Tuesday, August 16, 2011

David Cameron's bungled speech on riots

The London riots were not about race, government cuts or poverty, declared  David Cameron in a speech at Oxfordshire on Monday.

Mr Prime Minister, I beg to differ. I believe the riots were about all these three and more. And here is why.

Cameron: ‘These riots were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian’.

Yes they were. Let’s go back to what started these riots- black anger at the police. A black man called Mark Duggan was shot dead in suspicious circumstances, his family and friends protested outside the police station and were ignored. This is the single most trigger to the riots. The riots started off as clashes with the local police and were later joined in by the other members of the black community and then when the looting began, everyone got in.

Dismissing race as a reason is just shirking away from answering the difficult questions on why racism still exists in the police and why a certain community is still feeling victimized. By Cameron’s own admission, ‘in Tottenham some of the anger was directed at the police’. Perhaps if he asked why, he would know the answer had to do with ‘racism’.

Cameron: These riots were not about government cuts: they were directed at high street stores, not Parliament.

Economics research scholars  Hans-Joachim Voth and Jacopo Ponticelli say that the more the governments cut back, the greater the chances of social unrest. This is their unambiguous conclusion after analyzing 90 years worth of data for 26 European countries.  
They say,
“Of course, not every rioter or looter in the streets is merely trying to make a public statement against coalition cuts., but the chances of things going wrong in a spectacular way increase as the fiscal conditions change. Once cuts go above 2 percent of GDP, a major surge in the frequency of destabilizing incidents can be expected.”
The rioters were able to successfully carry out the mayhem for four days because they did not strike the parliament which is well protected and has little public interest value (remember the students protest) compared to the high street stores in several parts of the city and country – a tactic that worked in the favour of the rioters to create enough destruction before the police could mobilize themselves.

And yes, it was also a lucrative proposition because the looters thought they could benefit too – from the treasures in the high street store that due to government cuts and job losses many find beyond their meagre means.
Cameron: And these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.

I agree that not all poor people would resort to such activities and that gives hope to society that all is not lost. Cameron’s blames a ‘broken society’. 

Somehow every problem seems to linger on a 'broken society' and every solution on a 'big society'. This Observer cartoon by Chris Riddell in 2008 (below) seems very appropriate every today. Not much has changed- just replace 'global financial crisis' with 'UK youth riots' and you have Cameron saying the 'burning issues of the day IS this broken society.'
Yet, Cameron does not think the riots had anything to do with poverty. Dismissing poverty is just an excuse to not address the growing income gap in this country (the bankers are still getting bonuses) and the ever growing number at the bottom (job are lost everyday).  

Perhaps he should glance through this map that shows that the riots took place in some of the most deprived areas of London.

Or he could look at some preliminary research on the demography of the riots in Manchester. Liverpool University urban planning lecturer Alex Singleton, who studied the data that Guardian has been collecting for people accused of riots going through the magistrates courts around Manchester, found that:

• The majority of areas where suspect live are deprived - and 66% of them got poorer between 2007 and 2010, when the last survey was published
• 41% of suspects live in the 10% most deprived places in England

Singleton says,
 ‘Those people who have been appearing on riot-related charges (typically young males) live in some of the most deprived areas of our largest cities, and in neighbourhoods where the conditions are getting worse rather than better. Rioting is deplorable, however, if events such as this are to be mitigated in the future, the prevailing conditions and constraints effecting people living in areas must form part of the discussion. A “broken society” happens somewhere, and geography matters!’
As the leader of a country that has seen one of the worst youth riots, its time, Mr. Prime Minister, you addressed the difficult questions.

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