A third night of rioting, now mainly based around the concept of looting stores then setting them on fire. It's a new thing for Great Britain, something not seen since the (more politically justifiable) riots of the 1980s.
Three years ago, a chain of events previous thought impossible occurred. The banks had become reckless, spending money they didn't have on schemes they didn't understand. Lined up like dominoes, exposed to each other's risk, they started to teeter and then fall. Each bank that fell took the next one along with it. The good times, the boom we'd got used to under Labour, turned to a bust. The government staggered on but lost the following general election and in came the Tories with Liberal support.
What happened next was predictable. Senior Tories are very friendly with senior bankers. Indeed, senior bankers are the senior Tories. Members of the Tory front bench gave up lucrative jobs in investment banks to take their seats in parliament. The new government had an emergency budget where they made it clear to everyone that the collapse of the banks had to be paid for. And it was to be paid for by the poor. Taxes on the poorest rose whilst tax on the rich (the "wealth generators" in Reaganism's discredited "trickle-down" theory) was cut. The tax on bankers' bonuses was removed as was access to welfare for the sick and disabled. Cuts were made across the board, except in the most leafiest of the Tory Shires, where more money was made available. And the bankers would not pay for their mistakes: we would, as they were rewarded by further showers of unearned cash.
We all saw this and most of us were appalled. It was unfair, even disgusting. The students and the "feckless" public service workers took to the streets, but mostly we shrugged and thought "well, that's the price to be paid" or "well, that's what Tories do".
But we forgot that there was a class of people who saw this but were unable to vocalise the scandal they felt. A class of kids from the fourth or fifth generation of poverty, with no aspirations because we'd given up on them and forgotten them. A class who were to be hit hardest by the foolishness of the super-rich. A class who didn't protest about student fees because they were never going to university in the first place.
What that class saw was the same as we saw: the rich getting richer as the poor paid. They saw the middle classes queuing outside the Apple store for the latest glass-and-aluminium trifle while their parents couldn't get Jobcentre Plus to pay for tonight's dinner. They saw this deep inequality. A spark — another murder by armed policemen but it could've been anything — and the place was on fire. This class, however, saw an opportunity. They saw that they had been shafted by society, by the bankers, by the Tories and they did what our consumer culture should have expected: they took supermarket trollies and looted. They stole the trainers they're heavily sold but can't afford. They stole the games consoles they see advertised everywhere that they didn't have. They stole the posh frocks and the expensive food, the carpets and the furnishings, the things they didn't have but we'd continued to make them want.
Of course, it spread wider than that – the looters included people from further up the social scale who wanted their slice of the freebies. It spread beyond the worst places in London to the nicer suburbs and then to the country's other cities as people all wanted what they'd been promised but couldn't have. Our leaders sat in their luxury villas in Tuscany and the like, enjoying the foreign holidays this class will never get. And back home, the shopping streets burned.
None of this provides an excuse. Looting and rioting achieve nothing and invariably make the social, political and economic situation in the areas affected far, far worse. There was zero chance of this right-wing Liberal/Conservative government pouring jobs and investment into these areas before; there's zero chance now. Rioting destroys the very homes and jobs the rioters are concerned about; it is the ultimate in self-defeating action.
Meanwhile, it has thrown up something interesting. At a recent royal wedding, 5000 police were available to keep the pampered couple safe from the rest of us. As London burnt, the Met could only find 1500 officers to do anything and said they were powerless to stop it. At the wedding, the police happily rounded up any elements that didn't fit the picture postcard image the Tories wanted us to see; the homeless and the republicans and the people having a party dressed as zombies all went into the cells. As London burnt, the police said they were powerless to stop it. During the protests over Liberal??hypocrisy??on student fees, thousands of officers 'kettled' peaceful women and children for hours whilst politicians talked about how 'violent' they'd been. As London burnt, the police said they were powerless to stop it.
'Dave' Cameron flew home overnight. He needs to be visible but not let anyone see how tanned and well-fed he is (Crisis? What crisis?). He needs to be seen to be in control whilst continuing his streak of doing nothing. He needs to tell everyone it will get better whilst??pursuing??policies that he knows, truly knows, will make everything worse. And in the midst of this active inaction, he needs to remember that while the looters are responsible for what they've stupidly done, he is also responsible for goading them into it.