Some thoughts on rioting

It’s International Youth Day tomorrow. Intriguing, I think, because if you’ve seen the scenes from across England this week, you’d be excused for asking why on earth youths deserve a day all for themselves, horrible little wasters that they are. National service is what they need. We should bring it back, as well as the birch. And hanging, while we’re at it. Might as well. Prisons are already far too full. If we can get the murderers out, there’s more room to lock up troublesome dissidents.

I’d be extremely surprised if you haven’t seen the appalling scenes of anarchy from the capital, since copied with most enthusiasm in Manchester and Birmingham. British (not English?) youths are now apparently “the most unpleasant and violent in the world”. The camera doesn’t lie too often; we’ve seen some pretty unpleasant, violent things, let’s be honest. Nobody can condone looting outside times of famine or possibly zombie invasion and the pictures show the cheerful theft of items entirely unhelpful to either situation. Flat screen TV, anyone?

From reading and viewing the reaction to these scenes, you’ll notice far more condemnation than sympathy. It is hard to be sympathetic when greedy, ghastly people are destroying their own neighbourhoods and their neighbours, I admit. For the vandalism, theft and arson, working people will pay with their livelihoods. Insurance premiums will rise, potential businesses will look elsewhere, dilapidation will spread further into already deprived areas. Some have already paid with their lives, others have lost their homes. It’s not surprising that people, particularly working people, wish to distance themselves from the reprehensible activities of our shameless underclass.

Which is just what the government wants: to turn people against one another, worker against worker, the poor against the poorer (or richer, depending on how you perceive the welfare dependent, seeing as it has automatically been assumed that the work shy are most guilty of these crimes, even though the first looter to appear in court yesterday was a 31-year old teaching assistant).

It was the same recently with those ungrateful teachers bleating about their pensions, if you think about it. (Don’t they get enough holidays?) Or the lazy students expecting to be put through university at the taxpayers’ expense when they ought to get a proper job and stop fannying about with books and ideas. To add insult to injury, the students who were protesting against increased tuition fees in December (the trebling of fees for some), caused a rumpus which ended with some Royal knickers in a twist and a war memorial embarrassingly desecrated. As you all know, one shamed student is David’s son, Charlie, 21, currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, his sentence of sixteen months imprisonment considered by many to be purely politically-motivated. The same is true for that of Francis Fernie, 20, sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for participating in a protest against government spending cuts in March. The most serious of his offences was throwing two sticks from a banner at police officers in riot gear.

Amusingly or perhaps not, Jonathan May-Bowles, 26, better known as Jonnie Marbles, received a six-week sentence for pushing a foam pie into the face of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. This was reduced to four weeks following appeal. Still, a month in jail for, in essence, a prank.

If these sentences aren’t designed to deter dissent and send out a clear message to would-be protesters, then I don’t know what they are. Drink drivers get less. Paedophiles get less.

They’re not a new group for politicians and the media to demonise, the young, of course. In fact, they’re the good ol’ reliable. Simple observation should reveal why youngsters, all youthful exuberance and idealistic vim, are the first in line to protest. Nothing surprising in that, surely: they have the time and energy to do so, as you would hope. They also have most reason to. They are incandescent whilst others remain indifferent. The others catch on eventually, as we’re seeing now, but instead of assuming that their intentions are dishonourable, and dismissing them all as trouble-makers, why can’t governments try to understand the context in which these protests, now riots, occur? They have a judicial system and willing media to send out their message, and it hits hard, but a mass of disenfranchised youth can also send out a message when they want to. Everyone’s listening now even if many a commentator is trying to drown out their social conscience by babbling loudly about making the criminals pay and taking away their liberties.

I write only of the UK, a country where the richest ten per cent are now 100 times better off than the poorest. Where social mobility is worse than any other developed, industrialised country. Where food prices have risen five per cent this year alone, yet half the population have not seen their pay rise since 2003. Wealth does not trickle down to where it would make a difference to living standards – and with them, dare I say moral standards? Oh, no. Much the same as other ‘developed’ countries, we all know, wealth continues to be sucked upwards. I don’t have the figures for those other countries, but it’s all much of a muchness. There have already been clashes with police in Greece and Spain in recent months.

(I do have one figure for the USA, actually. I read yesterday that fewer than sixty per cent – 58.1 per cent, to be precise – of working age Americans have a real job. I don’t believe that forty per cent are welfare dependant idlers.)

Who fares worst at times of economic decline? It’s the young, of course. There are nearly a million young people out of work in the UK. Add this summer’s school and college leavers, the 200,000 18-year-olds who won’t find university places, plus those who couldn’t dream of going to university now that tuition fees are greater still. Young people are increasingly being denied opportunities, yet we keep telling them that they’re our future. Are they meant to see the funny side?

It’s always those at the bottom of the social heap who get hit hardest, obviously. The ones who are looting and destroying. To be young and poor is particularly challenging. If you’re not fortunate to live where the best schools, houses and opportunities are to be found, you’ll be lucky to find a job you don’t hate; you won’t earn enough to buy your own home until you’re pushing 40; you won’t receive a pension of any note, so forget a secure retirement; you will have to work longer than your parents did and much longer than their parents did before them; if you go to university, you’ll be paying for it until it’s time to start paying for that house you never thought you could afford; and if you want to protest, whatever your cause, particularly in London, be prepared for some seriously heavy-handed policing from a force long accused of institutional racism and now found to be complicit in the hacking of mobile phones in the name of the Rupert Murdoch empire. Now remember what you were taught: you’re supposed to respect authority. However, evidently, there is no respect for you. Hard luck.

And governments wonder why people can behave so dreadfully when squeezed until even their pips squeak.

What sparked the initial confrontation with police was the death of an alleged gangster and drugs dealer, who also happened to be a black male, shot dead by armed police during an attempted arrest. It’s a fact that black males are more likely to be stopped by police and I can’t help but notice that the published pictures from CCTV footage of those involved in the looting of shops appear to show more black faces than white. Why that is, I don’t know.

These scenes come exactly thirty years after riots in Brixton and Toxteth, also blamed in the first instance on racial tension and police antagonism, then on inner-city deprivation. In the thirty years that have passed since those events, Thatcherism has stretched the UK’s social fabric to the point where rich and poor are farther apart than ever. Just as Ronald Reagan was dismantling society in the United States, allowing the conditions for the development of an under-employed class, Thatcher was denying that there’s such a thing as society.

Today, the UK is less equal in terms of income than at any time since the 1920s. Yet apparently we’re all in this together. Tell that to the youngster whose future looks bleak. Who now can’t afford to attend college because you’ve scrapped the modest state allowance that once enabled him to. Whose protests against this cut are not welcomed. Who can’t find a job. Who wants all the nice things being waved tantalisingly under his nose by the corporations pulling government strings, selling consumerism rather than hope, but can only attain them through further debt or criminal activity. Maybe you did tell him. Maybe you said it so many times, what you’re seeing now is the angered reaction to your hypocrisy and cutting of public services on which he depends at a time when they are most needed.

Don’t get me wrong, I see thugs on the television causing destruction to their own neighbourhoods. I see hooliganism. I see children high on the thrill of lawlessness, carrying away items that they don’t need, and I’m thankful that it’s not happening where I live. I hope those who have caused most devastation are made to somehow pay for it – and I’m particularly curious to learn of lengths of any custodial sentences. But those people do have my sympathy.

My feeling is that everybody should condemn them for their inconsiderate and hurtful actions, for their mistakes. Not all would do it again; many are ashamed, a lesson learnt. I don’t, however, wish for the government to take away liberties that others like them throughout history have earned for all of us by means of protest and, unfortunately when circumstances dictated, disorder. I don’t want the public to allow itself to be carried away on a tide of revulsion, buoyed by a vicious right-wing government and press, for a section of society that should be supported, not set upon. Not evicted, their benefits halted. I fail to see how that can be positive for society as a whole.

I wonder what you see and what you blame. Rap music and gang culture? Racial tension? Police brutality? Inadequate parenting? The breakdown of the family unit? Government cuts? Lily-livered liberals? I still believe it’s poverty and inequality in the main whilst accepting there is no single explanation.

