Above: It is claimed that this police attack on a 16 year-old girl sparked the riot (h/t: Tami P)
Guest post by James Bloodworth of ‘Obliged to Offend’:
Some on the Left are interpreting the riots in Tottenham and Enfield as a sort
of awakening. After the student protests and anti-cuts marches, the underclass
has entered the arena, bringing to the television screens of Middle England the
realities of life in Britain’s inner cities they had up to now forgotten or
Indeed, until a few days ago, the only time those rioting would
have made it onto television was as comedy material for the sketch writers of
Little Britain or as fodder for patronising reality shows.
It is true of
course that if governments refuse to distribute wealth it will be done using
force. After all, the rich have been “looting” the country for years in the
guise of clever accounting, only to be given knighthoods and lionised
by the media in the process. When disenfranchised youth do the same, the
mainstream predictably sound-off like a Telegraph editorial about “violent
thugs” and “feral youth,” ignoring the underlying deprivation at the heart of
What seems to have passed some by, however, is that
disenfranchised youth burning and looting sports gear has far more in common
with the “greed is good” mantra than it does with the cooperative control of the
means of production; and when the cameras are switched off, it is the lives of
the poor which will be blighted by these riots, not the gated communities of
Kensington and Chelsea.
What large-scale looting demonstrates is that it
is the battle of ideas where the Left is playing catch-up in Britain’s poorest
areas. While middle class universities are hotbeds of youth radicalism, for the
poor it is often the language of neo-liberalism that motivates. Aspirational
rhetoric sounds different on the council estates of Woolwich or Peckham; but it
is widespread and accepted all the same. Popular hip-hop music promotes not
solidarity, but a desire to escape “the ghetto” – often by any means necessary.
“Get rich or die tryin” was how American rapper 50 cent put it; and while
“Fiddy” is very much out of fashion these days, the narrative of getting rich at
all costs is still conspicuous to say the least.
If you live in one of
the above mentioned areas, the only realistic way to achieve celebrity or get
rich – what actually matters if you
watch television or turn on the radio – is to “loot” in one way or another. If
that means breaking into shops, burning houses or selling drugs then so be it.
The difference between this and those who deny funds to services through tax
evasion is that when young black men “loot” the BBC will call it “totally
unacceptable”; in the case of the former it will be put down to an individual
becoming “tax efficient”.
What someone does in a business suit however
does not become ok simply because it is repeated by a person wearing a
tracksuit. Neither is to be celebrated; and unthinkingly doing so does little to
help those living in Enfield and Tottenham and who aren’t rioting, such as the
elderly, terrified and barricaded inside their homes. Forgetting such people is
one of the luxuries of the academic left, who can at times cling on to trendy
terms such as “uprising” and “revolt” in a desire to attach themselves to youth
and their attractive and dangerous anger.
In this vein, what the riots
appear to demonstrate is not simply the consequence of the rampant free market,
but the retreat of the Left from the council estate to the ivory tower.