THE last time Tottenham burned, the local Labour Party was quick to takes sides. ‘The police were to blame for what happened,’ announced council leader and later MP Bernie Grant. ‘And what they got was a bloody good hiding’.
By contrast, current Westminster representative David Lammy has been quick to distance himself not only from last night’s disturbances, but from the events of 1985 as well. The comparison between the two stances illustrates just how far Labour has travelled over the last 26 years.
Over the next few days, condemnation will be heard from across the mainstream political spectrum. So it is worth asking such basic questions as ‘why did this happen?’
For the stupid right, it was an outbreak of thuggery, plain and simple. For Telegraph blogger Nile Gardiner – a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst, no less – the underlying problem is that the Coalition has ‘not gone far enough in reining in the deficit, and has not been forceful enough on issues like crime’.
Let me run that past you again. The proximate cause of the unrest was the action of the Metropolitan Police in shooting a man dead. Just how ‘forceful’ does Gardiner want the cops to be?
At the other extreme, past experience shows that sections of the far left regard riots as good things in and of themselves. ‘FANTASTIC TOTTENHAM – BRUTAL MURDERING MET COPS GET WHAT WAS COMING TO THEM’, proclaims obviously breathless Ian Bone.
‘Have not seen a riot like this with so much hatred, property damage and lasting into daylight since Toxteth 1981 … At last the working class have re-entered the arena. BIGTIME. THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH IN TORY BRITAIN HAS BEGUN!’
You just can’t beat a bit of good old fashioned property damage, can you? The insurance industry will of course reimburse the chain retailers for the looted plasma televisions. Let’s hope the burnt out small shopkeepers were similarly well covered. But the impact of the riot on an already depressed local economy is hardly going to be positive.
I am not a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst, or one of Britain’s best-known anarchists, come to that. My home in N16 is about two miles down the road from N17, in a broadly similar area, and I have lived in inner city north London for most of my life.
I can see the poverty and the dereliction from the window of the room in which I am typing this. I can see the racist policing, the homeless alkies, the untreated schizophrenics, the wheelchair-bound beggars, the street violence and the gang culture on an average trip to the shopping centre.
All of this goes on just a short bus ride away from the fabulous wealth of the City, which is where I work, and where million pound bonuses continue to be dished out with the same regularity as P45s are handed to low-paid shopworkers. I’m all in favour of beginning the redistribution of wealth in Tory Britain, but I’d rather start it with the hedge fund boys than the local Asian convenience store.
The argument will go that the way to change this state of affairs is through the democratic process rather than the petrol bomb. But such is the degree of disconnect between all the major parties and the street that the chances of positive engagement are next to zero. There is instead the recourse of riot.
The depressing thing is that nothing has changed since the violence in Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth and, of course, Tottenham, that scarred the Thatcher years. New Labour had 13 years in which to address the multiple problems of areas that consistently return Labour MPs. Despite some useful initiatives, its essential commitment to neoliberalism meant that it was unable to do so effectively.
Now we are back with a Tory-led Coalition determined to enact policies that will make matters worse. As a result, the Met last night got yet another bloody good hiding. Isn’t that enough to bring about a serious rethink? Maybe we should phrase it more diplomatically than Bernie did, but the least Labour could do is to make the case.
NB: Dave lives in neighbouring N16