Three rhetorical questions, if I may (I’ve already answered no to all of them):

1. Would the wealthy, whiter parts of London, such as Chelsea or Kensington, be allowed to burn?

2. Can we trust the media coverage not to distort events to suit an obvious political agenda?

3. Will any of those arrested receive sentences comparable to Charlie’s or Francis Fernie’s?

I’ve agonised over this all week. How can this anarchy be an expression of powerlessness and impoverishment when the perpetrators shown on TV – such as the one seen throwing an umbrella with predictable results (thanks, Rob) – appear far too stupid to be advocates of political change? The UK Uncut protests, for example, targeted tax-dodging corporations and caused organised disruption to those banks and stores known to be cheating the state out of funds. A protest has a purpose. Where are the placards? Margaret Thatcher played down the social disadvantages of those who opposed and so despised her, dismissing protester and striker alike as scum, vermin, riff-raff. Even for the most left-leaning apologists, what has been witnessed this week is indefensible.

If people can doubt that it was a form of protest, and I find it hard to support those who say that it is, nobody can deny that what we have witnessed is a two-finger salute to authority. And why shouldn’t the youth wish to upset authority? It always has done and what has authority – be it the politicians, police or media, all of whom have recently been disgraced once more – done to command the respect of the young lately? Nothing as far as I can see.

Where else would youths take their aggression but the streets? These are the streets of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, home to society’s most oppressed. It’s where they spend much of their time for want of anywhere else to go. The streets are all that they have when you close youth clubs and sell off playing fields.

Yes, I know that a lot of people, most people, from deprived backgrounds, perhaps single-parent families, who are poorly educated and never had much, grow up to be perfectly well-adjusted, law-abiding citizens (well, subjects, as we’re not really citizens in the UK). Thank goodness. But many don’t and they’re the ones causing this chaos. The TV mouthpieces bellowed advice as they looked down their noses: Parents of the underclass! Do you know where your vile children are? You should know where they are at 10pm. If your children are out right now, they must be guilty of criminal acts. Catch them before we do.

I’m not so liberal that I can’t concede that many parents are unfit for the parenting role and I fully expect many not to know where their children are or even care for that matter. I can even believe that some would have been quite pleased to see their kids coming home in the small hours with electrical goods and jewellery that they couldn’t otherwise afford and so, instead of marching them to the nearest police station by the ear for a stern telling off, patted them on the head for their enterprise. I still can’t help but be reminded of how often we hear about ‘the school of hard knocks’ and the ‘university of life’. Presumably this sort of lesson forms part of the curriculum. It’s called ‘getting by’ and it doesn’t have to be pretty.

Bear in mind also that Edward Woollard, 18, the student protester who threw an empty fire extinguisher from a rooftop, was sentenced to 32 months in jail. Thankfully nobody was harmed. His mother had encouraged him to hand himself in. Will any parent do this from now on knowing the possible severity of the sentence?

The TV cameras are having a great time capturing identifiable images of offenders. The Met has a Flickr photostream inviting people to name and shame the perpetrators. How many feral youths will be brought to justice now that a precedent has been set by jailing demonstrators?

I’m torn because I agree that there has been a collapse of order and authority, which forms part of the equally predictable generalising that’s coming from the right, of course. I don’t think people fear their superiors any more. When children can threaten to sue their parents for spanking them or accuse teachers of much worse out of spite, something is very wrong with society. Family breakdown does seem more widespread than I remember as a child and no doubt there is something to be said for “mass fatherlessness” (Melanie Phillips). There is welfare dependency and a culture whereby it’s acceptable to point the finger and play the victim, so as to seek compensation for real or feigned injustices. I get all that, I really do. But then at the helm we have a Royal family which costs the taxpayer a pretty penny. They are the ultimate benefit cheats. We have obscene bankers’ bonuses still being paid and those same bankers are advising government as to its austerity measures which are hurting the poor the most.

I’m all right, Jack. Keep your hands off my stack.

The cynic in me feels that these depressing scenes suit the government very well, as it now has the perfect excuse to further clamp down on dissent in all its forms and I, for one, find that more worrying than assuring. The power of the police is to be increased, water cannon made available. One Conservative, Tory MEP Roger Helmer, has called for rioters to be “shot on sight” – and he didn’t mean with water. Surely no voter can entertain the ludicrous notion of the police budget being cut now that the police are so vital to maintaining order in the face of wild provocation, so how convenient for the police. Something else will have to be cut, I guess. Probably something that poor inner-city kids will miss most. I wonder if anyone will be brave enough to protest against it.

International Youth Day should be good this year.


  1. KatzenHai

    “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” – I don’t figure it totally wrong that this isn’t always true.

    Thank you for your guiding thoughts, helping a German to find a way through all the rubbish written in the last days.

  2. Lene

    Interesting and wise thoughts on a Thursday night. It is obvious that the riots has some underlying reasons, whether it is poverty, social exclusion, or something else. Perhaps politicians should look into solving that long-term, rather than thinking of using military force against the young ones.

    The anger that young people feel can not be removed with water-canons or plastic bullets.


  3. Andrew


    It just so happens that I read this article and wanted to ask you if it was in any way accurate. I come to this site and find your current post which is far more than 1500 characters.

    You raise many interesting points and I will add my two cents.

    First I do think poor parenting is to blame for much of the issues in society today. If there is no authority within a family household, how can you expect respect for any authority? It would seem that youth turns to gangs and such when there is a breakdown within the family structure. “Heck, Mom/Dad don’t care where I am and these guys like having me hang out with them.”

    Second is the media and the worldwide plastering of what life is like for the select few as well as the message “that you are nobody if you don’t have one of these.” Translate that to GREED. There was a time when people were just content with what they had. A gift meant something. Now it seems that everyone wants to have the million $$ lifestyle including whatever is the latest.

    When I was growing up, my parents would get me a toy or two at the holidays and I would treasure it. Now kids get 20 or 30 toys and its still not enough; and it is certainly not treasured.

    So how do you clean up this mess? How do you get back to basics?



    • FEd

      I did go on a bit – and what you see is the trimmed-down version. :))

      I think the Yahoo article is perfectly fair. The point about the Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) is very true and highly embarrassing. For kids that will never receive any formal recognition or type of qualification, an ASBO is about as good as it gets. You only have to read Freddy’s “Nobody is doing nothing for us” and cringe at his inability to form a simple sentence to see why that may be. Hate those double negatives. (I feel that whoever quoted him did him no favours, though. Possibly some snobby type thrilled to be able to add a shred of evidence to support the case that these are barely educated, unemployable nobodies?)

      I happen to think that schools – the system as well as the teachers – have a lot to answer for, actually, as do parents. The high rate of teen pregnancy is another disgraceful fact. Kids having kids, often without the support of a family network, sometimes unable to provide adequately for them. The piece speaks of ‘a lost generation’, but I’d argue that at least the two generations before it were just as lost.

      Anyway, as you say, earning respect from the guys these kids hang around with has become more important than pleasing traditional figures of authority.

      I also think the comment about government cuts forcing poorer families out of London is an important one. Too many families have been priced out of the capital for many years now. The cynic in me, again, thinks that’s just what this government of millionaires and the wealthy who have made London their home want. Just in time for the Olympics, too. As did South Africa in preparation for the World Cup. “Beautification” some called it.

      I’ve got friends living in the East End. Real Londoners. They’d tell you that the place is unrecognisable and full of yuppies these days.

    • ash

      I happen to think that schools – the system as well as the teachers – have a lot to answer for, actually, as do parents. The high rate of teen pregnancy is another disgraceful fact. Kids having kids, often without the support of a family network, sometimes unable to provide adequately for them. The piece speaks of ‘a lost generation’, but I’d argue that at least the two generations before it were just as lost.

      I think you’ve hit a nail on the head there Fed. I also think that providing adequately for children means helping them with their school work, providing them with books (second hand or library), paying attention to what their children say, converse with them, help them participate in good out of school activities (and there are lots that don’t cost anything).

      I think you are correct in observing that there are a few generations that have been unable to provide adequately, in the sense I’ve described, for their children.

      Schools are badly underfunded, class sizes NEVER come down to levels successive governments promise they will, all the time school populations are growing. Some schools are overwhelmed by children who possess no pre-school skills, no proper social skills, no manners and no respect for other people. At age five!

      I have trouble understanding where our country’s wealth went. Why have we gotten to a place of needing austerity cuts? A great many of us have always lived very austerely and our only debt was our mortgage.

      Why do so many people think designer clothes and the latest phone is where life is at? I can’t understand that either. Why do people fall for advertising?


    • Andrew

      Some schools are overwhelmed by children who possess no pre-school skills, no proper social skills, no manners and no respect for other people. At age five!

      And that just points back to how the family structure has failed!

      Further I want to comment on FEd’s discussion on jobs. The cruel reality (at least in the U.S.) is that there are fewer jobs for young folk because of two reasons:

      A: The government is essentially mandating that the older folks work to at least 67 and they want to push that up to 69. And the older folks need to work to those years otherwise they can’t afford to live. And the baby boomers are reaching those 60s which is a massive amount of folks. There are not many who can retire at 60 and live comfortably. Anyway, this denies the younger folks jobs.

