This is ALSO Britain
I normally try to keep politics out of this blog – as much for the benefit of my blood pressure as anything else. I also recognise that last week’s riots were a manifestation of lawlessness. I find it ironic and sad that whilst people across the Middle East are taking to the streets to assert their democratic rights and seek to get rid of oppressive governments – and are paying for this right with their lives – the motivation in parts of Britain seems to be the desire for a new tv or a pair of trainers. As someone who is no stranger to street protest (as those who know the range of my work will know), I am irritated that all this energy and the right to protest is being squandered on robbing stuff and damaging communities.
At the same time, I do not ignore the political aspect to the riots. I am equally irritated that many people are leaping to the conclusion that this was only naked lawlessness. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has acknowledged that those at the top of society must take some personal and moral responsibility for the state of Britain today, and that he specifically named bankers, MPs and the popular media. At the same time, I am irritated that he ignored a whole herd of elephants in the room. He ignores the fact that many in the establishment don’t see themselves as implicated in this moral decline; so the Communities Secretary and Tory Party Chairman Eric Pickles is surprised when he is booed for suggesting that he needs a second home at taxpayers’ expense in Central London because otherwise he’d have to commute to work like ordinary mortals. Or a former Liberal Democrat councillor escapes jail for a £12,000 benefit fraud when two men who tried to incite a riot on Facebook and failed get four year custodial sentences. These people obviously do not feel that they should shoulder any blame for the nation’s moral decline.
And as an MP and a millionaire himself, the Prime Minister cannot exclude himself from this condemnation. I seethe when David Cameron tries to lay some of the blame for the riots on Tory betes-noir, such as health and safety legislation, in a month when the number of ordinary workers who die at work has shown no sign of decreasing, with three deaths at the Sonae woodchippings site in Kirkby, Merseyside this year, and three managers of a Manchester steel company finally being charged with manslaughter four years after one of their workers fell to his death from the factory roof – and these are just the stories that made the national press. And I also seethe when the Prime Minister talks about “broken Britain”, because he ignores the whole question of who it was who broke Britain in the first place. If the Thatcher government of 1979-91 had not connived and maneuvered to allow British manufacturing industry to go to the wall, then we might not have had two generations of joblessness in some parts of this country. The Britain of 2011 is the result of adopting a model where the economy has been based on nothing more than our buying stuff from and selling stuff to each other, instead of actually making things.
Having said all that, I spent the week of fire and riot touring Shropshire and attending Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy Festival in rural Oxfordshire. And social media notwithstanding (just as in the riots of the 1980s, when CB radio was one culprit fingers were pointed at that supposedly made the unrest possible), I for one saw no evidence of civil unrest, or had any sense that there were agents provocateur trying to set the shires alight. I’m not trying to whitewash the state of British society, nor am I seeking to absolve anyone from responsibility. I don’t know how the riots played overseas, though I can guess. But I want to show you some scenes from the Britain I’ve moved around in the past week/ten days.