Sunday, 14 August 2011

Strumpetvill en-flambe

Wow, when things kick off here they really go for it! Never do things by halves in this town.

Fella and I live in sunny Woolwich, and on 8th of August the three days of rioting finally reached our district. First it was reported on the news and we nervously watched events unfold. Then they began to unfold outside our window. Flames leapt up into the sky and there was smoke everywhere. I wasn’t sure we could stay where we were. Drama, gentle reader, drama.

I spent much of the evening excitedly texting friends and colleagues to check if they were OK; some close friends offered us a chance to stay with them if need be but we decided to stay put.

The next morning I went into the town centre, a few minutes’ walk away, to have a look at the damage. Burned out buildings and police cars; the fire brigade still tackling fires. It was a scene reminiscent of the blitz or a bombing. Even now some of the damage is so severe streets remain closed.

I’ve never experienced a riot before, even at the periphery. It was all quite exciting, in a scary sort of way. I’m a little worried it will all kick off again tonight; we’ll be battening down the hatches and Fella is under strict instructions to come home at the earliest possible time. The last thing I want is for him to be caught up in any disorder. The streets are quiet now, but the sense of menace is palpable; people regarding each other with suspicions, shops still closing early. The whole atmosphere has changed.
For me, the most important thing going forward is finding out why this happened. It’s not race, youth, or any easy label. Although the riots arose out of a peaceful protest about the police shooting a man in another area, there is no single Great Injustice that can be singled out for blame.

I wonder if it’s symbolic of the state of the world right now. With the economic, political and military turmoil going on right now it sometimes feels like we’re in a Weimar-hyperinflation-Poland is lovely this time of year situation. Another part of me wonders if this symbolises the emergence of the underclass; third generation under-parented, under-educated people without material poverty, just poverty of aspiration.

A couple of years ago I was a member of a residents association that covered about 420 families; a mixture of social housing, tenants, owner-occupiers; young professionals, families, retirees; a real ethnic and social mix. That worked. Mixing people together meant the standards of civility or social behaviour were so much higher than estates where so many people have been dumped. Everyone working together brought everyone up. People were incentivised to keep up with their neighbours, and people learned from each other how to do better.

Going forward as a country we need to focus on ensuring our towns and cities are mixed communities of all types of people; ethnically, socially, economically. We need to ensure that schools teach people properly and that will cost money. As will a decent prison system that deters crime but reforms criminals. The benefits system should reward and incentivises (and includes), rather than keeps poor people out of sight and mind.

That will take years. Decades probably. But they manage in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia – we can, frankly, beg borrow and steal ideas from around the world.

In the meantime windows will be replaced, buildings rebuilt, politicians will make their sound-bites and do the bare minimum in order to make this go away. I hope the social scars will be as easily dealt with.


Flo said...


You might find this interesting if you haven't seen it already:

I don't think there is a simple answer and no doubt we will debating the causes of these disturbances for many months to come. For my part, I note that what went on involved not only not only "estate" kids but also significant minority of older, working people. There is a lack of morality here somewhere and it probably does stem in part from the kind of society that Thatcher then New Labour and then this mob created. Cameron's reactionary proposals don't do anything to encourage any sort of improvement in our culture and I find his implication that the whole of society is broken to be BS, which is funny as of course Broken Society abbreviates as BS. However my lessons in morality started at home, not at school and certainly not from listening to politicians.

Fight the power (but not JD Sports).


Mike said...

The way politicians are talking definitely won't help. Parenting, education, opportunity will take time but are our only real options. You are right about it needing to be a home based thing - teachers can't do it; politicians don't have the credibility; and we police on the cheap!