Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The UK Riots

A Scottish expat living in Canada asked me about the UK riots the other day, when I was playing an online game of draughts or checkers (the name varies according to which side of the Atlantic you hail from).  They dropped the subject when they found out that I was living in Florida nowadays.  The joke is that I know as much about the riots now, as a British expat, as I probably would have done living in Britain.  Because of the internet, my news sources regarding the riots in the UK are exactly the same here in the USA as they were in the UK, mainly the BBC and The Guardian online (although I can also get pretty much get any US or UK tv channel or newspaper over the internet).

I have lived in numerous places in the UK, but spent much of my adult years in the Leeds area, which strangely enough, was largely unaffected by the UK riots.  I say strangely because Leeds is a big city with some very rough areas and bleak housing estates.  The Chapeltown area, which I know well, rioted back in the 1980s riots, but there was relatively little trouble there this time around.  I have lived, or spent quite a bit of time in some of the English inner city areas that were affected, however, including Dalston in London, Manchester in the North, and Leicester in the Midlands.

I must admit that I wasn’t surprised that there was rioting in the UK.  The sudden drop in living standards caused by the recession was likely to spark trouble at some point.  Plus, for some reason, there often tends to be more disorder when the Conservatives are in power (although that may well be because they are usually voted into power at times of economic struggle).  But like most people, I was shocked by the form that the riots took, with mobs of amoral underclass youths looting at will.  It seemed almost medieval in character.  I’ve heard the UK riots described as ‘shopping with violence’, and it seems difficult to disagree with that assessment.

Everybody looks into the smouldering ashes of the burnt out shops and cars and sees what they want to see at the end of the day and I am probably no different, but here is my take: In recent times, the UK seems to have lurched from crisis to crisis: the MPs’ expenses scandal, the police getting bribes from the News of the World, bankers awarding themselves massive bonuses despite being kept afloat by huge public bailouts, and now the inner city riots...  I am on the centre left politically, but strangely enough I found myself agreeing with an article in the (conservative) Daily Telegraph, namely that:

“The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.”

Over here in the US, the problems are no better, but they take a different form, with political polarization virtually paralyzing the government and all the cross party consensus of previous years seeming to evaporate in the new, vitriolic atmosphere. 

The world is not in a good place at the moment.

Further Reading

An American expat in the UK talks about her experience of living in the capital during the London riots in the Telegraph:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/8697385/Expat-in-London-my-fear-during-the-riots-gave-way-to-pride.html

Telegraph: London and UK riots: 50 powerful images: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/uknews/8693000/London-and-UK-riots-50-powerful-images.html


  1. I completely agree with you about the causes behind the riots, funny how I too am shocked that I agree with your snippet from the Daily Telegraph, here's something from the Guardian today that seems to have factual evidence to back up this theory too..http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/16/austerity-programmes-cause-riots
    Its just so sad, I never thought I'd see the UK ever in this much turmoil...

  2. In my experience, moral decay is usually a 'top down' occurrence - meaning that it begins with the leadership and it is usually there that you can spot the origins. I believe that is true in both the US and the UK.

    And you're right, the world is not in a good place at the moment. There isn't anywhere to go that isn't facing major problems, either societal, political or financial.

  3. Good point, not like you are getting some special news feed that only British people are privy too. Agreed with all your points. I don't know what the heck the world is going to do over the next year. Guess we just have to watch and wait! And maybe not riot ;)

  4. Good blog Paul,

    I agree with you - the western world is not a good place to be in at the moment.

    We seem to have lost sight of responsibility and consequences - we are lost in the "every body else is doing it so why shouldn't I" mentality.
    Certainly the bankers didn't get consequences, the MPs (apart from a few of the more blatant ones) didn't get consequences and local government seems to be riven by an "I am entitled" mentality.

    The rioters might well get consequences but I do wonder if we are addressing the right problem.

    As for the US I have heard it described as government by the rich for the rich and sod the rest!!!



  5. @English Woman - Like your article says, austerity always risks social unrest. Also, as the end of the article suggests, although it is a little alarmist, if you get too much turmoil, there is always a danger of extremists getting bigger roles in politics.

    @Xy - If anything, I would say that there is wider discontent with the political classes in the US than there is in the UK, although the critics are very divided about the nature of the problems and solutions.

    @Texa - Strangely enough, I spoke to my mother a couple of days into the riots. She lives in England and was unaware what was happening because she doesn't follow the news, whereas I'd been following events live from the USA! hehe! (I think you are probably safe from the rioting in Finland! lol)

    @David - Money is certainly the be all and end all in the USA, as far as power goes.

  6. Great post. Yes, I agree with your Telegraph snippet.

  7. I have to say that the nihilistic anger shown by the British youths isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Back when I was a teen in the late 70s, we had a thing called punk rock.