In a blog post for Labour List, Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, describes the riots as a catastrophe; the political consequences of which may be felt for a long time to come.
Jones fears that the growing backlash against rioters may be indicative of an impending swing to the right. With public mood supportive of an authoritarian response to those involved, and discourse surrounding the debate one of prejudicial and divisive generalisation, it seems that right-wing attitudes are primed to take hold across Britain. As Jones writes:
My real fear is that we have just witnessed another crucial stage in the political ascendancy of the right. When asked how he would cure what he described as a "sickness", one of David Cameron's key suggestions was "a welfare state that doesn't reward idleness". And so begins an attempt to link the actions of a few with benefit claimants as a whole.
I thought Napoleon said it. But no, it's in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776), book IV, section vii, part 3 (about half way through). Here's what he says:
To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.
We might want to add news-mongers, phone hackers, cops on the take, MPs slurping up the lard at the trough, all the bankers and the other high net worth individuals.
But what was Adam Smith on about?
One of the most succinct and intelligent descriptions of 'urban regeneration' was a film by Jonathan Meades called On the Brandwagon. It begins with the 1981 riots in Liverpool, a city whose population had halved and whose dockyards had closed down, then moves through the government's attempts to put a sticking plaster over the wound. First, ineptly, through the Garden Festivals bestowed on the city, alongside the first 'enterprise zone' version of Regeneration; then more dramatically through New Labour's abortive attempt to turn our chaotic, suburban-urban cities into places more akin to, say, Paris, that riot-free model of social peace. The middle-class return to the cities, adaptive re-use, luxury apartment blocks, Mitterandian Lottery-funded grands projets, loft conversions in the factories whose closure brought about the main problem in the first place. The film ends in Salford Quays, its gleaming titanium a ram-raid's distance from some of the poorest places in Western Europe. The likely result? 'There will be no riots within the ring-road'.
We've long congratulated ourselves, in London, of the fact that we have no banlieue. We applauded ourselves especially smugly when zoned, segregated Paris rioted a few years ago. It's not like it's untrue - give or take the odd exception (a Thamesmead, a Chelmlsey Wood) our poverty is not concentrated in peripheral housing estates. Edinburgh might wall off its poor in Muirhouse or Leith, and Oxford might try not to think about Blackbird Leys, but in London, Manchester/Salford, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham—the cities that erupted on Monday 8th August—the rich live, by and large, next to the poor: £1,000,000 Georgian terraces next to estates with some of the deepest poverty in the EU. We're so pleased with this that we've even extended the principle to how we plan the trickledown dribble of social housing built over the last two decades, those Housing Association schemes where the deserving poor are 'pepper-potted' with stockbrokers. We've learnt about 'spatial segregation', so we do things differently now. Someone commenting on James Meek's great London Review of Books article on parallel Hackneys mentioned China Miéville's recent science fiction novel The City and The City, where two cities literally do occupy the same space, with all inhabitants acting as if they don't. Miéville set it in Eastern Europe, but the inspiration is surely London.
David Harvey writes on feral capitalism and the UK riots:
"Nihilistic and feral teenagers" the Daily Mail called them: the crazy youths from all walks of life who raced around the streets mindlessly and desperately hurling bricks, stones and bottles at the cops while looting here and setting bonfires there, leading the authorities on a merry chase of catch-as-catch-can as they tweeted their way from one strategic target to another.
The word "feral" pulled me up short. It reminded me of how the communards in Paris in 1871 were depicted as wild animals, as hyenas, that deserved to be (and often were) summarily executed in the name of the sanctity of private property, morality, religion, and the family...
But the problem is that we live in a society where capitalism itself has become rampantly feral. Feral politicians cheat on their expenses, feral bankers plunder the public purse for all its worth, CEOs, hedge fund operators and private equity geniuses loot the world of wealth, telephone and credit card companies load mysterious charges on everyone's bills, shopkeepers price gouge, and, at the drop of a hat swindlers and scam artists get to practice three-card monte right up into the highest echelons of the corporate and political world.
Slavoj Žižek writes for the Guardian on the disturbing logic behind Anders Breivik's justfications for his actions in Norway. Comparing Breivik's ideology to that of Pim Fortuyn, Žižek argues that Breivik 'manifesto' fits into the growing intersection between right-wing populism and liberal political correctness.
Breivik's self-designation shuffles the cards of radical rightist ideology. Breivik advocates Christianity, but remains a secular agnostic: Christianity is for him merely a cultural construct to oppose Islam. He is anti-feminist and thinks women should be discouraged from pursuing higher education; but he favours a "secular" society, supports abortion and declares himself pro-gay.
His predecessor in this respect was Pim Fortuyn...a paradoxical figure: a rightist populist whose personal features and even opinions (most of them) were almost perfectly "politically correct". He was gay, had good personal relations with many immigrants, displayed an innate sense of irony - in short, he was a good tolerant liberal with regard to everything except his basic stance towards Muslim immigrants...
Indeed, he was the living proof that the opposition between rightist populism and liberal tolerance is a false one, that we are dealing with two sides of the same coin: ie we can have a racism which rejects the other with the argument that it is racist.