      B: There has been so much outsourcing of jobs to countries like India and China that there are fewer and fewer jobs left stateside. Especially entry level jobs that the younger folks could start out with. I mentioned this in the chat last week that it is also one reason why the economy is in the toilet.

      Personally I am sick and tired of seeing the phrase Made in China. Is that the way it is in the UK as well?

      We have essentially lost the small business industry as well. There are fewer and fewer local shops as well as fewer and fewer tradesmen (shoemakers, tailors, watchmakers, etc.).

      Last night I watched the Mel Gibson movie, The Road Warrior. In a strange way it fits this topic.



    • JulieD

      I happen to think that schools – the system as well as the teachers – have a lot to answer for, actually, as do parents. The high rate of teen pregnancy is another disgraceful fact. Kids having kids, often without the support of a family network, sometimes unable to provide adequately for them. The piece speaks of ‘a lost generation’, but I’d argue that at least the two generations before it were just as lost.

      Hear, hear, FEd.

      I saw this coming years ago when Labour were in power. Since I have been working in the community especially 2009, there were gangs of kids all round the Council estates. When I was working one gang even approached me whilst riding from one patient to another on my scooter and they were throwing coins and stones at me. They literally walked into the road and hurled them at me. I telephoned the police the very next day about my concerns and I was delighted to see police vans monitoring the area in question.

      You see, uneducated kids (remember I was one) want to somehow make their stake in life and without an education, they don’t get many choices. So hanging out in gangs makes them feel like someone. They want to be accepted. They want to be somebody.

      However, I do not think these kids are impoverished as they make out with their expensive clothes, trainers and top of the range mobile phones. To me someone poor is someone who does not have any money at all and lives like the children in Africa and India etc. This country gives people help in the form of benefits etc. etc.

      But too many kids are having kids. No father figures either. Oh, don’t get me started… *remembering what happened in my last discussion*

    • JulieD

      And also not forgetting another small gang of kids who stole and set fire to my scooter when I was working. This particular gang fortunately got caught because the very next week in the same area, they stole a car and set fire to it. They were allegedly only 15. This too happened when Labour were in power. So it is a long term thing.

      But these kids probably did it to look cool in front of their peers. They wanted to belong to something.

  4. Andrew

    O, further.

    Did you not read about the mayhem that happened in Vancouver, Canada a few months ago when their home team, the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals? Cars were overturned and vandalized, looting, fighting. Huh??

    It’s a sporting event. Some team will win and the other will loose. It is just the way it goes. So how come people find it necessary to take to the streets and riot when their team loses??

    Even more puzzling are the situations where things get out of control when the home team wins.

    Where in this society did we loose our common sense on how to behave in groups??

    There is nothing wrong in being passionate about your team but why do some insist on bringing harm to others if things don’t go the way they want? Why are we so frigging spoiled??



    • FEd

      You know, I’ve had a thousand thoughts this week and one was of sport, football/soccer in particular, and the hooliganism that shamed Britain for a long time. These looters and arsonists couldn’t afford to attend a game now. Corporatism is to blame for that, too. I don’t know if fans of the game ought to give grudging thanks, because one advantage of this is that trouble stays outside the stadium whereas once the violence was inside. As I said up top, disturbances stay on the streets because the streets are all that some people have now.

      There’s something very beautiful about being in a crowd at a football match, singing as one, supporting your team. But my predominant feeling of being among that group is one of unease. There’s so much aggression, hatred, racism and sexism. With an apology for being old fashioned, I find that especially appalling and embarrassing with so many women and children present.

      That said, the scenes this week have shown young women and children involved in some despicable situations.

  5. Thomas O'Connell

    I remember the Watts riots in LA, for I live only a few blocks from where the riots were going on and it’s really scary, for it wasn’t all blacks who were rioting. There was people who lived in my neighborhood and elsewhere who went and took TVs and anything else they could get their filthy hands on. At the time I really didn’t know why they were rioting for, I was only twelve But it’s crazy what a riot can do for it really brings out the scum from everywhere.

    Don’t get me wrong for if there is a reason to have a protest is one thing , but to cause chaos and burn hard working people’s properties is just really wrong…

    Take Care,

  6. frank par

    I abhor violence whether it is the constabulary against peaceful people or vice versa. I hope this situation in the U.K. does not turn into a debacle we had a year ago in Toronto’s Summit Meeting.

    Hooligans with nothing better to do but cause mass confusion and hysteria, allow innocent people to take the blame for another’s stupidity. True, there is more to the story other than which we receive in the media. All of us in a way are to blame for letting it happen in the first place. So who do we blame? The vicious circle continues.


    • frank par

      I read your editorial Fed after this mail. You had a lot to think about recently. 😉

      When are you writing a book? Very interesting ideas and right on too. Thank You.

  7. graham.knight

    Hi Fed,

    I was sickened by the riots knowing that it was just basic vandalism.

    My views are that National service would be the way forward for these vandals. Although perhaps the Army don’t actually want these people either. National service may have to dressed up as some sort of boot camp because I know that these vandals will then all of a sudden turn out to be pacifists and refuse to do NS on humanitarian grounds.

    Should the convicted vandals be given custodial sentences as Charlie Gilmour was? Not that his punishment was fair. Well, in an ideal world yes, but it wont happen because of the sheer numbers of the tw*ts involved.

    On a positive note, it was so good to see the local community in Clapham using Social networking sites to organise the clean up. Good for you, may be this will catch on without having riots instigating the process in other parts of the country.

    Our village had an organised litter pick a few weeks back, a sorry turn out I felt considering the size of our village, but it was good to see parents and children involved by those that did turn up. It amazed me the trouble some people must have gone to hide litter in very strange places when it would have been far easier to put it in the bin in the first place.


    • FEd

      Although perhaps the Army don’t actually want these people either.

      That’s a fair point, Graham. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

      With so many children involved, you also have to wonder if a curfew would do some good – for the parents as well as their children. I’m not sure how many would adhere to it, though. Did you hear the father of one of the young looters shirking all responsibility by saying that parents can’t be responsible for their children around the clock? I’m not sure how much sympathy I have for that argument, but I was fortunate to grow up in a home where only one parent went out to work. Having seen so much focus on those who do not work and hearing all the threats about their benefits being witheld, a thought for those parents who are working low-paid jobs, often mother and father, to provide for their families. I certainly have sympathy for them, particularly with these unforgiving cuts to public services.

      To throw something else into the mix, though: Aren’t we having too many children?

  8. tim_c

    F’ed F’ed F’ed.

    You’re on record as saying you agonised long and hard over what to write on this topic … and that you needed to whittle it down … it must have started as an epic of War and Peace proportions! As usual you cover a lot of bases and say a lot that the majority of the loyal readers here will agree with.

    Forgive me if I now spend the rest of the day digesting what you’ve said and trying to bring out a few salient points … but I’ll give you one for starters …

    Does anyone else find it depressing that those asked to comment / justify their actions are generally belligerent and lacking in any sense of humility? Without humility and empathy on both sides, there is very little prospect of progress.

    • FEd

      Tim, I find it all so depressing. Not least watching a young mother taking her not-yet-teenage child to court to face a charge of theft dressed in a tracksuit – as was the boy – and swearing at cameras.

      It could have been Vicky Pollard.

    • tim_c

      That’s one of the ones I had in mind.

      I don’t know if you caught the rather staged experiment of Jamie’s school … Jamie is a well intentioned guy and intuitively sympathetic to the dis-enfranchised young, but even he was worn down by this apparent tendency to assume that everybody else is wrong or that everything is loaded against teenagers when actually the exact reverse is true.

      It seems that underlying it is a lack of self-esteem but that’s one for the psychologists to wrestle with.

    • FEd

      Bless you, Ash. Let’s have some juicy response, then. Looking forward to hearing from you, seeing as I kept you waiting for so long.

  9. NewYorkDan

    I could go on and on and on about the nature of rioting. But to summarize my thoughts:

    The young riot because they have less to lose than grown-ups. They strike back against what they can reach (stores and properties in their neighborhood), not what they are actually incensed about (eg, a government that gives tax breaks to the wealthy and cuts vital services to youth). Government has an interest in distorting the issues in their own favor, and media are their willing conspirators, so we must assume the reporting to be biased and inaccurate. People who are the most critical are often the ones furthest removed from the realities that the rioters face every day. The idea that this is just the work of vile kids with too much time on their hands, shows lack of real understanding of the causes of rioting. The law is rigged to allow politicians and CEOs to get away with horrible crimes affecting everyone, but not to allow a frustrated populace to vent. Since the youth have no voice, they must go to extremes to be heard.

