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Posts Tagged ‘london’

And so it came to pass…

12 August 2011 4 comments

It is a basic tenet of belief, amongst the Left, Liberals, and Social Democrats, that everything in a society is inter-connected, whether we like it or not.  That inter-connection applies as much to macro-economics and  governmental policies as it does to how much money you and I have in our pockets to spend.

Accordingly, where there are severe social problems such as mass unemployment; poverty; lack of opportunity; an alienated, angry youth; easy availability of cheap alcohol; dislocated communities; and a general sense of despair and hopelessness – which co-exists with a consumerist society; upwardly mobile professionals; and wealth accumulated by a small minority – there is a powder keg of frustration waiting to explode.

Four days ago, the explosion happened in London.

It was predictable.

And the UK’s  “Guardian” newspaper did predict it, here,

Note the date: Friday, 29 July:  one week before the riotting exploded onto London’s streets.

The article describes severe cut-backs to various local community groups. These are the groups trying to pick up, and hold together, the fragmented pieces of a society stressed by the inhuman forces of neo-liberalism.  As unemployment escalates and even the safety net of the welfare system is cut back – wealth continues to accumulate in the hands of a privileged few.

Unfortunately, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, just doesn’t seem to get it,

This is not about poverty, this is about culture,’ David Cameron told parliament. ‘In too many cases, the parents of these children – if they are still around – don’t care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing.

The man is either deluded, or is playing to a very angry public audience.

In case my fellow New Zealanders believe that the powder-keg of social unrest cannot happen in Godzone, it may do us well to reflect in the following;

»  We have a National-led government that is pursuing policies similar to the Conservative-led government in the UK; cutbacks; attacks on welfare beneficiaries; resisting wage-growth; opening up the economy to foreign control; and not addressing unemployment in this country in any meaningful way.

»  Tax cuts in April 2009 and October 2010 benefitted the highest income earners in the country. Those on the bottom recieved not just less in tax cuts – but found themselves paying more for food, goods, and services as GST increased from 12.5% to 15%.

»  The top 150 wealthiest individuals in New Zealand increased their wealth  from $38.2 billion to $45.2b – about a 20 percent increase.

»  Unemployment is still high, at 6.5%. Youth unemployment in NZ is at nearly 18%. The figure for Maori (25%) and Pacific Islanders (28%) remains high.

»  Government is cutting back on social services; reducing government workers via forced redundancies; and has launched an election-year campaign targetting welfare recipients.

»  Despite the devastation in Christchurch, employment in the construction sector actually  fell by 12,700 people compared to a year ago.

As Irish comedian, Andrew Maxwell put it, so very succinctly,

“Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people’s ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people’s ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper. “

In essence, the same conditions that exist in Britain, as ouitlined in the “Guardian” article – exist here in New Zealand (though probably not yet on the same scale).

The riots on the other side of the world should serve as a salient warning to us all; society cannot endure severe social problems such as mass unemployment; poverty; lack of opportunity; an alienated, angry youth; easy availability of cheap alcohol; dislocated communities; and a general sense of despair and hopelessness  – without consequence.

With the economic mess in Europe and a near-bankrupt United States, it is obvious that the unfettered unregulated “free market” has left us all much worse off. The neo-liberal experiment is as much a failure in economic ideology as the old Soviet marxist-leninism. Both are extremes. Both are inflexible and thus vulnerable to crises. Neither offer a practical solution to the demands of society and commerce.

The question is – do our leaders have the wit to realise this?

Or more important still – do we?

And what are we going to do about it?


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London Burning. Where next?

10 August 2011 2 comments

The question that many are asking is “why?”.

Ms Penny’s opinion piece is the clearest attempt at understanding why these riots happened (and are still happening, as I write this) in a supposedly peaceful, civilised society.

I would add a further point: it is no coincidence that these riots are happening at a time when the “Arab Spring” has unleashed a human wave of rebellion in middle eastern countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. The common element is a deep disaffection with the status quo. Ms Penny explains it all in a simple, coherent, meaningful way…

I’m huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my city burn.

The BBC is showing footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of infernos that once were shops and houses in Croydon and Peckham.

There have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries. A 26-year-old man shot in a car in Croydon is reportedly the first fatality, but police have not said whether he had been participating in the rioting or was a bystander.

This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s cities to go home. Britain is a tinderbox and, on Friday, somebody lit a match. How the hell did this happen? And what are we going to do now?

In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder ”mindless, mindless”.

Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, the Prime Minister, David Cameron – who has finally decided to return home to take charge – declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was ”utterly unacceptable”. The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ”pure criminality”, as the work of a ”violent minority”, as ”opportunism”. This is madly insufficient.

Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there.

A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost 10 times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.

The truth is that few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the TV cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.

Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping and searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure knowledge that after decades of being marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.

In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything.

”Yes,” said the young man. ”You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you? Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.

Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night.

No one expected this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after 30 years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong.

And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.

After reading Laurie Penny’s analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald – perhaps we should be asking, “where next“?

Because the disaffection, anger, and resentment shown by the young folk of Britain exists in other countries as well. Governments seem to have forgotten that nations are first and foremost societies – communities of people. Economies are built on societies, not the other way around.

Something to reflect on here in  supposedly peaceful, civilised New Zealand.

What really angers me is  that Baby boomers and neo-liberals castigate the young for their irresponsibility and selfishness.

Pardon?!

Is this the same Baby Boomer Neo-Lib generation that enjoyed free tertiary education, free medical prescriptions,  etc, etc – paid for by our parents and grandparents?

And when it came time for Baby Boomers to pass these same social services onto our children, we held up our hands and said, “Nah. You kids pay for what you want.” And then we introduced User Pays and gave ourselves hefty tax cuts, whilst privatising many of those state assets that used to provide us with good services.

And we expect the younger generation not to be selfish?!?!

Maybe I’m turning into a Grumpy Old Bugger, but I say “a pox on my generation” – my sympthathies are with the younger people who were well and truly shafted by my lot.

As for the neo-liberals and middle classes;  you  got what you wanted; a society of individuals out to get what they wanted; screw society; and devil take the hindmost.

And it was all utterly predictable, 20, 30 years ago.

We have seen the warning signs.