|The feral elite and London rioters - how our rich have built a society defined by greed and loot.|
There is no doubt that social tensions sparked the round of violence: the police, having shot a Tottenham man dead in unclear circumstances , refused to talk with his family or a crowd who went to a police station to stage a silent protest on Saturday evening. As tempers flared, a young girl was allegedly attacked by six policemen and from there the rest, as they say, is history. Tottenham town centre was in flames by the early hours of Sunday and from there disturbances have spread around the country, reaching Salford in Greater Manchester this evening and Leeds last night.
And yet, this is no Tahrir Square, nor is it an echo or amplification of the student demonstrations in London last autumn. Whilst undoubtedly many who have taken part in the riots and looting are socially excluded, others are clearly not - and obtaining goods such as X-Boxes, perfume, rucksacks and designer clothing appears much higher up the agenda than protesting about cuts in social care and eduction services. Likewise, some incidents, including forcing passers-by to strip naked, go far beyond any political protest. Small, local shops have been destroyed alongside the chain stores in clearly indiscriminate attacks. So is there anything more than criminal greed?
The BBC interviewed two girls this morning, drinking stolen wine at 9.30 am, laughing about the fun they had had and eagerly anticipating another night "showing the rich" they could do what they wanted. As one commentator noted, "Where we used to be defined by what we did, now we are defined by what we buy. These big stores are in the business of tempting [the consumer] and then suddenly these people find they can just walk into the shop and have it all."
Our society has shaped the pent up desires for the luxury goods being targeted - jewellery shops and electrical stores are prime targets. With the recession making many of these out of bounds for so many, the denial being expected of generations raised on aspirational acquisition is simply too great to be sustainable, especially in a society as characterised by extremes of wealth as ours. As "The Spirit Level" by Wilkinson and Pickett so powerfully explained last year, unequal societies are not only less happy ones, they are also more troubled, crime-ridden and violent. The actors do not personally need social or political objectives for such a drama to unfold.
But more than just stoking the demand for these possessions, our society has now also created the permission required to take what you can. We live in a country with a ruling elite now exposed as being utterly mired in greed and corruption - and rewarded for being so. It is a genie that once out the bottle is returned with great difficulty.
Our Members of Parliament have been exposed for their greed and gluttony over the expenses scandal. With Government leaders claiming for cleaning septic tanks, the Deputy Prime Minister getting his lawn cut at taxpayers expense and MPs "forgetting" to stop claiming for redeemed mortgages, our representatives punished barely a handful of scapegoats and are now back to claiming more than they were before the scandal erupted in 2008.
Our bankers, exposed for their ineptitude and greedy speculation, have been bailed out to the tune of nearly £40,000,000,000 of taxpayers' money - over £1,000 per British adult - yet continue to receive tens of billions in bonuses. The richest dodge their taxes, with the authorities writing off billions, like Vodaphone (£6 billions excused). Public services are being closed to keep our rich elite in champers.
Some of our police, the London Met most of all, have been shown to be riddled with corrupt practices - with cops receiving payments from newspapers for confidential information; investigations tainted by officers receiving gifts, lunches and even jobs from the people under suspicion; and just last week a Chief Constable and his deputy suspended for alleged fraud.
And of course, we have our Prime Minister, David Cameron. In his own youth, Cameron was, along with London Mayor Boris Johnson, a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University (see picture on left above; Cameron is second from left at back; Johnson is on the right, sitting). This society of toffs was known for its practices of pot-smoking, drinking and eating to excess before carrying out some "robust" redecoration of the restaurants they used for their revelry, the main difference with this week's rioters being that Mr Cameron's associates had their Daddies' money to pay for the damage they wrecked. Indeed, Boris Johnson's biographer notes:
"I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men." And Cameron himself has reminisced fondly that,“Things got out of hand and we'd had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.”
And so, as we fumble forward to find the motives for the riots - so presciently predicted last year and then helped along by the policies of Nick Clegg and his confederates - there is no doubt that we live in a country where any moral compass is gone. Our "feral elite", as Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has described them, are out of control.
What is the real difference between our grasping rich, ripping off employees and consumers and dodging tens of billions in tax, and the kids nicking £300 sound systems from Currys? Perhaps not even a sheet of broken glass...