Thursday, 11 August 2011

Brooms vs. Crowbars


There are several theories on why the riots have been raging, none of them really seem satisfactory. The left wing loons are intent on claiming that this has something to do with the ‘cuts’ or because of not helping poor people. The right wing loons are determined on blaming it on a failure of multiculturalism or some other nonsense.

These are not a response to any current political action: it is much deeper than that. People on the left seem intent on portraying those who they seek to help as savages who are looting because the means of production are in private in hands or because the tax rate is 50% and not 60%. What this explanation involves is the demonization of the working class: oh, they’re poor and we’ve taken away their youth centres, EMA and increased their tuition fees, what else are they supposed to do apart from loot local businesses and set fire to people’s homes? Believe it or not, working class families have morals which is why it is this is not a rising of working class. Not even of most of them, not even a significant part of them. It is a rising of a minute minority of thugs. 

And, just as an aside, there is no empirical evidence for the claim that someone’s economic condition makes them more likely to riot or commit crime: DiPasquale and Glaeser (1996) using ‘international data’ conclude that there is ‘little evidence that poverty in the community matters’ to the incidence or intensity of riots. (As for the connection between poverty and crime, see this report by James Wilson in the Wall Street Journal or this lecture given by William P. Barr).

These vary same arguments which seek to relativise, justify or remove moral culpability from their actions could equally and just as wrongfully be applied to the EDL – poor, working class, uneducated, sidelined – can you blame them for threatening innocent British Muslims? Yes, I can - and should. This is a point already made by Edmund Standing (for an elaboration see his post or my previous post).

The whole explanation thus not only rests on the demonisation of the working class but it has no empirical basis. These are not normal people, they are not making a political point, they are criminals. As one rioter told Radio 4’s Today Programme after admitting that he could afford what he was stealing:

NR: “The fact you’re nicking shoes you can afford, thats to do with the government?”
R: "It's not about that, the government are not in control. If they were we wouldn't be able to do it"
NR: "So because the government isn't stopping you, thats why you're doing it?"
R: "Yeah, government tried and they failed. How many people have they arrested, like, 10 people?... I'll keep doing this every day until I get caught... [be]cause everyone else is doing it.”

As LibbyT from Harry’s Place rightly states this was not limited to poor, unemployed, socially excluded people who had no options before them: there were teachers, youth workers, university students among them. She goes on

Just how were these people – a cross section of society if there ever was one – “socially excluded”? None were “unemployed”. All had opportunities there for the grabbing. But instead of grabbing opportunities offered them, they chose to smash-and-grab hi-tech gear and flashy clothing through shattered windows on the High Street.

I also happen to agree with Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy that elements of the rich do, in effect, go out looting by other means through fraud, ‘tax evasion and avoidance.’ Neither the middle or the working classes are worthy of our disdain for the thugs among them. It follows that one should not make political points based on these points – particularly when particular parties are supposed to be those fighting for their interests.

I also just want to make a quick point about the working class in this country. We have issues with poverty; people live in damp houses, people live in the streets, some go without three meals today. But let us not kid ourselves, as LibbyT, rightly says again

The truth is that the spoilt youth of Britain – including the poorest and most ‘excluded’ – still have more care, comfort and opportunity than 90% of the planet. It’s time we stopped helping them to feel aggrieved

20% of people in Egypt live below the poverty line, they were subjected to authoritarian rule, little democratic rights and hard repression. Their revolution was mostly non-violent. They, like the working classes here, did not start looting, they did not start burning homes, stopping officers. And yet, people on the left believe that these riots are a ‘reaction’ and that it has many ‘complex causes.’ It’s little wonder that Egyptians are now mocking the rioters. Here is just one example via the New York Times:


The debate about helping the worst off in our society is a different and necessary one. I have avoided the issue of whether the cuts are justified, whether I agree with increased tuition fees or scrapping EMA. I believe to do so is to send out the wrong message: namely, that these riots are making a political point or they are because of those things. Issues or welfare and representations are pertinent now as they were before: crime reducing programmes should and always be run. But this is not about that. 

Two days after the riots started, I began collecting quotes from people on the ground experiencing the events. Here is a small collection of them to help reinforce the argument that I have made above and for future reference:


"We want to make it absolutely clear - they have nothing to protest against. There is nothing in a sense of injustice and there has been no spark that has led to this. This has been senseless violence and senseless criminality of a scale I have never experienced in my career before"  Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Gary Shewan.


"And let me say this; this was not an angry crowd, this was a greedy crowd. What we were dealing with was dishonesty and disorder.” – West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims


So I think the prime motivators behind the looting are greed and jealousy, rather than sorrow and anger. Basic human failings that have been around forever. Not contemporary political gripes but certainly contemporary social malaise."  Stephen Williams MP (Lib Dem)


"I am capable of differentiating between such mindless violence and political protest. I will always defend the latter but this is not political any more. They are looting and burning cars not because society has pushed them there, but because they can. I can’t muster an ounce of sympathy for them.” – Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy


"I don't think it is anger. A lot of it is motivated by people sending messages to one another... looking for something exciting to do."  Simon Hughes MP (Lib Dem)


"Come on, being fed up and emotional doesn't lead you to brick in a bookies. I mean a lot of this is greed and mindless violence and we need call it what it is.. Lets not stigmatise black people as whole, for every looter, there are hundred of black children that are really trying." - Dianne Abbott MP (Labour).

There are a few really good articles to read on the riots; Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s article ‘The root causes of the British riots’, LibbyT’s article ‘An ‘Underclass’ Rebellion?’ at Harry’s Place, Sunny Hundal’s article ‘Only poor people go looting and other claims’ at Liberal Conspiracy, Talal Rajib’s article ‘The riots that will define my generation’ at The Urbanite

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