Tonight London was within hours of being razed to the ground by the very citizens who usually keep only her home fires burning. Same Last night, and the night before that. I am among the least politically influential minds of mine or any other generation. I have never started, contributed to or, even, been a victim of a revolution, not within my knowledge, anyway. Political upheaval and world events rarely rock my protected bubble, I'm pretty much just an observer. It's a capacity I feel comfortable in.
I like to think of myself as being at least as politically aware as the next guy, though. And surely there can't be anyone who doesn't recognise that scenes like the ones unfolding (should I want them too) on my high-definition 24hr news channel tonight, were bound to happen sooner or later.
Britain, stiff-upper-lip or none, is a powder keg. It's no different to any other capital in the developed world, given the right catalyst the shit could hit the fan equally hard in New York or Paris. The difference lies in how repressed the population feel at any given time. How many bottled concerns lie deep within, how profound is the feeling of uncertainty; insecurity.
One thing is certain, Britain, as a people, is shit scared right now.
Mass unemployment, spiralling inflation, racial tension, gang culture, complicated reform systems that nobody understands, political apathy, international financial instability, foreign conflict, there's an awful lot going on out in that world everyone sees on Sky News, and it's an awful lot of weight to bear on ones shoulders, should you choose to show an interest. Unfortunately, while everybody seems to know that these issues exist, nobody seems placed to do anything about them.
The root cause of all the urban chaos seems, to me, to stem from the fact that nobody knows where to start addressing all these concerns, and nobody knows when the list will stop growing. Picture a scene in typical primary school classroom. You're the teacher and it's a wet playtime. Mr Hawkins, the headmaster, has just called a meeting after three, it's one o'clock and you've got at least two hours until then to manage the kids. It's raining so they're all inside. Some of the boys are playing with the LEGO, some are throwing it around, some are eating it. Jessica has just made a sandcastle on the carpet. The class Hamster has escaped. Somebody spilled the paint water and hasn't cleared it up. Timmy has a nosebleed, Ellie misses her mum, Chloe has wet herself. A small group of girls are asking you to read them a story, a small group of boys are playing football, in the classroom, using a globe. The phone rings, it's Mr Hawkins, the meeting will be at half past three because some PTA members are coming to see him. Any more input and you feel your cranium will explode. Then Olivia is sick, and you let out the biggest scream you ever have in your entire life.
The room falls silent, all movement ceases. Everyone, suddenly, is looking at you.
This has just happened in London. The dispossessed and frightened, and tragic numbers of hangers-on, have let out a collective scream.
There is no way I can possibly endorse this kind of thing happening, but I can totally understand it. The actions of the individual can only be assessed on a singular basis, but when a single action is taken jointly by an entire population, it's hard to ignore the truth in might is right.
I begin to wonder about individual daily issues that I struggle with personally. Fuel prices, for example. My woefully low-paid position at work sees that I have to work my first hour and a half every day just to pay for my being there. To fuel my car costs me at least £60 a week, and precious little of that fuel is used for leisure. And there's the further pain that the majority of that £60 is going to the government in tax. So, I work the first ninety minutes of the day just to pay to be there, twenty two percent of which I pay the government with income tax, and the money I have left I then spend on the fuel I need in order to allow me to earn the money on which I'm being charged income tax in the first place.
OK, I can make my peace with that, it's how the world works. But the tax on fuel has incrementally risen throughout my entire life. Every time the price of crude goes up, the government inherit a stealth tax increase because fuel duty is based on a percentage; the more expensive the fuel, the more tax the government make. They're not going to argue.
It's not really fair, though, especially when experts have declared that the current high rate of inflation is largely contributed to by high fuel prices. Is this worth rioting about? Probably, but there must be more appropriate joint actions we could perform.
How about if everybody simultaneously went to their local garage and filled with fuel. Call it 12 O'Clock. Brim the tank. Ten million motorists, all across the country. Now, what would happen if every one of those motorists drove off without paying? You'd have ten million phone calls to the police, resources totally overstretched, it would lead to total and absolute turmoil, all from a synchronised event that would take less than five minutes.
The government would have to ask themselves what had just happened, and would be quick to dismiss it as petty theft on a grand scale, but would be much wiser to ask themselves why it had happened, and how can we alleviate it from happening again?
