The Guardian and the LSE have published their findings
on the summer riots. There is no doubt that this presents valuable data, which broadly supports the argument of those on the Left who said it was primarily a response to political injustice. The analysis acknowledges that, for some, the riots presented an opportunity to obtain free goods. But it does not support the claim that the riots were predominantly an outburst of criminality, or that gangs played a significant role. The riots were mainly political.
It finds: just under half of those rioters interviewed were students, and a significant component of their anger came from the sense of injustice over the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the tripling of tuition fees, cutting off higher education and thus life chances for millions; of those who were not students, 59% were unemployed, in contrast to some misleading coverage claiming that a disproportionate number were in work or even middle class; gang members played at most a peripheral role; while there was a wider perception of social injustice motivating the involvement rioters, the issue of police injustice, horrificially underscored by the murder of Mark Duggan, was the most significant cause of the riots; 73% of those interviewed had been stopped and searched in the previous three months. Now, the issue of the police was always marked by a strange silence in the accounts of those who said that it was primarily a matter of 'looting'. Much of the rioting that took place centred on confrontations with the police rather than theft or vandalism. Such theft as did take place was not always clearly pecuniary in motive - often it appeared to be targeted, as did some of the vandalism. In fact, the main form of 'opportunism' that is apparent is where young people, often on the receiving end of police harrassment and violence, saw an opportunity in the breakdown of police control to exact revenge. Because of this, many of the interviewees express pride, not remorse. They say they felt empowered, and would do it again. This is not new
. So, all this data is useful and should be scoured carefully, the findings reviewed in their full complexity. Have a look at this video by Guardian
journalist Paul Lewis:
However, as I understand it, this study is a limited review of one aspect of the story, that being the motivations and views of the rioters. The other main reports come from the Metropolitan Police, and the government's 'independent panel'. It is undoubtedly possible, through a reading of all of these reports, against the grain where necessary, to acquire a workable political understanding of what took place, and what is highly likely to take place again. It's important that such an understanding should inform a broad political response. The government, far from retreating on its agenda, is gearing up for major confrontations. The police, far from facing justice, have recently been let off the hook over the death of 'Smiley Culture', and now have more weapons with which to threaten people - as student protesters menaced with the possibility of water cannon and rubber bullets can attest. One would like to think that the dominant response will be in the form of social struggles, protests, strikes and occupations. Indeed, that is more or less what one expects. However, the most implausible scenario is that the riots will be a one off. And that's something that we have to be ready for, especially given how insanely most people reacted.
So, here's a proposal - a bit late, but still worth thinking about. We need a people's inquiry into the issues, the narrative, the outcomes and the appropriate response to the riots. It should be funded by subscription or donations, and it would require the participation of people able to put in a lot of hours interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence. There is a model for this. Recently, I was directed to a number of reports published in the 1980s concerning riots that had taken place. These were unofficial people's inquiries, conducted in a judicious manner with the aim of establishing a full narrative which would disclose what public authorities were reluctant to acknowledge, and what was occluded in media coverage focused on vandalism and violence: police brutality, official racism, and so on. For example, in response to the events in Southall in April 1979, an Unofficial Committee of Enquiry was set up, chaired by Michael Dummett, to establish the narrative, the causes and failure on the part of the authorites. It heard evidence from eyewitnesses, participants, those directly or indirectly affected in Southall. It collated and scrutinised data published by the authorities. The final report was published by the National Council of Civil Liberties. Among the Committee's members were Stuart Hall, who wrote much of the report, as well as Labour MPs such as Joan Lestor and Patricia Hewitt (uh huh), alongside trade unionists, clerics and a representative of the Asian Resources Centre in Birmingham. This doesn't seem to be available online, but I got what I think is a rare copy from Amazon, and I shall be scanning it and making it publicly available as soon as I can. The idea here isn't to retrospectively endorse every conclusion reached, or to say that we can simply mimic every principle of organisation adopted then. Rather, it is to illustrate how a well-organised inquiry bringing together a relatively broad coalition of elements can form the basis for a political response. Now, I don't know how one would begin to go about materially constructing the coalition necessary to get an inquiry up and running today. I don't know what it would cost or who would supply the personnel. But I bet some of the people reading this have a better idea than I do. So, think about it.
Labels: education maintenance allowance, metropolitan police, neoliberalism, police brutality, police shooting, riots, tories, tottenham, tuition fees