Friday, August 19, 2011

Riots, rubbish and the decline of Britain

A remarkable amount of rubbish has been spoken and written about Britain’s riots.
Start with Prime Minister David Cameron. “These riots were not about poverty,” he said this week. “That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.”
The beleaguered prime minister might wish poverty was not a factor, but he can’t possibly know it wasn’t.
In fact, The Guardian, in a fine piece of journalism, gathered the addresses of 1,100 people charged in the riots and plotted them against a map showing neighbourhoods’ official measures of “multiple deprivation.”
The majority of areas where suspects lived were deprived, and two-thirds of them had got poorer between 2007 and 2010. More than 40 per cent of the suspects lived in the bottom 10 per cent of communities on the deprivation index.
That does not justify rioting or theft or any other crime. But it does suggest it is stupid, if the goal is understanding and prevention, to pretend poverty, joblessness and deprivation are not factors.
Then move on to consider the moral outrage of politicians of all stripes, who spoke as if the rioters were aliens who had emerged, to everyone’s shock, on British streets.
Peter Oborne, the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph, a staunchly conservative newspaper, laid that to rest brilliantly.
There was something “very phony and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in Parliament,” he wrote. “MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.”
“I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society,” he wrote. “The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.”
Sir Richard Branson, he wrote, was considering moving his Virgin operations to Switzerland to avoid taxes. A report said that might be a blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer — the finance minister — because it would mean less government revenue.
“In a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor,” Oborne wrote. “People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted.” People who have become rich in part because of the structures of British society — schools, roads, police — no longer wish to pay their share.
MPs stood in Parliament to deplore the looters’ theft of TVs and designer clothes, Oborne wrote. But the same politicians greedily grabbed whatever they could under their lax expense provisions until they were exposed. Can a Labour MP who made taxpayers pay for a $14,000 Bang & Olufsen television really claim to be much different from a looter lugging a flat-screen TV out of a shop?
“The prime minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate,” Oborne wrote. “He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor ... He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.”
I visited England four years ago, for the first time in years.
The greatest shock was the drunken louts, obnoxious and threatening. They weren’t all young, and it wasn’t a matter of being in the bar zone at night. They were in Exeter, a quiet university town, at night, and on trains at midday. They seemed a symptom of a decaying society.
As do the riots.
I don’t want to add to the rubbish. But any society that restricts upward mobility, cuts supports to those on the bottom who have become dependent on them over generations and not only accepts a perpetually uneducated, unemployed underclass, but tolerates lawless acts by some of its members, is going to face big problems.
If it increasingly celebrates the gap between the rich and the rest — winners and losers under the system set up by the winners — those problems will be more dramatic.
And no amount of politicians’ pronouncements, policing or moralizing are going to change the reality.
Canada is, of course, much different. But we should, perhaps, think about just how much different.


Anonymous said...

There are no ethics in Canadian government either.

A newspaper as far away as Australia said, how badly democracy in Canada has eroded.

What do you call it when, Harper sent his henchmen to storm Guelph University, to prevent the students from voting? They even tried to steal the ballot boxes.

What about, Harper not permitting scientists to publish their results? Everything has to go through Harper first.

Then we had, Ex BC Premier Gordon Campbell, ex finance minister Hansen and Harper colluding of the unfair HST tax, before the BC election. AND, the HST wasn't on their radar. The BCR wasn't for sale either.

Canada is a cesspool of corruption.

At least, there are two M.P's in England doing time for corruption and theft.

In Canada, our P.M. Harper rewarded the worst, most despised, corrupt politician in Canadian history, a cushy job as, High Commissioner to England, for doing his dirty work for him.

Who says, crime doesn't pay? It sure in the hell does in Canada.

The most lawless of all in Canada, are government officials. They lie, thieve, deceive, use dirty tactics, break promises, employ convicted felons, and absolutely, will cheat to win, even use robo calls to confuse voters, of where their voting venues have moved to. All kinds of crap, goes on in, SQUEAKY clean Canada????

The lid will eventually blow off, in Canada too. We are all damned sick of, our politicians corruption. Canada has no room to talk about England. Canada is every bit as foul.

Dawn Steele said...

IMHO - I don't think we're much different, except perhaps in scale.

We have effectively written off a whole under-class of Canadians - First Nations - using their cultural heritage to excuse the gap just as the Brits do with West Indian youth or the French do with Muslim youth.

The lingering recession has hit young people especially hard - youth employment rates and prospects are way down but no one's talking about it because we're all too preoccupied with what's happening to our RRSPs, property values and pension plans.

The gap between the super rich and the chronically poor has widened dramatically, just as in the UK and elsewhere, eating away at the middle class that provides the bedrock of social and economic stability in any healthy society.

