office.

That’s the moral example given by consecutive governments for the last three decades. Then you come to the real looters. They didn’t wear hoodies; they didn’t smash up the streets. They went into the City of London, pressed a few computer buttons, wasted our money and destroyed a whole economy which put two and a half million people on the dole as a result. The MPs sat there today talking about restoring a sense of moral place in society: MPs who have links to companies who do not pay their taxes. They avoid and evade taxes to the tune of £150 billion a year’. Journalists have been caught illegally hacking peoples’ phones. The head of the News Corporation Rebecca Brooks lives next door to the Prime Minister, whom he considers a friend. It is clear to many in the public that the hacking was so widespread that even Murdoch himself must have known about this vile practice.

Nonetheless, they are yet to be questioned by the police about this. The same police who took bribes from journalists for information, including the mobile number of missing school girl Milly Dowler, whose phone they subsequently hacked into and deleted texts. Milly Dowler’s parents believed it was their daughter who was utilising her mobile during this time and therefore, that she was still alive. She had been murdered. Even dead soldiers’ families had their phones hacked - such was the morbid immorality of the Murdoch News Corporation (and their uncontrolled greed). So what has happened is that the rioters have come along this week and said to the ruling elite and the rich, ‘we have the same morals as you: we will take and grab what we can, we do not care about the consequences and if we can get away with it then good’. It is a cri de coeur from the generation who – largely unwittingly – buy into Thatcherite consumerist ideologies which denote and delimit an individual’s self worth through their consumption. The question is how long can the elite rule with water cannon and bullets before it addresses societal inequalities, support those it should and tax those who can pay. Was it the shooting of Mark Duggan or the fact that the poor and dispossessed are now receiving cuts to their benefits which will force them to move out of London. London, where they had once worked, lived and grown up. Is it that they can see the rich filling their pockets, offending without consequence and driving the poor out of London with redundancies, repossessions and lack of adequate support from the state to deal with this?

Is it a mere coincidence that the benefit cut letters are arriving en masse in the weeks preceding the violent outbreaks? If society does not grasp this and hear these people then the war on our streets will sadly continue. What the rank and file rioters did is inexcusable criminality, however the looters and rioters in government and the banks need also to take responsibility for their crimes and be tried in the same courts. Whether or not the media who are part of the ruling elite allow this to be debated and discussed remains to be seen.

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