It's been a long week.
I have seen places close to me geographically boarded up and my area of London, usually vibrant with people going about their day shopping, drinking, going out for meals or just ejoying the summer resembling a ghost town by 4pm.
I have seen places where l have worked for years, landmarks burnt into my memory destroyed, removed from sight, no longer available to me as l visit friends who still live and work in the areas, markers telling me that l am closer to my goal.
I also sat and watched as for two hours David Cameron the millionaire Prime Minister of Great Britain stood in parliament and preened, sternly lectured and deflected with his oratory excusing the policy decisions he and his simpering Chancellor George Osbourne have decided on which in part helped stir the problems we saw explode at the start of the week.
But l have been heartend by reading two opinion peices by men l would not normally listen to on issues. Both sum things up brilliantly.
The first is Peter Oborne, who writes for The Telegraph (once owned by the convict Conrad Black) and a paper so far to the right it would make the most rabid teabagger back away without making eye contact so finding this piece in there was more than a shock.
He draws a parrallel between the disenfranchisement of those at the bottom with the disenfranchisement of those at the top who at least have a willing government to serve their needs. As he rightly puts it:
It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a dinner party in a large house in west London. A security guard prowled along the street outside, and there was much talk of the “north-south divide”, which I took literally for a while until I realised that my hosts were facetiously referring to the difference between those who lived north and south of Kensington High Street.
Most of the people in this very expensive street were every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage over the last few days. For them, the repellent Financial Times magazine How to Spend It is a bible. I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.
The same sadly can be said about the borough of London where l live called Wandsworth. Its far worse in Newham and Tottenham. One of the policies brought in by the current cabinet of the very rich, for the very rich is the reduction of housing benefit for those at the bottom. Some, like former Mayor Ken Livingstone, are rightly calling it the ethnic cleansing of London. These are strong words and some will throw their hands up claiming that the words go too far but sadly there is evidence.
I worked in Croydon for eight years (so the fires at Reeves Corner and London Road were almost as big a shock to me as to those who lost everything). On many occasions l met schoolfriends who came to purchase goods from me. When l asked them where they lived they would all mention places nearby to Croydon, places that were at maximum a few miles away. None of them lived in Wandsworth where they grew up. When l asked why they all said the same thing "I can't afford to but a house there". There were 1500 boys in my year at school. The majority lived in the area but now, unless they were lucky and their parents were primary council house tenants there was little to no chance of them owning or renting for a reasonable rate any property in the area. The average monthy rent in Wandsworth for a 1 bedroom flat (or apartment) is £800 per month with a private landlord. That is over two thirds of my monthly wages if l went private. A shocking example you have to say, but it leads to a divide in community. Long term residents are watching as people with no long term association with the area are buying up all the properties. Long term residents who rely on local services have had them cut and in Balham and Clapham where there were thriving local markets they are down to tow or three stalls. Not really showing community spirit there.
But back to the article:
The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.
The tragic truth is that Mr Cameron is himself guilty of failing this test. It is scarcely six weeks since he jauntily turned up at the News International summer party, even though the media group was at the time subject to not one but two police investigations. Even more notoriously, he awarded a senior Downing Street job to the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, even though he knew at the time that Coulson had resigned after criminal acts were committed under his editorship. The Prime Minister excused his wretched judgment by proclaiming that “everybody deserves a second chance”. It was very telling yesterday that he did not talk of second chances as he pledged exemplary punishment for the rioters and looters.
One thing Peter Oborne didn't mention was Cameron's member ship of the notorious Bullingdon Club who were most famous for destroying people's restaurants then throwing money over their shoulders to pay for the damages as the ran off laughing. Where was Cameron's "stronger sense of morality and responsibility" then? When his friends and schoolchums in the banking industry were looting the pensions of those who had invested and robbing us blind with junk bonds and mortgages, where was his sense of outrage? He was against the idea of making the bank pay back what they owed, something that Gordon Brown had got them to do, which really shows which side of "morality and decency" he and the other acolytes of Thatcher are on.
Oborne ends his piece thus:
Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.
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.
To that l say amen.
The second comes from Russell Brand. I'm not a big fan of his but like most people l really have to say that l have only know the public face of the man. This opinion piece shows a deeper, more thoughtful person than his public image implies. He makes no bones about the fact that he now lives a happy married life in LA but as a jobbingh actor and comedian trying to break through he lived in parts of London attacked which he describes lovingly. Moving onto the disenfranchsiment issue he has this to say:
I remember Cameron saying "hug a hoodie" but I haven't seen him doing it. Why would he? Hoodies don't vote, they've realised it's pointless, that whoever gets elected will just be a different shade of the "we don't give a toss about you" party.
Politicians don't represent the interests of people who don't vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him (like Rose West, "He must've known") that the newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.
Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, "mindlessly", motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that's why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.
Not all young people are involved in politics but even in the background they watch the news and thy see the newspapers and the simple fact that NO-ONE in the banking community who pillaged the purses of those who couldn't afford to lose everything have been punished, politicians who forged expenses claims including David Cameron, have either been allowed to pay them back or received light sentences and corporations have cut staffing levels to increase profits while squads of lawyers and accountants work hard to ensure they don't pay their share when it comes to taxes (Sir Philip Green's Arcaida Group paid less in tax last year than footballer Wayne Rooney did thanks to the company being registered in his wife's name at her Monaco address).
There are problems which need to be solved and questions to be answered. The media doesn't always help. Yesterday the BBC held a special "Young Voter's Question Time". On it they invited members of the Reeves family who's business had been destroyed in Croydon. One of the panelists rightly asked why representatives of Mark Duggan family or the families of the 20 young men murdered in London in the last few years were invited. It was also pointed out that it was amazing that Cameron stood up and showed his outrage at what had happened on monday, tuesday and wednesday but where was his outrage for those murdered?
There are still a lot of issues to be solved beyond the actual riots. Just don't expect the government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich to be the ones to solve them.
Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:24 AM PT: Wow. Two rec lists in a row. I am glad to be part of this community and l hope l can keep the standards up next time.