We've turned our back in BC on the worst child poverty rate in Canada and on deep cuts to education and to services and supports for vulnerable children and families, preferring instead to invest in tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and exorbitant executive pay in the hope that we can get a piece of that sweet action.

We're being given a major wake-up call but it's not yet clear that we're willing to do what's needed to get back on course. I don't see that happening before there's a critical mass of voters (and thereby political leaders) who accept there's a huge difference between progress and raw wealth accumulation.

Anonymous said...

As a Brit ex pat - now living in Canada for 35 years, I think the rot started back when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of Britain.

I have visted the UK on a regular basis up until 200 or so. On each visit there were visible signs that not all was well. The greatly increased number of police on the streets. The very large numbers of people unemployed and often, having UI running out and no prospects for improvements to their situation.

Of course anger, frustration,hopelessness, despair, all factor into the crowds reactions. I don't think anyone approves of this type of behaviour. On Maggie Thatchers watch they had the very violent riots and demonstrations over the pole tax. The British government eventually changed their mind and abandond the scheme. This, it is widely thought, started the decline inpopularity for Thatcher and rresulted in her demise.

Ignore the people who elect you is a sure fire way of creating situations such as demonstrated in Britain, Vancouver, Egypt, Greece etc. Unfortunately, the politicians cannot see the problems that they themselves cause. To blame the public is a total rejection of the real world and those that function in it.

Without adequate reform and proper studies, the governments are doomed to fail. Sweepingthings under the rug does not clean up the room.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you anon 11:07.

In Canada we have University graduates, slinging beer for a living, with huge student loans to pay back.

Don't think the students don't see the corruption in this country. They do, acutely. Campbell's theft and sale of BC's rivers, will put hydro up, 53% higher.

In BC they saw Gordon Campbell thieve and sell BC's assets. They saw both Campbell and Harper, strip their province, right down to the bare bones. They see because of the HST, jobs have simply vanished.

They see how, Campbell, Hansen and Harper scammed the BC people, thieving our HST money, to give to big business. Harper was drooling at the mouth, for BC's HST, so it was forced upon the people.

BC as a province of natural resources. The HST does squat for the people. The HST is, out and out exploiting the BC citizens.

We know Europe has no use for Harper, for lying about the dirty tar sands. Trying to con them into, the dirty tar sands is clean energy.

What will they think of Campbell? He has very dirty political records. The Brits hate corruption, and the tar sands both.

I also know, Campbell's political records, were all sent to England. Including Campbell's drunk mug shot, at the jail in Hawaii. This could be interesting.

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Bernard von Schulmann said...

The socio-political culture of Canada and England are very different - note that the riots were all in England and not in Scotland or Wales.

I lived in London in the mid eighties are the early nineties. What I saw there was a nation that was dramatically divided on class lines. Working class people spoke with a different accent than the upper class. The experience of the working class was clearly different than the other classes. In Canada almost everyone thinks of themselves as middle class.

In England you can in theory cross from one class to another through education, but the core level of education in England is so much less than here in BC. O levels, taken at age 16, are about the same as grade 8 or 9 here. A levels are like doing half of grade 11. The working classes remain very badly educated.

The criminal justice system in England is more like the US than Europe. The percentage of working class men that have spent some time inside is staggering. The police are still viewed as the enemy, the enforcers of the will of the ruling elite.

What surprises me about these riots is how they are much less political in nature than those in 1985 when I lived in London. The riots also actively spread out to much richer neighbourhoods. It is this spread that will lead to much bigger crack down. The 1985 riots, and the early 80s ones, did not lead to mass arrests of people, but then those were all in working class housing estates.

It is 26 years since the 1985 riots and functionally the issues I saw then in England have never been addressed.

Anonymous said...

The real reason for the London riots

The British found out that Canada was deporting psychopathic convicted criminal Gordon Campbell, AND making him Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

PW wrote: "Any society that tolerates lawless acts by some of its members, is going to face big problems."

"A former British Columbia lobbyist and political power-broker who admitted bribing a Liberal ministerial aide to get government information in the BC Rail scandal has been cleared to practise law in Ontario." - Camille Bains, The Globe and Mail

Norm Farrell said...

"The majority of areas where suspects lived were deprived, and two-thirds of them had got poorer between 2007 and 2010. More than 40 per cent of the suspects lived in the bottom 10 per cent of communities on the deprivation index."

I suspect you are aware of a slightly similar socio-economic divide in BC's HST referendum. From Northern Insights:

The HST outcome appears to reflect the financial status of voters.

Voting strongly to keep HST in place:
West Vancouver,
North Vancouver Seymour,
Vancouver Quilchena, Point Grey, False Creek, Fairview,
Delta South,
Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

Voting strongly against HST:
Vancouver Kingsway, Kensington, Hastings, Fraserview,
East Richmond,
North Island,

That indicates an unhealthy class division that all Victoria legislators should think about. We must take steps to heal divisions in Canada before they become wider.