Monday, August 15, 2011

The holiday is over

I thought I was going to post a kind of resume of my hols in London and Tuscany, but instead I found myself starting this political ramble about the UK riots and so it would seem that I have something to say about this past weeks' events and I should just get on with it.

I'm old enough to remember the riots in the '80's and being one of Thatcher's children I've seen society change around me. When I was a kid, the neighbourhood I lived in was still working class, where I would come home to tales of nights spent in the Anderson shelter during air raids. As these people died or moved away each house was gradually yuppified until even if I had wanted to, there was no hope of ever living in the same place I grew up in. I felt quietly left behind by the people who just wanted to make money and lots of it, I doggedly pursued my goal of being a teacher.

I'm not sure who found the '80's riots a surprise. I didn't. The day National Front posters were pasted outside my school we leant over the fence during PE and ripped them off. All brown people were called 'Pakis' and everybody else of a darker complexion 'wogs'. There was some kind of complicated colour code to do with the laces you wore in your DM's which singled you out as a Skin or a racist Skin. When there is that kind of constant tension things kick off. That's why the 2005 riots here in France did not surprise me. Yet again you have a whole generation of people who were born and brought up in France, who thought of themselves as French, but whose educational prospects were low, getting a good job downright difficult if you had the wrong name and don't even think about renting an apartment outside of your citè.

After devouring everything I could on Sunday night I woke up on Monday with two conclusions, 1) The BBC news site is a bit facile. Even the features and analysis is a bit lacking in analysis. 2) These riots were different.

Do you remember those days when you were called 'rent a mob' because you went on a march or two? Well maybe we were the same people going on different marches, but we went because we cared about issues. We believed in democracy and the differences in political parties. But look at the ballot boxes today and people don't care enough to vote their own government in . It doesn't matter who you vote in anyway because be they left or right the policies are broadly similar and every government is shit. We fill our lives with 'things' nowadays and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. My conception of society is just so different from the rioters who are so disenfranchised from society that we have no common ground.

I wondered if my lack of understanding was down to being outside the country for fifteen years, but I read the same lack of comprehension about the mentality of the rioters in the comments pages of many papers and the status updates of my friends in London. What I kept reading again and again was 'disenfranchised', 'marginalised', a society where there is little chance of social mobility and where the gap between rich and poor is constantly growing. I found Cameron's words empty and lacking in analysis. The idea that cutting benefits or evicting rioters is downright stupid and send them to already overcrowded jails and see what happens, that will really solve all the problems.

The last slightly political post I made here was about library cuts, but I do realise that everything is being cut, everything that is a lifeline to the most vulnerable in society, the young and old alike, from libraries to bus services that connect communities. I know that it's easy to proselytise from the comfort of my home, but I do hope that lessons will be learnt and that changes will be made. We changed into a society where it was all about money and borrowing and having and now we are a society that is bankrupt in so many different ways. Is there a way to change this? And if so how? These are the questions I think politicians should be asking in the next few weeks, rather than how hard can we punish these perpetrators. Let us learn from history, instead of repeating the same old mistakes.

Book reviews, writerly rambles and maybe a little summary of my holidays will now resume...

Meanwhile a couple more links:
Art Li: Riots and Evictions
Provoke. history: London and Rioting: Historical Perspective


Beth Kemp said...

Nicely-argued post, Michele. It doesn't seem that you do feel any differently to me (also from WC area, also a teacher - and desperately frightened about what's happening in education over here). It's being massively over-simplified in the news - although there are pockets of good, clear analysis - and people are saying horrifying things about 'putting them on the streets' and 'taking their benefits', with no thought about consequences or where that will take us. *Sigh*

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Knee jerk reactions do worry me, as this is what the Government listens to. Cameron's speech today was all fire and brimstone with no substance. I shall be paying close attention in the weeks that come and will keep my fingers crossed that things don't get tougher for you.

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