    Yes, it is wrong to loot and vandalize, but what other outlet does youth have? Is there a more peaceful way to take a stand? Can they sit idly by and allow the coporate-ocracy to loot and pillage from THEM? Should WE sit idly by and allow it to be done to US? Does violence help their cause?

    • tim_c


      I’m wondering if the best way to stick it to the “Corporate-ocracy” is just not to buy all the over-priced shit they peddle (and that these rioters seem to want so much) in the first place?

      In this case I’m struggling to find the admirable cause that this particular disorder is promoting.

    • NewYorkDan


      I definitely agree that the best way to rebel against consumerism is to not be a consumer. I make a point of only purchasing that which I need. I do not need a smartphone, e-reader or tablet, for example, so have never had one. That makes me the true rebel, and I do it legally.

  10. ash

    I was born of parents who lived through terrible poverty and rationing during the last war. They have always had a “make do and mend”, ” never a lender nor borrower be”, ” waste not want not” mentality. I know that probably sounds like a load of clichés nowadays, but when you grow up with parents who think this way, you learn it too, I think.

    The country had a camaraderie and a real “pull together” attitude.

    It was also very, very frowned upon to have a child out of wedlock. Families were deeply ashamed if a daughter got pregnant, the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible and the baby given up for adoption. On the rare occasion when the baby was kept, the girl stayed in the parental home and either worked or was supported by her family. NO HANDOUTS. No society becoming the “father” or providing a roof.

    We all think it’s disgraceful, how did it come to this? Why doesn’t society frown upon youngsters who get pregnant and then have all found for them?

    I know of at least one family whose 21 year old daughter has never had a job, has just had a baby and her mother is glad because her daughter will get a place of her own and move out ! No father on the scene.

    I also know a lot of these young mothers say on the birth certificate ” father unknown” because then there is no hassle with the child support agency! There was a time when a woman was considered to be a slut and an outcast if she slept with SO many men she didn’t know who the father was!


  11. IMcK

    Almost all of the ’causes’ of the riots that you cite are the same reasons why I had to leave the UK with my family and emigrate to Canada three years ago. Whilst Canada is a great country, I sometimes see evidence that it is heading the same way as the UK and hope that what has happened in England is a wake up call to the people and politicians who live here too. The culture of ‘entitlement’ and violence that many people adhere to in the UK is what I find the most disturbing.

    One positive thing that could come out of all of this is that Charlie’s sentence might be reduced to something that is much more appropriate and his place in prison can then be filled by one of the scum who have committed real acts of violence during these riots.

  12. tim_c

    So F’ed, my thoughts on your thoughts.

    Firstly congratulations on trying to cover so difficult a topic and for agonising aloud about it. I agree with a lot of what you say and I sympathise with your broad point of view.

    Where I tend to differ is in your view that this “suits” the ruling class … I’m not sure I credit them with too much Machiavellian intent and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the Government genuinely wants an orderly, prosperous, engaged lower class … i.e. that is does not want an “underclass”.

    Raising the issue of Charlie G is I know a difficult thing. I think we can take it as read that readers of this site are dismayed at the distress that this has caused his family, and I think most people feel the sentence was excessive. I would have preferred a community service order myself, cleaning up the after-effects of the next riot. Unfortunately these recent events tend to mean that a sympathetic hearing on appeal may be harder to obtain. Remember that Charlie pleaded guilty to violent disorder. For me, the greatest shame about what he did is precisely that it blurs the boundary between legitimate protest and rioting and that is a great dis-service to the right to protest (more so than the reaction to it). You indicate that the Authorities will clamp down on protest but it is violent and disorderly protest that they will clamp down on, and rightly so.

    As to these riots, I share your view that this is really not a meaningful protest at all. The issue of the spark of the police shooting had some relevance at the very beginning but that’s not really what this is about. Unfortunately if I was on the street with a gun, I might expect the Police to shoot me. I can only imagine that the confused message that came out originally is because armed police get hammered in the UK everytime they act … and remember we have a blessingly small amount of such incidents.

    Whilst not wanting to judge harshly a grieving sister (I think it was) who said she was 99% that this guy would not have shot anyone, she also did not know he actually had a gun … well, I think that would make me less than 99% sure.

    This rioting is of course born out of a sense of ill-expressed grievance, community break-down, family break-down, lack of respect including self-respect. These are I think more convincing factors than poverty and inequality per se, as being always with us, they tell us little about the timing and specifics of this. We should not forget also is that there has always been a violent and unruly underclass in Britain. Hogarth made a living out of it, the British Colonial wars were built on it. What I think has changed it that fear of authority has been replaced (and good riddance to it) by a sense of entitlement but without respect for others, and that greater opportunities have only led to a frustration that doors are not so easily opened.

    • tim_c

      There was an interesting comment in today’s Times that even in the Blitz, when social cohesion probably maximised and when incidentally Britain benefited from one of the most benign examples of Socialist Government we’ll probably ever see, there was looting and disorder amongst those salt-of-the-earth characters in the East End. Mob rule is a particularly unattractive aspect of the human condition.

      Your concerns about the undermining of welfare programmes and initiatives specifically to improve the situation of the poorest (rather than simply to meet basic needs) is well founded and there is certainly a strong suspicion that this Government seeks to take the opportunity to reduce the size of the State, which will leave us with prospect of moving forward.

      I also think that the gang/rap/hip-hop culture is unfortunate in that it encourages kids to aspire to expensive tokens of wealth whilst suggesting that these things are easy to come by and a great deal of dis-satisfaction comes out of that. I’m 46 and kids are a great deal “better off” materially – no, what I mean is they have more stuff! – than we were but they are clearly no happier for it. It’s time we all recognised that the things that make life better for us all do not carry trademarks and, if we could only get that message through we might find that the “dispossessed” are not necessarily so poor after all. The gap between rich and poor is wider partly in the sense that it’s about (useless) material possessions.

      • FEd

        I’m 46 and kids are a great deal “better off” materially – no, what I mean is they have more stuff! – than we were but they are clearly no happier for it. It’s time we all recognised that the things that make life better for us all do not carry trademarks and, if we could only get that message through we might find that the “dispossessed” are not necessarily so poor after all. The gap between rich and poor is wider partly in the sense that it’s about (useless) material possessions.

        I couldn’t agree more with that, Tim. A quenchless thirst for “confected wants” as Oliver James would say. David Cameron has spoken this week of people being “sick” (I assume he’s not using street slang, you never know with this lot, and actually paying them, like, massive respect, innit?). The sickness is a virus called Affluenza and it’s caused by materialism. Simples.

        Excellent book, Affluenza.

    • ash

      Speaking of books. . . apparently Waterstone’s was not looted.

      Sorry, that was dreadfully flippant.

      It was something that came out the morning after the riots in my city and from a sense of having to joke to relieve tension.


      • FEd

        I did notice the popular-with-the-press comment from a Waterstone’s employee (Waterstone’s stayed open when neighbouring shops were putting the security shutters down early for fear of being attacked): “We’ll stay open; if they steal some books, they might learn something.”

        Something for you, Ash:

        ‘Reading the riot acts: why wasn’t Waterstone’s looted?’ (Guardian)

        Interesting, contentious comment about most publishing jobs going to white, middle-class people, hence books do not appeal to those who aren’t white and middle-class as a consequence…

    • ash

      Somewhere in the blog today, I said something about out of school activities that cost nothing, one of them is going and borrowing books from the library. We have to ask, what happened to the looters parents and grandparents (aged 29???)? Did they never visit libraries or a museum? They’re free! Did they go on picnics? Even to the local park is a big adventure for little children.


      • FEd

        They do say that the best things in life are free. Quite possibly another crass generalisation on my part, but thinking back to the libraries and museums I’ve visited most recently, the kids present always tended to be quite middle-class, I’d say. Some of them annoyingly so.

        That would be an interesting test, come to think of it, Ash: find various ways for parents to keep their kids occupied, entertained and stimulated that don’t cost very much, if they aren’t completely free (save for travel expenses and the cost of something to eat, obviously. Do under-fives still travel free on public transport with a half fare for under-16s?) Dare I suggest that some parents are simply lazy and unimaginative?

    • tim_c

      Re: books and the white middle classes.

      Let’s not look for justifications of why the underclass – we have to be very careful not to confuse race with underclass, it’s just a rather obvious way of differentiating those who are disadvantaged for all sorts of reasons – might be alienated from books.

