Tariq Ali on riots in England: Why here and now?; Neoliberalism’s chickens coming home to roost

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By Tariq Ali, London

August 9, 2011 -- Why is it that the same areas always erupt first, whatever the cause? Pure accident? Might it have something to do with race and class and institutionalised poverty and the sheer grimness of everyday life?

The ruling Conservative Party-Liberal Democrats (Con-Dem) coalition politicians (including new New Labour, who might well sign up to a national government if the recession continues apace) with their petrified ideologies can’t say that because all three parties are equally responsible for the crisis.

They made the mess.

They privilege the wealthy. They let it be known that judges and magistrates should set an example by giving punitive sentences to protesters found with peashooters.

They never seriously question why no policeman is ever prosecuted for the 1000-plus deaths in custody since 1990.

Whatever the party, whatever the skin colour of the MP, they spout the same clichés.

Yes, we know violence on the streets in London is bad. Yes, we know that looting shops is wrong.

But why is it happening now? Why didn’t it happen last year?

Because grievances build up over time, because when the system wills the death of a young black citizen from a deprived community, it simultaneously, if subconsciously, wills the response.

And it might get worse if the politicians and the business elite, with the support of the tame state television and Murdoch networks, fail to deal with the economy, and punish the poor and the less well-off for government policies they have been promoting for more than three decades.

Dehumanising the "enemy", at home or abroad, creating fear and imprisonment without trial cannot work for ever.

Were there a serious political opposition party in this country it would be arguing for dismantling the shaky scaffolding of the neoliberal system before it crumbles and hurts even more people.

Throughout Europe, the distinguishing features that once separated centre-left from centre-right, conservatives from social democrats, have disappeared.

The sameness of official politics dispossesses the less privileged segments of the electorate, the majority.

The young unemployed or semi-employed blacks in Tottenham and Hackney, Enfield and Brixton know full well that the system is stacked against them.

The politicians’ braying has no real impact on most people, let alone those lighting the fires in the streets. The fires will be put out.

There will be some pathetic inquiry or other to ascertain why Mark Duggan was shot dead, regrets will be expressed, there will be flowers from the police at the funeral.

The arrested protesters will be punished and everyone will heave a sigh of relief and move on till it happens again.

[Reprinted from the London Review of Books blog, via Green Left Weekly.]

Tariq Ali blames youth unemployment, alienation for riots

August 10, 2011 -- The World Today (ABC) -- British social commentator Tariq Ali tells Matt Peacock that although the current wave of rioting is new because of the speed with which it has spread and the use of social media, the causes remain similar to earlier disturbances in Britain. It's an expression of anger by unemployed and disenfranchised youth, harrasssed by a police force which itself might be sending a message to government over planned cuts.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: It's not the first time that the UK has experienced this sort of rioting, and according to the leading British commentator, Tariq Ali, nor will it be the last.

Similar disturbances broke out decades ago across the country in protest against Margaret Thatcher's poll tax and there have been other riots in the country's mostly black ghettos.

But what is new is the speed with which the clashes have spread and the slow police response.
Tariq Ali says it could be a none-too-subtle warning to the government about its police cutbacks.
And while he agrees that the current violence is opportunistic and lacks any coherent political motive he told our reporter Matt Peacock it's nonetheless an expression of anger by a generation of unemployed and disenfranchised young people.

TARIQ ALI: What it reflects in my opinion is a growing demoralisation, bitterness on the part of kids who are without work -- it's mainly unemployed kids -- and they see absolutely no hope in the future and do not believe anything that politicians say to them.

It's that layer of society which is using this event to show their discontent.

MATT PEACOCK: One of your colleagues described it as sheer urban machismo -- like it's not coordinated with any sort of political intent?

TARIQ ALI: It is not directly political. No political groups are involved.

But when you hear young people airing their grievances what they say is they've been without work for 10 years, some of them have said that police harassment has become excessive over the last two years in particular, especially as far as young black kids are concerned and Muslim kids, and that this is an expression of anger.

It is inchoate, it's not organised, and it's interesting what they go for in all these areas.
They go for shops with trainers and shoes and they go for mobile phone shops.

These are the shops that are targeted, raided and all the stuff pinched which bears out the general view that these are essentially kids from very poor families.

MATT PEACOCK: Most of the flashpoints have been as you've said areas with high unemployment, yet that's not likely to be fixed any time soon, in fact the trend is the other way, I mean I saw a figure last year - the richest 1000 in Britain grew richer by 30 per cent.

