In the wake of this week’s British riots, there have been far too many clichéd phrases – London’s burning, London calling, anarchy in the UK – floating around as tabloid headlines. Well, I’m about to the list of clichés by referring to the rioters as ‘a few bad apples’. Now, there may be more than just a few of these mindless morons destroying cities across the UK and looting carpets from Carpetright, but the number of teenagers who condemn them is significantly more. But guess who will not only pick up the bill, but the blame as well?
Of course, it’s not just my generation who are supposedly to blame for the violence and arson currently raging across all corners of London – the police and governments past and present are also the current favourite scapegoats of various commentators in the news. The coalition’s cuts are allegedly a primary factor in the riots; apparently, because those on a lower income are so poor after the wicked government has had its way with their wallets, and rendered them unemployed after axing their jobs, their only choice was to go out and cause trouble so they could loot shops. Alternatively, they couldn’t afford their license fee, so they thought they’d make their own soap opera, with a few more explosions thrown in for good measure. Now, I’m not denying that the government cuts are having a massive, negative effect on huge swathes on the population – particularly those on a lower income – but to suggest that the chain of thought above caused the riots is, quite frankly, insulting and patronising to the millions of people who are quietly struggling on through the recession, despite their own personal difficulties. Hardly any of these people will ever have had the faintest inclination towards joining the brainless, gormless idiots smashing shop windows in with chairs. I’m always up for a bit of Tory-bashing [Ed: This never claimed to be a political bias-free blog…], and I’m more than happy to say that their over-eager cuts are partially to blame for the potential double-dip recession on the horizon. But blaming the coalition for the actions of a minority of thugs who failed to make the upgrade from animal to civilised human being is ludicrous. Blaming the cuts is a last-ditch resort to justify the actions of people who saw the opportunity to steal a free perfume or two.
What particularly aggravates me is when tuition fees are raised as a potential factor in the riots’ occurrence. Yes, the protests last winter may have been marred by minor scenes of anarchy, but the reason that the violence and vandalism were contained is because there were few enough of these anarchists to be controlled by the riot police. The anarchists were far outnumbered by those who went along to support a worthy cause that they believed in, enough to be kettled for nine hours in the middle of a freezing cold London for aggression that, for most of them, wasn’t their fault. With the incidents in the last few days, though, the police have been proven unable to cope with the onslaught of petrol bombs and other missiles; they’ve been overrun by groups of people who are looking for nothing more than a glorified brawl. It may have begun when a peaceful protest in support of a cause was hijacked by militants, but these nihilists aren’t supporting any cause – they’re just taking advantage of the fact that most of Whitehall is on holiday, the UK boasts a nanny state police force that must investigate any instance of a policeman raising his baton, and the issue of chronic overcrowding in prisons. The student protests in no way came close to resembling the lawlessness seen in the last few days.
In any case, I find the suggestion that students would be so unequivocally stupid incredibly offensive. The vast majority of students I know were horrified when violence broke out at the tuition fees protests, knowing that such actions undermined an incredibly important issue; a police van being burned and Millbank being briefly besieged is not on the same level as a load of buildings being burned, hundreds of jobs being lost through arson and looting and people’s livelihoods being destroyed on this scale. That’s not even touching on the horribly counterproductive logic that would be implied through a supposed student-led riot – we’re distressingly in debt because of student loans, so let’s smash up the capital and increase our debt through increased taxes to pay for the damage? Fantastic train of thought there. Reportedly, the only shop in Clapham that avoided being looted was a branch of Waterstones – not exactly the mark of the book-smart. I don’t like indulging in class stereotypes on what tries to be a rational and inclusive blog, but when the shops frequently being looted are the likes of McDonalds, Primark and JD Sports, it just adds to the patronising ‘chav’ stereotype – not something that needs to be reinforced.
Usually, deeper analysis on occurrences like this is to be encouraged. Perhaps there are underlying issues here that can be addressed and learned from – in my opinion, it’s absolutely time to hand more power to the police to prevent this kind of idiotic anarchy in the future. But let’s not try and pretend that these animalistic cretins are rioting for any other reason than an excuse to have a punch-up and get some freebies while they’re at it. If the blame game is going to be played, let’s hold those actually committing the crimes responsible rather than those who are mere spectators to these awful riots. That way, we may be able to rehabilitate them rather than forever letting them off the hook because a few things in the bigger picture could have been slightly better thought through.