Since last week, when the UK riots came to a halt, apart from the universal condemnation of the looters, there have been two responses: one from the political right; and another from the left. The right have sought to paint the riots as being all about criminality, and about individual bad behaviour. David Cameron has re-iterated this theme a number of times in the past week, also calling for the rioters to be hammered by the courts. Its typical of the right that they should portray the riots in such simplistic terms. Firstly, most right wingers don't want the riots to be viewed by people in a wider context - the context of poverty, joblessness, exclusion and social despair. That's understandable because if people were to see the wider context they would appreciate how damaging and destructive the right's neoliberal ideology is; Secondly, they know that such a response panders to the prejudices of many of our citizens; Thirdly, its crucial for Cameron and the political right that individuals be blamed because the government might not survive if it was widely believed that it was responsible for the troubles. At the very least re-election would be a remote possibility. So, its hardly surprising that Cameron has been seeking to monopolise the media with calls for 'tough' sentencing which amount to revenge, not justice, as two men in Cheshire discovered recently.
Unlike David Cameron, the left have looked for the causes of the rioting. This is not to excuse the behaviour of the rioters, just simply a recognition the we don't live in a vacuum, and that people's behaviour can be affected by the environment they live in. Part of that environment is that people see our society's leaders, including politicians and businessmen, with their fingers in the till, and getting away with it. Cameron himself was implicated in the expenses scandal as were other cabinet ministers. The phone hacking scandal has implicated the police and other senior people in the media, and then we have the bankers who crashed our economy and carried off big bonuses as a result. Naomi Klein has written a perceptive article about the wider global political context of the riots. Its not just here in the UK that people perceive that the rich elites are robbing us and getting away with it. She said:
"Of course London's riots weren't a political protest. But the people committing night-time robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. "
As said in a previous post, there is nothing new about the recent riots and academic research has shown that austerity measures of the kind we have seen in the UK, with £81 billion worth of ideological cuts imposed by George Osbourne on our society, can cause rioting. The researchers, Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth, concluded:
"Nobody knows where and when social unrest is going to happen again, nor the scale it will take. However, history suggests we should not underestimate the consequences of social chaos. Germans to the present day remember Heinrich Brüning, known as the "hunger chancellor", who led the country from 1929 to 1932. He presided over an unprecedented austerity programme. At the same time, the Weimar Republic, Germany's first attempt at democracy, disintegrated amid a wave of social unrest and political violence."
The fact is that David Cameron is wrong about the causes of the riots and wrong with his views on sentencing. Far from being squeaky clean Cameron has soiled hands. He has also flipped on this issue. Do you remember the infamous 'hug a hoodie' speech where Cameron said we should be understanding about young people who commit crime? If not read this. Cameron is the Tory's version of a Blairite poster boy who is not much more than a front for an extremist Tory Party whose favourites include Thatcherite monsters from the crypt like William Hague and Eric Pickles.
If you want to, you can choose to believe that the austerity measures in the UK have nothing whatsoever to do with the riots, or you can choose to say that despite austerity and poverty no one should ever be involved in looting and causing wanton damage to life and property, and that the people who have done this should have acted responsibly instead. So why didn't the bankers, politicians, phone hackers and corrupt cops, who are supposed to know better than the 'feral rats' who rioted, measure up to being responsible? Why didn't they set an example? Is it simply that they are too greedy or is it that they knew they would never properly be held to account and face the consequences of their actions? And don't forget, who was it who sought to excuse the actions of the bankers? Why non other than Mr David Cameron himself at the Tory Party conference.