Who could forget the big crisps heist of the summer of 2011? With Poundland in front of us and our comrades behind us, we held the world and special-offer broken biscuits in the palms of our hands, along with a bottle of Pantene medicated shampoo and a pack of genuine Cussons Imperial Leather soaps. Luxury! That was all we could carry for, in the spirit of solidarity, we had to share our booty fairly with the bredren and we were mindful of such things. I cast my eyes across the cornucopia of Stuff I could only dream of and wept that my pockets were already crammed with Haribo gelatine sweetmeats. So with a giant Toblerone or two clenched between my ample thighs, I hurried out into the night knowing I would eat this day and have shiny hair also.
We felt like kings.
Welcome to Thatcher’s children: the logical conclusion of the dictum that “there is no such thing as society”, that we are all as atomised as a handful of broken biscuits. Rampant consumerism, celebrity and bling. Knowing the price of everything (even if you can’t afford it) and the value of nothing. How cheaply these kids have been bought and then sold on to the lowest purveyors of crap.
I’d wondered idly before in this blog what it would take to knock Murdoch and the rest of The Sopranos who’ve been running this country off the front pages. It’s as if once the mask was ripped off the Dark Lord’s face (and replaced with a foam pie), a maelstrom of malevolent forces was unleashed: a right-wing nutter massacre in Norway, the bullet-train crash in China, the end of the US space age that had represented such hope, the deaths of two majorly talented women (RIP Amy and Fran), and now the UK riots.
There may not be a political objective in this insurrection, but the situation has its roots in politics. Triggered by the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan last week, the anger fuelling the riots had been building for a long time.
In this topsy-turvey world, the unelected Tories, backed up by the LibDems (cursed be they unto the last Ramsay McClegg) forced the poor to recapitalise the bankers following their crisis and recession, while the rich remain untouched. Cuts to public services will see this country on its knees while directors and bankers pay themselves Croesus-sized wedge — the bankers in particular are now paying themselves more in bonuses than they are lending, despite benefiting from a public bail-out. Emboldened by the flabbiness of the Labour opposition, the government is even considering cutting the 50p rate of tax for the top one percent.
VAT is the most unfair tax going, and raising it to 20 per cent has halted the slow climb out of the doldrums that was underway. The poor pay the highest proportion of their income as tax and still the party of the rich keep on squeezing.
The media taunt us with images and tales of the super-rich as if they are a good thing. Bernie Ecclestone buys his daughter Regan — or is it Goneril? — a £56 million house in London while her property portfolio includes a £60 million mansion in L.A. The new aristocracy tell us in their demeaning X-Factorish product that you only create “art” in order to gain Stuff, fame and all the baubles that we’d once rejected as meaningless tat. No inner life, no self-respect, no introspection. Just feral impulses encouraged by a feral elite.
What did we think would happen? There have been voices telling us that we have to listen to the people who’ve been stripped of hope, with nothing to look forward to but a future of Victorian levels of poverty. How much did the EMA cost us? That measly £30 a week to encourage kids to continue their education, to grow inside, feel self-worth and make themselves employable. At £560 million per year for an entire generation, it was cheap in comparison with the estimated £100 million plus that the riots will have cost. And how do you put a price on the damage done to the national psyche? To race relations? To trust?
The outreach workers who were connecting with these kids now have no jobs thanks to the cuts. Libraries are closing. Wonderful solid old Victorian brick schools are being sold off as luxury flats while rubbish boxes are built to replace them. Oh, I’m sorry, even that’s not happening, thanks to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
People were burnt out of their homes and at least one man has died. The nation has welcomed martial law into our country.
The damage runs deep. The looted items stand for far more than just the acquisition of Stuff.
Two fictional references come to mind: Pottersville, the corrupt town which sprang up where there was once a community in It’s A Wonderful Life. And the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where our eponymous heroine has never been born. Beloved Characters are now vicious murdering vampires once denied Buffy’s positive influence — the finale where lovers and friends kill each other is one of the saddest moments I’ve seen in a TV show. You look at the kids rioting and it’s hard not to imagine each and every one of them as fully-developed, kind, intelligent, self-reflective individuals able to participate in society as productive human beings — if only they had been born in a different time-line.
Instead, we have mere shadows of people. Yes, criminal elements have to be punished. The young people who did this have to learn that there are consequences for destructive anti-social behaviour against their own bredren, innocent people. But so should the grand theft looters at the top who have set the agenda and the example. As above, so below.
Meanwhile, Murdoch and his friends carry on like it’s bidness as usual.
Musical commentary by The Bermondsey Joyriders with “Society Is Rapidly Changing”. Video by me.
Brilliant Photoshoplooter pix
Sympathy and condolences to the friends and family of the three who died last night in Birmingham.