The internet is awash with opinion about the causes of the London riots (or should that be UK riots now?), not much of it backed with evidence. Whilst I can’t add to that evidence here, there is a fair amount of intellectual laziness floating around. How many times have you heard it said that “the riots aren’t political”, for example?
I don’t wish to suggest that the rioters are motivated by political purposes, but I am amazed by how many commentators are willing to state that the riots are not political and in follow-up statements discuss the concentration of the riots in areas of disadvantage and the influence of austerity measures.
This post includes a map overlaying areas of disadvantage and riots. Whilst the current UK government did not create the areas of social disadvantage, it is the politics of disadvantage over many decades / generations, with disenfranchisement exacerbated by austerity measures, that have created the preconditions for these riots to occur.
This is true whether you lay the blame on the inadequacy of social support, further withdrawn by the current government, combined with the disenfranchisement of poor people who have been punished for the sins of the privileged classes in response to the GFC, as I am want to do, or as many others claim, including progressives, that welfare dependency is to blame.
As a side note, it is not adequate for a progressive to argue against welfare dependency without offering alternatives. Because without any standout big ideas, such comments will be used by conservatives to fuel the withdrawal of the welfare state altogether, which will lead to even worse social tension.
What’s with the title of this post? The main idea behind this post is that everything is political, even if sometimes you have to peel back a few layers to see the connections. A wise friend once told me that all politics is war. So who is at war here? It isn’t the rioters. The privileged have stepped up a gear in the face of the riots, and appear to have the upper hand.
The conditions that preceded the riots came from the attacks on the poor through austerity policies, and ‘big society’. And so who gets blamed? The disadvantaged, as criminals and theives. Bad people with bad morals. Individuals. And there have been many cases of public shaming, for example police twittering the identity of looters and front page exposure. The media has been particularly complicit, feeding the argument that these are the actions of bad individuals, rather than the result of government attacks on class.
Create conditions for dysfunction, blame the dysfunction on individuals when it occurs, then further punish the working and poor classes. Those are the strategies.
Everything is political, politics is war, and at the moment those in power are setting the terms and seem to be winning a major battle.