      Whatever else may be the case, great books hold universal truths and the underclass of whatever complexion need to be encouraged to read them for their own sake and not see them as something that belong to or are for anybody else.

    • ash

      Dare I suggest that some parents are simply lazy and unimaginative?

      They are I think. I can’t understand why they had children if they didn’t want to enjoy their company.


  13. FEd

    Here are three prison sentences of interest:

    ‘Model breaks down in tears as she gets six months for Argos theft’ (London Evening Standard)

    Three females, all aged 22 with no previous convictions. The sentence: six months for intent to steal… plus theft of some chewing gum found at the time of arrest.

    Said the District Judge, “The tragedy is that you are all of previous good character, each of you well educated. You have jobs. You have got plans for future education. You have shown remorse and you have all pleaded guilty. In my view, although I’m retaining jurisdiction, the matter is so serious that only a custodial sentence will suffice. That, I hope, will serve as a deterrent to others.”

  14. Sara

    Remember the army of cleaners and brooms that came out to help clear up? I wanted to tell you a story about another good thing that happened in a very frightening night in Birmingham City Centre.

    My severely handicapped daughter Amy, who now lives in a residential home, went to the Hippodrome theatre. Trouble broke out and the whole area was locked down. The theatre locked its doors.

    I rang my Amy’s home, they said they’d been in touch with the care worker Maxine, who said they were safe. I asked about Amy’s medication, special food and drinks etc, she needs these because she can’t swallow properly. I was concerned they might have to stay into the early hours you see. All sorts ran through my head. Care workers are not allowed to lift patients, how would Maxine get Amy out of her wheelchair if needed.

    I rang the theatre, they re-assured me that all possible help would be offered and whilst they couldn’t make people stay, anyone was welcome to stay as long as they felt they needed. Praise to the Hippodrome Theatre.

    Traffic in and out of the city had been stopped, Amy and Maxine had gone by taxi. How would they get out? Needn’t have worried, the theatre helped when the opportunity came.

    The home is in an area where there was also rioting but somehow the taxi got them home by just before midnight. By 3am, the rioting was one street away from the home. Incidentally, some of the care staff couldn’t get home. There is a shift change between 10pm and 11pm and staff were too scared to leave or couldn’t get to the home to start their shift.

    They were great! Kept their cool and got on with the job. Some of the staff are young women on minimum wage. I was very pleased to discover that Amy’s home send them out with a mobile phone and supplies of what the patient needs, just in case.

    I just wanted to remind everyone that there are good people that will help each other. Police, theatre staff, theatre goers, taxi company, residential home. All great.

    Maxine was terrified and in tears at one point, Amy doesn’t have enough understanding of things, she just enjoyed the evening out! I wasn’t very worried because the police wouldn’t let them go if it was dangerous.

    I joked with staff the next day, Amy was very excited about going out, laughing bouncing in her chair, vocalising lots, I said she was pleased they were taking her to join in the riot! Equal opportunities. Maxine was back on duty at 8am. She went to get shopping in case they couldn’t get out for days.

    These youngsters rioting don’t know how lucky they are nor how much worry they cause.


    • FEd

      Remember the army of cleaners and brooms that came out to help clear up?

      It was heart-warming, but perfect PR for the Tories with all their Big Society bollocks. You could almost hear their brains ticking over:

      Oh, good, you’re cleaning up. Well, it is your street. Doesn’t that feel good? Now, we’ll just stand around smiling for the cameras, all rosy-cheeked and all, then it’s back to the boardroom for tea and scones to discuss firing half of the nation’s street cleaners and dropping back to fortnightly collections of everybody’s refuse and recyclables. Volunteers can always help out. God bless the Big Society and all who toil for it.

    • Sara

      Hello FEd.

      So the gist of Big Society is responsibility for things is shifted from government to society and volunteers?

      Yes, it is a load of rubbish. Certainly doesn’t work for families like mine. I found out that if we managed to get help from volunteers or charities, the council or health withdrew, they said there was no need for their provision. Then when the volunteers left we were left in a terrible mess, still very dependant and now vulnerable. Very scary situation.

      I thought the point of having a government was so it could take care of the needs of the people of the country. Organise and standardise provision of services and we pay rates and taxes to finance it all.


    • tim_c

      Absolutely right Sara, from what I’ve seen of localised, volunteer affairs it’s the worst possible way to work a welfare system.

    • ash

      “Organise and standardise provision of services and we pay rates and taxes to finance it all.”

      That ought to mean no postcode lotteries either. :(


  15. Paul Sexton

    The government decided they might use rubber bullets on rioters, which have never been used on the British main land…. they never had any issue using them along with live bullets in Northern Ireland… sometimes on unarmed civilians.

  16. ash

    I haven’t yet commented on the sentence dished out to Charlie, I thought it was far too harsh. There’s more to this than meets the eye I think. I felt it was an example being set to would-be protesters because the government were fully expecting more protests over the state of the country, the economy and the cuts to everything, unemployment, soaring prices etc.

    In sympathy with Charlie, I hope this looting frenzy and the courts’ subsequent sentencing, will demonstrate that Charlie’s crime was not that bad and his defence team will win an appeal for a reduction in his sentence. They surely need the prison cell for real criminals anyway.

    I’d also like to know, why are the pictures of all these looters not as crystal clear as the pictures of Charlie? The crowds he was in were much bigger too. Weird.

    With regard to the government expecting protests (now I’m going into Mel Gibson mode here), I wonder if there were not enough police so that people would be so repulsed by what they saw, they won’t now take their own protest to the streets. Or will be too afraid of zero tolerance and water cannon. Are the people being manipulated into compliance?

    With regard to the looters, I was surprised at the young age of so many of them and that there were so many females. It’s quite frightening to realise the skills they have learned.


  17. Ian Pearson

    Just caught up with this but here are my thoughts.

    The term “rioters” is not accurate as from what I have seen the trouble is caused by vandals. I deliberately avoiding watching and reading too much as I believe the media contributes to the problem. It seems a spectator sport and we ourselves need to set examples.

    As far as youth today there are more good than bad but the good do not get the publicity. I have taught a few students with the Duke of Edinburgh Award and all have been fab. I have been a Beaver Scout Leader for over 25 years and seen kids 6 and 7 years old act in a so called riotous manner but as a leader I exert discipline which works. We need it and the kids need it, shame some are trying to avoid it.

    Why do people break the law? Because they can, they think they can get away with it. They mustn’t for their own good.


  18. Morgan

    In response to FEd’s question:

    To throw something else into the mix, though: Aren’t we having too many children?

    How many children are too many? Is this something else the government needs to decide for us, as with China’s one-child policy resulting in forced abortions and abandonment of baby girls? Certainly we should limit ourselves to the number we can adequately care for. Unfortunately, it’s often those who cannot care for them who have the most . . . a little birth control and self control seems in order. Here in the U.S., it seems the welfare system rewards mothers for having kids they can’t support . . . I actually heard the mother of a newborn tell a friend she wanted to have one more so she could get a bigger check each month.

    Back to the rioting, one disturbing aspect is that “the rich” are being vilified and blamed for the plight of the poor. Is it shameful to work hard and reap the rewards of your labors? Isn’t it the rich who provide jobs for many by starting businesses and hiring people for the services they need? I can’t afford a maid, but I have no ill feelings toward those who can. It’s a win-win situation for someone who needs a maid and a maid who needs a job.

  19. victor

    The youth are youth, anyway are no bads. Also because in all the world on this day the protest is a good method for changing the tyranny and the injustice, I think.


  20. frank par

    I think Japan leads by example of how a country and society can not only survive a catastrophe, but show love, compassion for their fellow man.

    Looting was the furthest thought they had in mind. Respect and honour, family and kindness told the world it can be done. Parenting is a huge issue that needs recalibrating on most of this planet.


  21. Bill

    Re: “Aren’t we having too many children?”

    There is a clip on YouTube called “the most important video you’ll ever see” which despite the title is actually worth watching. It deals with how the numbers of anything can blow out very quickly and before most people will notice a problem.

    The worst thing we are doing is stuffing more and more people into the world without the resources to make it sustainable. Not everyone needs to reproduce themselves and looking at the standard of people being created, not all of them should be.


    • ash

      Thanks for the information about this video Bill. I watched it, it is really amazing isn’t it?


    • KenF

      A fascinating presentation of harsh reality Bill.

      If Professor Bartlett’s ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy’ seminar is to be believed (the maths certainly seem to add up, although I’m no mathematician), then we’re all screwed.

      And last week’s events will just be the tip of the iceberg.

      Happy days ahead, for us all…

    • Sharon Woods

      Thank you for this link, Bill.