TARIQ ALI: Exactly right and the same process is taking place in the United States and the politicians don't care.

We don't have an opposition party in this country, we have two parties already in a coalition and the third pretty desperate to become part of that coalition officially, the way they talk and the way they behave.
You see the politicians, they say virtually the same thing. They're criminals, there's nothing more to be said and we're going to find them.

And then they're saying perhaps we should have a curfew. The Labour leader said parents should keep their children indoors.

I almost rang his mother who'd an old friend of mine and said,"Could you get your boy in?"

MATT PEACOCK: Sporting fixtures have now been cancelled, a lot of them. Is that going to make things worse or better?

TARIQ ALI: Well, it's a reaction to the fact that London is out of control.

I think they will get the city back into control very quickly now but they have to cancel these sporting fixtures and underlying that of course is the real fear of the government which is that will this put off people coming to the Olympics next year?

Because there's absolutely no doubt that people are planning huge demonstrations and actions during the Olympics because as usual a lot of money has been spent which hasn't been available for other projects, places have been knocked down, allotments have been got rid of to prepare London for the Olympics and there's talk of making the roads exclusive roads for Olympic participants at key points.

So there's a great deal of disquiet about that.

But even more than that disquiet there's now a fear that what if these riots start again next year? What is going to happen?

And today there was talk that maybe during the Olympics the army should be placed in charge of key points. Well that's interesting.

MATT PEACOCK: And what of the police? They seem to have been caught a little unawares and under-strength, apart from triggering the original rioting I guess with the incident with Mark Duggan. What of their role since?

TARIQ ALI: Well more of them are out on the streets. All police leave has been cancelled.

But friends of mine who are in Hackney, which is an important mixed area in the east end of London, and people who were walking the streets last night and observing things said the police did not intervene at all.
And the general view was that this was the police getting its back on a government which has said that it's because of austerity measures the police force has to be cut down to size, recruitment has been limited, et cetera, et cetera.

So there is that view too that the police deliberately went on a go slow in some areas to show the government this is what happens when you don't give us enough resources.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The British commentator Tariq Ali speaking to Matt Peacock.

Con-Dem chickens come home to roost

By Socialist Resistance

August 8, 2011 -- The first year of David Cameron’s Con-Dem coalition was marked by austerity; massive inequality; rapid impoverishment of millions of people; corruption in the media, police and politicians; destruction of public services. Its second year looks set to be marked by massive industrial action and open conflict with the state in the poorest parts of British cities by the people with least to lose. That is the significance of the riots that have been taking place in London.

The immediate causes were two actions by the police. The first of these was the killing by armed officers of Mark Duggan and the subsequent treatment of his family. A justifiably angry demonstration gathered outside the local police station on August 6. It was the police behaviour then that detonated the riot, a fact that has been omitted from virtually all the subsequent reporting.

As this eye witness account makes plain the police attacked a 16-year-old girl with batons. This video clip captures something of the violence of the police behaviour. It was virtually inevitable that aggression of that sort would provoke a paroxysm of rage among the local community.

Neoliberalism’s chickens are coming home to roost. Haringey council’s £41 million cuts devastated the borough’s youth provision. Only last month the local MP David Lammy demanded government action to deal with a 10% rise in unemployment in Tottenham was now has 10,514 people seeking work. Local residents have been saying in interviews that thousands of people in their late 20s have never been able to find a job. It’s no surprise then that the shops selling designer sportswear, mobile phones and state of the art TVs and MP3 players are being looted by people who know that they’ll never earn enough to buy these things.

The capitalists can’t have it both ways. On one hand they say you need these things for status and to feel fulfilled and on the other most of the jobs on offer pay poverty wages on short-term contacts.

By contrast the very rich have never had it so good in living memory. The High Pay Commission reported on August 8 that executives in FTSE 100 companies received average annual pensions worth around £175,000. The average British pension is a paltry £5860 and the Con-Dems want to make working people poorer still. At the same time they are hell bent on transferring vast sums of money to the 300 000 people who pay the top rate of 50% tax on earnings over £150 000. London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for it to be scrapped and his millionaire chum George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he wants to get rid of it.

These things may not have been on the minds of the teenagers who were grabbing £100 trainers from JD sports. What they did know was that there are people out there who have wealth and privilege and are using their power to keep millions of people poor. A riot is a spasm of destructive anger and inarticulate protest but it is one of the ways the voiceless make themselves heard. In the autumn the unions and the radical left have to make their voices heard and start rolling back the Con-Dem offensive against our class.