I predict a riot

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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.
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6 comments

  1. I agree with most of this article. I’ve been sick of seeing news reports without any attempt to explain the motivations of the rioters, and which portray them as complete morons. I think that a lot of these kids had previously been paid to stay on at school, and now that income has gone. Losing a benefit is much harder to take than never having it in the first place. The charities working around deprived areas are having the funding slashed. The most successful people in the UK tend to come from wealthy families, have been privately educated. While the poor are condemned to die in poverty.The problem with taxing the rich is that the government doesn’t want to scare off the rich people with their successful businesses that could provide money for the economy. Many countries are competing with eachother to provide the rich businessmen the best tax breaks. I say bring on a low worldwide tax… (big governments just have to sign treaties that they won’t reduce income tax or corporation tax below some threshold… simples!)

  2. Thanks for the fascinating analysis. Many of the facts you present are amazing things that I did not know! I would be incredibly grateful if you could supply me with a few citations:- "Members of the Tory front bench gave up lucrative jobs in investment banks to take their seats in parliament"I’m not sure exactly what it means to be on the Tory ‘front bench’. Had a quick look at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/page/2007/dec/10/2 which supposedly lists them along with their previous employment. I was only able to find 5 with previous involvement in the financial sector, all of whom had been on the Tory front bench since at least 2003. Could you explain which front bench Tories returned to the party front bench from investment banks since the financial crisis?- "Taxes on the poorest rose whilst tax on the rich … was cut."Is this true? I don’t really know what’s happened with regards to tax in this government. My understanding was that cuts were seen to be disproportionally damaging to the poor; however, isn’t the personal tax allowance being raised? Have taxes on e.g. top bracket earners actually decreased? Please clarify!- "… in the most leafiest (sic) of the Tory Shires, where more money was made available."Do some constituencies have more government funding under the Conservatives than they did under Labour? That’s crazy! I’d love to know which ones.- "Our leaders sat in their luxury villas in Tuscany and the like …"Perhaps I am just nitpicking here, but there seems to be an implication that our leaders own the luxury villas in which they are holidaying. A quick google suggests that Cameron was in the privately owned Petrolo Estate in Tuscany, while I was unable to determine where Theresa May and Boris Johnson were holidaying. I mean, it’s still bad that they were on holiday at all, but implying that they own luxury villas is unjustified rhetoric if there is no evidence.- "As London burnt, the Met could only find 1500 officers to do anything and said they were powerless to stop it."Although this figure may be correct for Sunday night, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14462693 suggests that there were 6,000 officers on duty on Monday night and will be 16,000 on duty tonight. I suspect the reason that there were more police at the royal wedding than were out on Sunday night may be due to the advance warning that was available for the wedding, rather than, as you imply, that keeping riff-raff away from the royals is seen by police management as a more important cause than preventing rioting.- "… policies that he knows, truly knows, will make everything worse."While you emphasise that Cameron know that his policies will make everything worse, I’m uncertain as to how you know he knows this? While I am able to imagine the version of reality where Cameron deliberately inflicts bad policies upon the country, I personally find it much, much more plausible that Cameron is pursuing policies that he believes to be for the good of the country and that he’s simply wrong.

  3. Hi Sagan. Thanks for your comment.<div><br></div><div><i>Could you explain which front bench Tories returned to the party front bench from investment banks since the financial crisis?</i></div><div><br></div><div>No, because I never said that they did. I said: &quot;Members of the Tory front bench gave up lucrative jobs in investment banks to take their seats in parliament.&quot;</div> <div><br></div><div><i>Have taxes on e.g. top bracket earners actually decreased? Please clarify!</i></div><div><br></div><div>The VAT increase cost the poorest of families an estimated ??1600 a year; meanwhile, the cut in Corporation Tax and tax on income taken from dividends (which is how the super-rich pay themselves) was cut, leading to a massive tax cut to the richest.</div> <div><br></div><div><div><i>Do some constituencies have more government funding under the Conservatives than they did under Labour?</i></div><div><br></div><div>The leafiest of the Tory shires would be true-blue Dorset, with a rise of 0.25% in its grant. Additionally, there's a lovely map here <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11987246">http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11987246</a&gt; showing how the cuts barely touch many of the richest, Tory, Shires while they??</div> </div><div><br></div><div><i>[I]mplying that they own luxury villas is unjustified rhetoric if there is no evidence.</i></div><div><br></div><div>I wasn't aware I was implying that. Call Me Dave was indeed sat in his luxury holiday villa in Tuscany as London burnt; whether he owned it, rented it or was lent it by someone wanting a favour in return, he was still there.</div> <div><br></div><div><i>[Y]ou imply… that keeping riff-raff away from the royals is seen by police management as a more important cause than preventing rioting.</i></div><div><br></div><div>Can't argue with that, other than to say I wasn't trying to imply it – I was trying to say it directly.</div> <div><br></div><div><i>While you emphasise that Cameron know that his policies will make everything worse, I'm uncertain as to how you know he knows this?</i></div><div><br></div><div>I suppose it's possible that Cameron is either ignorant or stupid, but I don't think so. I think he's very smart, just very uncaring.</div> <div><br></div><div>On 9 August 2011 14:32,</div>

  4. Thanks for your response Jamie; proper citations and referenceable claims are the difference between a well-written, interesting article and meaningless emotive rhetoric. Please forgive me if my queries sound like I’m criticising your perspective; I don’t disagree with your overall sentiment.I’m still unclear as to what your statement about the Tory front bench means though. Could you give me an example of a Tory front bencher to which this applies?The figure of ??1600 is the _total_ amount VAT will cost for the poorest families (http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/vat-bill-rise-will-hit-poorest-hardest.htm ). For VAT rises of 2.5% to mean an _increase_ of ??1600 in tax, the family would have to make ??64,000 worth of taxable spending. The _increase_ in VAT for a poor family (making ??8000 of taxable spending, which is the figure that gave rise to ??1600), would be 0.025 * 8000 = ??200. Of course this is still an increase in tax, but it is in the same order of magnitude as the savings that a taxpayer earning around ??8500/year would get from the rise in personal allowance.While lower dividends tax will benefit rich disproportionally (although http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/Budget/Budget2011/DG_WP195609 suggests that dividends tax will stay at the same rate), and lower corporation tax will indirectly benefit the shareholders (along with the employees of corporations, who I wouldn’t expect to be overwhelmingly rich), these changes shouldn’t be considered in isolation of e.g. the higher rate bracket moving from ??37,400 to ??35,000 and the VAT increase, unless by ‘the rich’, you mean people who earn hundreds of thousands rather than ~50k (although the ??150k+ 50% additional tax rate was introduced in 2010 anyway).Furthermore (although I appreciate that you don’t actually state that this was a policy decision by this government), the bankers’ bonus tax (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/dec/09/bank-bonus-super-tax ) wasn’t explicitly removed; the tax temporary until April 2010.The map you linked regarding council cuts is illuminating, although it shows the local councils within Dorset as receiving cuts. This article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-11991608 contains the 0.25% figure for the county council.

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