      This is so obvious on the streets of our growing cities and yet in my lifetime, in which the population has in fact doubled, overpopulation is a nearly invisible issue. Many deny that the problem exists, and after seeing the UK riots, well I’m sure the young and uneducated think that the streets were always like this. Or future parents buy into the cautionary anti-paradigm to the China one-child policy and (so to speak) throw out the baby with the bathwater! It’s a point of economic distraction to keep nations (not just the UK) from taking a good hard look in the mirror at the house of cards on which our cities’ foundations were and are becoming more unstable because of overpopulation. You see the more we purchase, the more the nation grows: good for economy and jobs but those calculations did not factor limited and localized resources upon which this planetary doubling occurred. Some belt tightening will happen, it’s just a question of whether or not we prepare for it or let nature take its course. Many governments unfortunately have chosen the boom-bust model, preferring to steer policy away from the difficulties we all face. But Mother Nature can be a very cruel mother.

      Some of that denial comes through in the form of anger: lashing out and even mass violence.

      Cities are unique crucibles of social policy by which the near-future course of countries will be steered. Here in the US, I fear some of our own cities may be at even greater risk. One that I dearly love, New Orleans, is facing these challenges as well.

      This is a difficult but necessary topic. Thank you, all of you, for expressing your valued and unique experiences and points of view. Hugs to all of you from across the pond!

      Sadly, I couldn’t find the song on YouTube, but here’s part of a song by a local stateside Maine guitarist, Jud Caswell: and it’s called “Simplify”:

      “For a man is rich only in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to do without!”

  22. Isabelle Gunes

    Empathy for Charlie Gilmour as well … why such a discriminatory condemnation just because his father is one of the most brilliant guitarists of this planet (and a high tax payer in his home country)? Being a parent of teenagers looking for their own identity and own “songline” is not an easy job, being the child of a Star is an immense personal struggle … I am not convinced each person having been implied into a riot or social movement in the last days would get the same “mediatic punishment” …

    No Wonder Roger Waters is touring with “The Wall” … it used to be a warning to the planet … and we’re into it now …

    With all my sympathy …
    Isabelle from Paris

  23. Taki

    Hi FEd,

    your very good essay had as a result very informative posts!

    As far as I understood right and my information is correct and there are quite a few epithets that would come to mind when I think of the involved people: rioters, vandals, criminals, politicians, idiots…

    In my opinion, it is all a matter of education (the deeper meaning of the word, not what it has become by the needs of industry). Uneducated people are not in the position to judge what the plethora of media air, print, post, blog, not to speak of the adverts that awake needs that most of us either do not need, or cannot afford.

    The tragedy of actions like the ones of the last couple of days is that they give “reason” for more “control”, harder “laws” and are used as an excuse for more restrictions, which then in turn will cause the next eruption…

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I do not believe that any of this can prevented, because humans in masses react using reflexes and not their intelligence. That, and not fear is, at least I think so, the reason why rather quite and intelligent individuals do things as part of a crowd that they’d never do alone.

    To sum up: you FEd and the co-bloggers are right, but IMHO there is no hope for a cure, I’m afraid, except one: have children, love and raise them to responsible individuals. As I’m saying to mine three: I won’t pass you anything other than a good education!

    Best regards,


  24. MickyP

    The only big society are the thieving banks and politicians who have left our young and under privileged with no prospects or future! Just the same old day to day existence that is becoming harder by the day! Cameron and his bunch haven’t a clue??

    “Fathers are absent” he says? But does he know why? I know the main reason is because the law always favours the mother’s side and is biased to UK fathers. Try getting access in a court to see your five year old son like I did and I am a model father! I love my son and he loved me, wasn’t allowed contact for 18 months! This hurts the child at a very vulnerable age!! Very wrong! I was horrified and am still very upset deep down at the pain this is causing in our society and to ALL those dads and kids out there? FAMILIES NEED FATHERS!

    Finally I send my love and prayers to those, like Charlie, for being locked up for protesting against the FOOLS in power that reckon to make a example, it is they who should be making examples teenage girls get 6months for stealing chewing gum??? Teenage boy gets 6months for stealing a bottle of water?? Politicians gets 4months for stealing £8000! GOD HELP US.

    These people should not be in these positions of power, MY BLOOD BOILS WITH ANGER! :/

  25. Alessandra

    What an interesting and difficult discussion. I think it won’t be easy to express my view in English on this subject.

    Maybe I shouldn’t write this here, but, to be honest, my first thought while watching the images of UK riots, was: “Why has something like that not happened in my country, yet?”

    I thought that because, looking at my personal experience and my country’s disastrous situation, I would find it right to protest against a government (the Italian one, I mean) which is only interested in its own criminal issues, shows no respect at all for anyone and anything and is doing absolutely nothing for all those people who are losing their jobs, or never managed to find one, and are becoming unable even to satisfy their basic needs and live an acceptable life.

    Considering that for too many years, now, I’ve been feeling unrepresented and betrayed, not only by the governments I didn’t vote for, but, in the end, also by those I voted for myself and refusing to believe what the mass media always repeats, that all people rioting in the streets are criminals, I just can’t condemn those who protest against their government, if it’s clear that it doesn’t deserve legitimacy and wants to rule just through the exercise of power and impositions. There is no real Authority, in fact, without reciprocal acknowledgement and respect and I think this counts in politics, as in any other kind of social relationship.

    To be continued…

  26. cath

    i thought the prisons were already too full. where will all these people go?

    charlie’s sentence shocked me. i’m still shocked.

  27. mikeT

    ‘Lo All,

    To put it in a bag, Prince Far I. Unfortunately he was shot and killed in Kingston town, I think, some years ago during a “translation between gangs.” A passer by!

    P.S. I think C4’s Street Summer advert is quite worrying. They even squeezed in an artist with a record for punching a copper in the face? Am I normal to say “I’m glad that I have never encountered a town like that in the UK”? If the video is supposedly a take on Urban Music utopia, I’m not interested at all.

    Have fun all and be safe. 😉

  28. Michèle

    I’m currently disconnected from the web, I hope my connection issues will be fixed soon.

    I just managed to get a few minutes here, so I have no time at all to read either what looks like a very interesting post or the comments, sorry.

    Just wanted to say (sorry if it has already been discussed) that I have been disgusted to see on TV that the English police asked/encouraged people to denounce rioters/individuals after showing pictures of them. I think it’s totally unethical behaviour.

  29. debs w j


    Wow Fed. What a great blog – have shared it via Facebook to my friends! The more sense that is written about the last few days the better for all of us!

    I too am a cynical about the police tactics to stand back and watch looting to arrive so late to events – was it policing to show government they need more police not police cuts? If so has it worked?

    I wonder how Cameron and Boris can comment about how to treat those committing vandalism and who hid from the police – did they not do this themselves when younger after a riotous night out with friends? They both ran and evaded arrest after causing criminal damage (FT blog).

    Then there is Nick Clegg, arrested at 16 for arson (listen to his response to if he has any empathy on YouTube in the breakfast show on Radio Nottingham). What was his sentence?

    They are all hypocrites! Along with those MPs who defrauded tax payers money and got low penalties and the Bankers who have caused the economic crisis and want to take bonuses for their work while everyone gets a pay freeze or some lose their jobs in the public sector cuts to try to repay the debts!

    You should ask for a place on Question Time as the media response needs a sensible, educated orator with an understanding about the issues rather than those who are there to provoke the situation.

  30. Alessandra

    Second part.

    Even if, in general, I can justify the exaggerated, but not actually dangerous behaviour of a young individual (as Charlie, for example) that, momentarily and due to the young age, ends up doing something silly and breaking the law (that’s not strange when you’re young, in my view), I can’t easily excuse the violent behaviour of the young criminals who took part in last week’s UK riots just to destroy and take advantage of the disorder.

    That is shameful not only for the reason mentioned above, that it’s wrong and absurd to direct the rage against your same class and its possessions, but also because that kind of behaviour just spoils the political aim and credibility of the protests in front of the public opinion, making those at home, who couldn’t see with their own eyes, more inclined to believe in the pro-government mass media’s lies and exploitations.

    Selfish, antisocial actions like those have just nothing to do with politics (certainly, not with the left-wing one, I think); in my opinion, they might be either a display of the greediest side of capitalism, when the criminals, as it sometimes happens, are young, spoilt bourgeoisies grown up with no moral values (most of time, due to the wrong education they received), or a more serious expression of malcontent, when violent actions are committed by immigrants or people who are/feel socially excluded.

