Published on March 28th, 2012 | by Sam Hall1
The 2011 London Riots: Causes, Consequences and Chilling Corollaries
Each low point of human history has catalysed a huge series of changes in every aspect of the affected civilisation. The London riots were no different. All of the UK and millions abroad were gripped by it, be they player or spectator. Every day we hear yet another repercussion. Because of this TAY thinks it’s high time to have a medium term reflection on the events that took place over four days in August 2011. As if it being the 236 day anniversary wasn’t reason enough.
British society has now had a chance to consider itself. Yesterday a leaked report from a specially appointed panel pointed at 500,000 “forgotten families” from which the 15,000 participants stemmed. It blamed the education system, parents, businesses and the government. Wikipedia, in its usual manner of flaccid todger grappling and cyber pedantry, suggested another half-dozen causes of the nationwide crime spree. Current discussion within the media has worked its way onto the mind-set widely believed to be adopted by those aged under 24: that of instant gratification, lawlessness, impunity, materialism, and overnight success.
Politically, Cameron did as Cameron do and launched a policy review. We then had Iain Duncan Smith wagging his finger at Premiership footballers, celebrities and X-factor, and David Lammy talking frankly about problems within families and communities. The Mail then did as it do too with an article entitled ‘Smacking ban led to riots’, and by suggesting Lammy advocated ‘a return to the Victorian laws on discipline’.
Individually, many have gone to prison since the upheaval, including a fictional bully turned real in the case of Harry Potter’s Vincent Crabbe. Every justification has been used, be it larceny, arson, receiving stolen goods or incitement through social media. Not to forget those two who were filmed pretending to reconcile and then mugging a badly wounded onlooker. With prison space bulging from the 86,000 thousand currently incarcerated, and the possibility of separation harder, it is reported that gang warfare is raging behind HMP’s bars, which is reassuring yet terrifying in equal measure.
The police, who were criticized both for their handling of the disturbance and their lack of integration with distrusting inner-city communities, have re-evaluated their tactics and may potentially have their powers increased. New rehabilitation plans aren’t forthcoming. Accordingly the Courts were fervent in dishing out 25% longer sentences to thousands of rioters. Furthermore, the law regarding looting was toughened post-riots and tolerance of antisocial behaviour on social media has disappeared, with many more falling foul in similar fashion every day, for decreasingly serious offences.
When you monetize the damage to the UK you are met by the most eyebrow-raising ramification yet. The cost of the extra policing is over £125m. In addition, insurers will pay out more than £200m to looted and destroyed businesses, not to mention the hundreds of millions believed forgone in lost sales, or the loss of revenue that will be suffered over the Olympics period due to hesitant foreigners: losses worryingly put at ‘unquantifiable’.
Thankfully there were some positives which came from the riots – not many mind - which were genuinely uplifting. We had the very British Operation Cup of Tea and the admirable RiotCleanup. And most inspiringly we had the story of Pauline Pearce, the community working, singing, DJ’ing grandmother who fought off attacking thugs. Immortalised footage shows her heroically berating her aggressors, an experience which has propelled her to stand in her local council election.
So there we have it. The riots were desperately expensive and pointed to a gaping whole in British Society, alienated from its neighbours. Laws have been toughened, tolerance of online troublemaking and trolling diminished, the threat to privacy heightened and the prospect of government enforced internet blackouts made more likely. To cap it all examples of genuinely positive consequences are few and far between and even then smack of desperate straw clutching.
We may one day look back at the autumn of 2011 with a tinge of romance, glorying in the beneficial changes it may eventually bring about to our society. But you won’t find blistering sunshine optimism here. At this juncture there is only one conclusion: as a society we failed in our responsibility to our collective selves. Simply put, in so many ways, we fucked it.