What if every motorist in the land, en masse, visited the post office and demanded a refund on their road tax? The Post Office are obliged to oblige, but would ten million refunds of two hundred quid each be enough to rock the system? Would this cause enough chaos to force the government into at least looking interested in the plight of the motorist, if only to placate them with flimsy promises yet again?
Even bloody train tickets. If every trainload of commuters tomorrow refused to present a valid ticket for travel, there is absolutely no way revenue collection could be effective on such a grand scale. Saying “No” to the ticket inspector when he issues you a penalty fare will see you thrown off the train at the next station if you do it as an individual. But if everybody on the train does the same thing unilaterally, as do the people on the next train, and the next, at every station on the network, mob-rule has effectively taken over.
Somebody is forced to take notice.
I hope some good does come of the unpleasantness currently blighting urban Britain. I hope, if nothing else, somebody in Government has realised that the country is reaching critical mass. In the eyes of the man on the street, there are too many unanswered questions; too many unresolved issues. Everything seems to involve a “five year plan” or an “internal investigation”, or, worse still, a “feasibility study”.
This is of little reassurance when you live in an area of London with severe racial tension and a growing gang culture, when you have a job which only just covers the rent and no real prospect of anything changing. You might well wonder if anyone in the government actually gives a fuck about you. This, I fear, is the popular view on the street. The population feel that they're being controlled, not helped.
Anarchy on such an unprecedented scale as this comes down to a battle of wills; The People versus the Government in a game of Who Doesn't Give A Fuck The Hardest.
There are three obvious and unfortunate side effects of this rioting and feral activity. Firstly, there is a sizeable element of society who, let's face it, love being assholes. They're addicted to it, whether it's spitting in the streets, flicking the bird at other drivers who just will not let them pass at 90 when it's their God given right, dropping their discarded KFC cartons on the floor because, like, out of sight, out of mind, right? They can, and probably will, keep making merry with the Molotov and the sledgehammers till the cows come home. It's what they do, with the slightest provocation.
Secondly, there are many hundreds of rioters and looters who, far beyond any reasonable political statement (and we've established that there is one, no matter how far down the list of priorities that seems to have fallen) will emerge from the burning hulk that used to be Debenhams carrying some really nice crystalware, a pair of 501s, a new flatscreen for the kitchen, actually, while I'm at it, I wonder if I can find some coasters to match the placemats I got last night?
The looting is even more antisocial than the vandalism. Yes; it carries some weight of message in as much as “you've told us what we can't afford, so we're taking it anyway”, but in less greedy societies looting tends to surface when survival is at stake, not just having more belongings. Should the cost of living reach the stratosphere then going on the warpath to steal bread and milk might have some justification. Nicking a plasma from a high-street store, doesn't. Want, it seems, overtook need ages ago, and here, if needed, is further proof.
Thirdly, it has invited rabid commenting by those totally unqualified to do so. Me, for example. I'm currently reclined in my bed, some sixty miles from the front-line, typing in the darkness. In half an hour or so I'll upload my fevered whimperings to my 'blog, where it will be hosted and broadcast worldwide, ready to be read or ignored by an unfortunate society. It's sheer, unadulterated indulgence on my part. I have no political insight whatsoever, I can bring no wisdom to proceedings, this is just me getting something off my chest.
And why are you reading this, really? You may have come here to learn more about the riots of London, August 2011, and if so, you have come to totally the wrong place, I'm sorry. The only educational worth this piece carries is if you are making a study on how the great unwashed react to current affairs; we blog about them. But more likely you're reading this for entertainment. Either way, I'm sorry to disappoint you.
It would appear, if the footage on BBC News is anything to go by, that any political justification for the rioting has been taken over completely by assholes just wanting to cause chaos.
I give up. Way to put your point across, guys.
The above represents my personal view at 02:21 AM on Tuesday 09th August, and then again at 19:45 on the same day. The next thing I write about on this 'blog will be about cars, I promise. The image of the shit hitting the fan was stolen from; paulowensblog.blogspot.com. Sorry, Paul, but thanks. In the above text Chris Haining makes no incitement towards contributing to scenes such as we are all watching on TV. Don't do it.