    Our (racist) media repeats to us that the people responsible for the UK riots were immigrants…

    Basically, I agree with those who say our developed and rich (?) societies are coming to an end; this is happening, in my opinion, more for social reasons than for economic ones.

    What I see is a general failure of communication, involving all social institutions at many levels, both public and private, and an increasing confusion in social roles.

    I’m thinking, for example, about all those adults (often, unfortunately, parents) who want to seem young at all costs. How can they teach their children to grow up and become responsible if they never accepted to grow up theirselves?

    What I think is that, in the last decades, due to money and media, our society has become made by eternal adolescents, who want all just because others have it and are very happy to delegate their responsibilities to others (politicians, teachers…).

    So, generalizing, my conclusion is: if young people are actually as bad as described, they are the kind of young people our society deserves, anyway.

    I hope what I wrote makes sense. Sorry if it might seem off topic.

  31. ash

    I read your post again Fed, (great post, you really did cover some ground :) ), about the bankers, I was thinking: Where does the money come from to pay their bonuses?

    Trying to think logically but having no real knowledge, I’ve reasoned that bank staff salaries are paid for out of the profits earned by savers’ money. That’s our money being deposited every week or month. Fair enough, it keeps our money safe, it is invested whilst we are not actually using it and the profits are what pays the salaries. Pretty straightforward. In this respect we are providing jobs for people.

    My bank accounts are hardly paying me any interest. Why is there so much money available for these huge bonuses then? Who said they could take the profits our money is earning? Salary commensurate with level of responsibility, fair enough. Huge bonus???

    I really don’t know because it’s something I never thought about, never even knew it went on until a few years ago. When the banks were bailed out you would have expected big bonuses to be stopped, not that I and maybe many more, knew they were being paid in the first place.

    Can anyone enlighten me please? Are there banks that don’t do this? Other people who provide jobs for people are called employers and generally make a living out of doing it.

    Will probably come out with more questions as I further digest Fed’s post.


    • tim_c


      I’m not a banking expert but I’ve rubbed shoulders with a few …

      Retail banking (i.e. for the general public) is not particularly profitable. The Corporate / Merchant Banks where mega bonuses are paid make money arranging finance for and facilitating corporate activity such as mergers and acquisitions and arranging loans for Companies. Fees are as significant as interest.

      Also lending occurs are a considerably higher margin than paid on deposit – so they pay you 0.5% on your money and lend it to others at say 7% … multiply that by Billions and you get a large profit.

      On top of that are the Insurance, credit card, foreign exchange etc. businesses where margins are high.

    • ash

      So, are the big corporations depositing money in banks and it’s their money that’s making the interest? Or is it our money that is being lent to the big corporations and generating interest?

      I still can’t get my head round the massive profits which are paying salaries, overheads for maintenance of premises etc. but still appear to have enough left for these bonuses whilst we get only 0.5%.

      If these bankers are wily enough to make lots of money out of our money, yes, pay them well for their experience, responsibility, all that but they couldn’t do it without our investment so why do they get extra when they are being paid handsomely in the first place?

      I didn’t know you rubbed shoulders with bankers, know any single, good looking, rich ones you could introduce me to?

      ash :))

    • ash

      The report on the banks, a joint piece of research by the Dutch and Belgium NGOs IKV Pax Christi and Netwerk Vlaaneren, reveals that since May 2008, 166 financial institutions across the world have invested an estimated $39bn in the eight largest cluster-munitions manufacturers.

      I’ve quoted from this article, no need to read all of it, for the point I would like to make about it (although it is interesting reading).

      What I noticed was that $39bn is ten times the amount of money that Ecuador is asking for ($3.6 bn) so it can preserve one of the last places on earth that is untouched by human activity. Please see comment 23 started by Bill above.

      I know I’d like to know my savings in the bank were being used in preserving a rain forest and vast habitat rather than drilling for oil that will serve our needs for about 40 days, yes DAYS (hoping I’ve done the sums properly :v ) and the manufacture of cluster bombs. $39billion on cluster bombs????? WTF???? Bombs won’t solve our energy problems.

      $3.6 bn is a fraction of the £80 bn our government used to bail out the banks (was it that much, anyone know?)


  32. Simon J

    Fed, you need to calm down mate. Your quote “lazy students expecting to be put through university at the taxpayers’ expense when they ought to get a proper job and stop fannying about with books and ideas” is quite offensive.

    I learnt a lot in university, really glad I went. And my parents and family were very proud when I got my degree. I was proud too, cause I revised my balls off for that, and I learnt so much from it. About economics, fiscal policy, political emphasis, really learnt so much from that. But, you’re entitled to your opinion, wrong as it may be.

    • FEd

      Simon, please read that bit again because you misunderstood. That is not my view (well, a select few university courses are rather a waste of time and money in my possibly snobbish opinion, writing as a Bachelor of Arts, but only a few). My point was that all these events – be they riots, protests or strikes – are now serving the purpose of turning people against their neighbours, which is exactly what the government wants. Just listen to the reaction, not only to last week’s scenes which have rightly been condemned as acts of brazen thuggery, but to the striking public sector workers unhappy at having their pensions cut (as we discussed). Instead of showing solidarity with those who are trying to make a stand against a perceived injustice, partly on the unspoken agreement that those very people would return their support some day should the need ever arise, it seems that many people are now looking to protect their own interests exclusively and are viewing all others with deep suspicion and resentment. That’s a very real worry. Of course the government doesn’t want a mobilised, united resistance getting in the way. Our government of millionaires knows perfectly well what it wants to achieve for its corprorate paymasters. It realises the danger in strength in numbers. If workers of all pay grades combined with the unemployed, the disabled, the young, the old, the rich and the poor to oppose this ruthless dismantling of society, any government could be overthrown and change could follow. It wouldn’t require burning or looting. It doesn’t happen because, in the main, we’re individually and collectively out for all we can get. We know there have to be cuts made, so, like cowards, we’d rather stand by and watch as the knives sink ever deeper into the backs of our own brothers and sisters. Any back but ours, please.

      That’s the poison that Lady Thatcher injected into all of us with her vicious ‘greed is good’ philosophy. That’s this country’s sickness and it won’t be cured by betraying those who are brave enough to object to their oppression and that of others. We ought to realise that there’s a knife waiting for each of us in due course.

      That was my point.

    • ash

      I remember when education in this country was free (don’t know about overseas students though). Students didn’t have to pay tuition fees and they got a grant to help with living expenses!!!

      It wasn’t that long ago, my (ex) husband did a degree whilst the kids were little, we both worked part time evenings or weekends and he was able to sign on and claim benefits which he couldn’t get for himself but did get for a wife and children. He didn’t actually sign on because he got summer work. (there was work available in those days!)

      We were able to continue to pay our mortgage and run a small car, a Fiat 500 and a motorbike. We came out of it without any debt. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, we went without a lot, shopped in charity shops for clothes, no holiday.

      It was like this for any student, I’ve told myself we were very lucky to benefit from that. I can’t really remember when it changed, but I feel sorry for today’s students coming out saddled with a huge debt. My daughter will be one of them.

      So much has changed in a very short time, 25 years or less. I can’t remember exactly what happened. A doubling of university population perhaps?


    • JulieD

      We were able to continue to pay our mortgage and run a small car, a Fiat 500 and a motorbike. We came out of it without any debt. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, we went without a lot, shopped in charity shops for clothes, no holiday.

      Really? That’s interesting. 😀

    • Andrew

      That’s the poison that Lady Thatcher injected into all of us with her vicious ‘greed is good’ philosophy.


      You can’t just put that on Lady Thatcher. The premise of ‘greed is good’ is a common thread throughout history and in every country.

      Certainly your mighty queen would aspire to the same statement. Didn’t it make your skin crawl with all the attention and money that was spent on the recent Will and Kate wedding? Was all that pomp really necessary? For me it was totally nauseating of all the coverage and interest worldwide. Tell me what really makes them so special to have such media attention? Apparently another recent royal wedding didn’t get half as much attention and frankly that is the way it should be.

      Greed is good is a belief that is embedded within society and can’t be associated with just one person. Trust me, I am not defending Lady Thatcher but I think you will agree that greed is one of the underlying issues and is what causes a variety of wars and battles; be it gang, military, political, border, social or other.



      • FEd

        Thanks, Andrew. I do agree in part, but Margaret Thatcher transformed society and no government since hers has done anything significant to attempt to reverse what she started. I’ll blame her for most things, thank you very much. 😉

        Yes, the wedding was a terrible waste of money.

    • Simon J

      I understand your point regarding our political leaders not wanting the working and middle classes to join and rebel. That would cause any political party to fall.

      I just dont understand the quote I pointed out in the whole scheme of your point. Oh, well.

      I was once asked a very clever question once. It was…

      “Who are most important – the 20 most powerful political leaders, or the 20 most powerful businesses”. I learnt, through time, it’s the latter. Anyone want to ponder why?

  33. KenF

    Wow Fed, that was a mightily powerful, impassioned, thought-provoking piece.

    I wonder what you see and what you blame. Rap music and gang culture? Racial tension? Police brutality? Inadequate parenting? The breakdown of the family unit? Government cuts? Lily-livered liberals? I still believe it’s poverty and inequality in the main whilst accepting there is no single explanation.

    Each of us has our own perception of culpability, based upon our own individual life-experiences and how and where we were brought up. I’m grateful for the fact that I was brought up in a secure family environment. One of five children brought up on a council estate, I was taught good manners and respect. Reflecting on how my parents managed to achieve this on a lowly, single income, I’m amazed.

    ‘Poverty and inequality in the main’ I agree, are certainly leading causes behind recent events.

    Affluenza – selfish capitalism, certainly has a lot to answer for. Are we all guilty for being sucked into consumerism, for consumption of the latest must-have item? Living beyond our means?

    Multi-national conglomerate corporations and banks, all seemingly on the take. Driven (by unabated greed it increasingly seems) to achieve must-have profits. Media-moguls perpetuating cr*p and expecting the people to believe them. And politicians kowtowing to them all and taxing us to the hilt, just for good measure.

    These are the people with the power to change, however they choose not to use it for the common good, just to preserve their own self importance.

    They all need to show some humility and get back to basic family values.

    Imagine if they did….

    • ash

      Fed said

      I wonder what you see and what you blame. Rap music and gang culture? Racial tension? Police brutality? Inadequate parenting? The breakdown of the family unit? Government cuts? Lily-livered liberals? I still believe it’s poverty and inequality in the main whilst accepting there is no single explanation.

      “Each of us has our own perception of culpability, based upon our own individual life-experiences and how and where we were brought up.”

      Ken, I’ve just read that you too commented on Bill’s comment, the video about exponential growth (thanks again Bill, very thought provoking). I think that is where the problem lies.

      Exponential growth, a doubling in numbers of the human race at an ever decreasing time rate. All of them clamouring for resources. Oh dear.


  34. Howard Bayliss

    Hey Fed,

    I don’t think you want to know my opinion being pretty much opposite from what you said. I will say that poverty in the UK is nothing new. My parents came from the slums of Birmingham in the 1930s. Lack of jobs was prevalent then as it is now. However the attitude seems different today. There was not much to buy back then as computers and cell phones were a distance away. Also people lived within their means back then and society was less ‘me’ and more ‘us’. My parents never asked for something for nothing. They just got on with it and suffered though poverty till things got better. They found it emigrating to Canada after the war.

    My other comments could be construed as Powellish in nature, if you know what I mean.

    Cheers, Howard

    • FEd

      Howard, I don’t know if you heard about the controversy surrounding historian David Starkey. In a nutshell, in a brief televised debate when asked for his thoughts, he blamed black culture and its glorification of violence and resistance through gangs and rap music in part for the riots and said that, through English youth embracing the language and music of black culture, “the whites have become black.” You can imagine how well that went down.

      I might blog about this tomorrow, actually, although it’s dangerous ground to tread. Anyone who attempts to defend Starkey’s comments and offer a better explanation for what he presumably meant, as I would hope to, is going to be assumed a racist and I certainly don’t want that accusation aimed at me.

      Let’s see how brave I feel tomorrow.

  35. JulieD

    To add insult to injury, the students who were protesting against increased tuition fees in December (the trebling of fees for some), caused a rumpus which ended with some Royal knickers in a twist and a war memorial embarrassingly desecrated. As you all know, one shamed student is David’s son, Charlie, 21, currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, his sentence of sixteen months imprisonment considered by many to be purely politically-motivated.

    IMHO it was not politically motivated.

    I am however, neutral on this subject but I would like to point out a few things.

    Royal knickers in a twist? Didn’t a certain person get awarded a CBE from the Queen? Some of my patients who fought during the second world war considered the act of attacking the royal car as treason. David was also wearing his poppy with pride in his photo wearing the medal. Did Master Gilmour understand the significance of the poppy from his father?

    But like I said, I am not taking sides on this issue, I am merely pointing out what “other” people have said on this issue.

    I have to admit though when I saw some YouTube footage of Charlie reading a poem with a friend to the policeman, after he finished, he rather politely smiled and said sorry. He was a genuine chap. I thought it was a rather delightful video.

  36. Rob A.

    Protest is one thing; destroying property and hurting others is quite another. Perhaps those feeling sympathetic towards the rioters should have opened their doors and yelled “all are welcome!” to any nearby rioters; I’m sure they would have calmed down immediately upon entering and realizing that the kindness and understanding they’d lacked lay within. More likely, those opening the door would have had a profound learning experience in the following 30 seconds.

    • FEd

      I think that’s a fair comment, Rob.

      For the record, I have sympathy for what they are, not what they did.

  37. Rob A.

    I’ll venture a take on the David Starkey piece. I believe he was trying to make the point that one cultural group is adopting traits of another culture, the characteristics of which include violence, non-standard language and other antisocial behavior. Because the adopting and adopted cultures correlate roughly with racial groups, his statements carry the whiff of racism, although nowhere does he say that certain races are capable only of lesser achievement/behavior or that one’s racial group dictates what one’s behavior should be etc. (I know nothing of Starkey’s past – if he has made such statements in the past, that would be relevant, but I am not able to make such an observation given my ignorance of his past.) I think he’s on to something, but he phrased it poorly.

    Also, after a bit of Googling, I found a photo of Charlie Gilmour trying to light a fire at the door of the Supreme Court. This is protest?

  38. Luis

    Hey FEd.

    I’m just an overseas observer and my first reaction to the riots in Britain was surprise. Then I recalled the extensive government spending cuts and the protesting made perfect sense. As in May 1968, youngsters are expressing their wish for a change to come now because they need it now in their lives, not in 10 or 20 years (it’s simple).

    In Portugal we are staring to face the same prescription: more taxes on the working class (not to be paid by capital owners, of course) + government budget cuts on social programs, but our people has a 900-year history of submission to central government in Lisbon, therefore we shouldn’t expect significant protests or riots (basically we are Sheep).

    I have personal faith in the British temper to overcome the situation fairly, but it won’t be easy and things can get really nasty if the people’s ability to believe in the future (a basic need for living) is denied or further repressed.

    As John Lennon said: a working class hero is something to be.


  39. ash

    From Twitter:

    Listening to rap (in the name of research, not for pleasure).

    Poor Fed. :(

    We’ll all have plasters ready for your ears, and chicken soup. . .

    To Fed’s boss,

    He’s suffering for his dedication to duty, consider giving him a pay rise.

    ash (hope this helps Fed. . . you can pay me later)

  40. Carl East

    Politicians, generally, are disconnected from the struggles of common folk. I believe this.

    Laws that apply to a common citizen do not necessarily apply to those in high government positions. I’ve seen this.

    But to think that the “government” has “plans” in place to alienate one poor sod from another is an unsubstantiated opinion.

    Homo Sapiens have evolved into a ravenous sick creature. Human history is proof enough. Witness the millions of starving, restless, hopeless people throughout the world. Witness the endless “justified” sanctioned robbery, rape, and imprisonment fuelled by one particular religion. Witness slave labor used to make products so cheaply that any honest industrialist hasn’t a chance to compete.

    Those rioting, mindless, lust driven hooligans are nothing new. There is but a difference in the way they are organized.

    Help the homeless. Feed the hungry. Soothe the weary. Encourage everyone to create art.

  41. MerchantOfVenus

    Well, this is my second attempt at posting now, as I just used the lavatory at the internet cafe and found my PC rebooted when I came back! I´d almost finished my lengthy post so now I´ll make it a little shorter.

    Blimey Fed! I haven´t been reading the Blog for a while as I have no bloody electric or internet at my apartment here in bureaucratic Spain, I could probably get an electric contract easier in a third world country, and don´t get me started on why my Spanish solicitor still hasn´t got my house deeds changed after FOUR YEARS…

    Your post here is great and I see you are making other similar posts lately so I´m going to try and get to the internet cafe more often and make some reasoned responses that such erudite, enthusiastic (love the etymology) and well thought out posts deserve.

    Rage Against the Machine – Bullet In the Head

    Have you read any of the stuff over at Zmag by people such as Noam Chomsky or John Pilger as your excellent and informative posting style makes me think you ought to be sending in articles for them to publish!