"Good evening! We're expecting disturbances in many parts of the UK this week."
So said Richard the Met Office weatherman, at 1.00am this morning. Tongue in cheek? Surely not.
Thank you Richard. You're not wrong either.
But as Bob Dylan said, back in the Sixties - you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
All evening and all night long there's been chaos and violence on the streets of London. Yesterday it was Enfield. The night before Tottenham. Last night there was anarchy in Hackney, Camden, Southwark, Lewisham, Clapham, Brixton, Woolwich, Ealing . . . and Croydon. Yes, Croydon. Several shops and other premises ablaze.
Buildings set alight, barricades erected, mobs roaming the streets - looting shops and attacking inadequate deployments of riot police.
Many of us expected this to happen last summer, and when it didn't we began to wonder just what it would take to provoke public anger and riots in this country. MPs stealing public money? Bankers' salaries and bonuses? Unemployment? Falling incomes? Rising prices? Student fees? Deep cuts to public services? Hacking scandals? Police corruption?
Well now we know. A squad of armed police surrounded a suspect and blew his brains out with handguns. The police claimed the guy had shot at them. A police officer apparently claimed that the radio clipped to his chest had saved his life by deflecting a bullet. A day later it turned out that the bullet in question was of a type that's used by the police . . .
On Saturday the family and friends of the dead man organised a peaceful protest and a demonstration outside Tottenham police station. It took four hours for the police to see them. (Were they invisible?) Somehow the demo turned into a riot . . .
On Sunday morning Nick Cohen's column in the Observer had this headline -
No Riots in Britian. Just quiet, ever-deeper anxiety.
What we are witnessing in this recession is not abrupt catastrophe but the slow erosion of the hopes and aspirations of so many
'When will there be riots?" eager journalists ask thinktanks, sociologists and anyone else who monitors Britain's unravelling social fabric. "When are the British going to imitate the Greeks and the Spanish and snap?"
On the face of it, their questions are reasonable. Contrary to the predictions of nearly every expert, inflation roared ahead of wage increases after the crash of 2008, squeezing the living standards of all but the most fortunate harder than at any time since the 1920s. The asinine George Osborne tightened the vice further by raising VAT in the middle of an outbreak of stagflation. Meanwhile his coalition's austerity programme is ensuring that public services will begin a long slow decline into shabby inefficiency, as public-sector workers start to lose their jobs en masse. Working- and middle-class families have already lost tax credits. The poor have already lost benefits.
To cap it all, the distribution of the pain is so monumentally unjust it cries to high heaven for a reaction. The banking crisis and the flooding of the market with easy credit were the City's follies.
But it is not London and the south-east which are suffering but the Britain north and west of the line from Severn to the Wash. [????] While the state bailed out the City so the bars could carry on heaving and the banks could carry on delivering fantastic rewards to their "stars", it has allowed the provinces to sink.
So complete has been the capture of the coalition by the moneyed interest that Osborne says in all seriousness that the one fiscal measure he simply must have at any price is not the relief of poverty or an easing of the burden on middle England, but a tax cut for the wealthiest 1% of earners.
These arrant insults ought to push the most mild-mannered people into revolt. Yet in Britain they provoke only students to riot. The wider public remains resigned rather than enraged; indifferent rather than incandescent.
[Not any more. Oh no, not any more.]
If insecurity continues to grow, our old assumptions will have to change. Imagine that Margaret Thatcher had died before the crash. Even her toughest critics would have had to accept that many of her reforms had succeeded and she had allowed the private sector to flourish. Now the world she left us has fallen apart, and her deregulation of finance in particular seems like a ruinous blunder. . . Now that the financial system Labour relied on to provide the tax revenues for social reform has crashed, the centre-left's old maps are useless as well.
Thatcher's Enterprise Society and Blair's Cool Britannia are lost worlds The promises both parties offered to those who "worked hard and played by the rules" of rising living standards, a secure retirement and a better life for their children sound empty. Millions are living thwarted lives of quiet desperation, and cannot see a way to escape them.
This morning John McDonnell MP said this -
Reaping what has been sown over 3 decades of creating grotesquely unequal society,with alienated young copying ethos of looting bankers.
Many people will question his rhetoric - since it was all quite legal for the bankers to do what they did. But the point is that morally and ethically the bankers behaved, and are still being allowed to behave, like fucking gangsters. Their so-called financial 'products' were always designed to be toxic - to the poor sods who became victims of mis-selling, and the rest of us who still suffer from the consequences of the derivatives, the mis-selling, the sub-prime mortgages, etc.
Imagine if the law was changed to make it legal to go out and carry out smash and grab raids, loot shops, break into homes and torch businesses. Well that's what happened when banking and finance was "deregulated" by Thatcher. We used to have laws that prevented banks and financiers from doing what they've done to individuals, communities and the economy in general. Those laws were abolished. We live with the consequences - and what's happening on the streets is one of the consequences. Either you believe that or you don't. Make up your minds time. There's no grey area in this argument. No walls to sit on. Not any more.
We await Cameron's next statement, now that he's back from his holiday, now that he's back in charge, with great interest.
It was interesting to see Clegg on TV yesterday - our Acting Prime Minister! Now there's a young man who had completely lost his bottle, as well as the plot. Not that he ever had a plot, or any bottle.
It's worth having a look at John McConnell's Twitter this morning: http://twitter.com/#!/johnmcdonnellMP . He's a proper politician who's been consistent in his approach to political and financial issues. Compare him with the publicity-crazed Dianne Abbot, whose wisdom extends to popping up on Sky and BBC 24 to demand curfews. What next Dianne - call in the army?
What we actually need is people on the streets showing the way with peaceful protests - following the example of people in Cairo - reclaiming their city from the political thugs and their followers, reclaiming it from the rioters, determined to have non-violent change and a better, fairer, more democratic society.
What's intriguing me is what will happen next - since I'm old enough to remember the Watts riots in Los Angeles, and the fact that everything just went back to 'normal' after the fires had burned out and the politicians simply condemned the whole thing as mere criminality.
The difference this time around is the Internet - citizen journalism, chat rooms, blogging, twittering, discussion forums and so on - none of them under the direct control of the mainstream media, business, politicians, etc. This time there's the opportunity to take things a step further and higher - to reflect online, to analyse, to reason, to exchange opinions with non-establshment thinkers and reporters. This is not a time for bullshit, complacency, or going backwards.
And it's not a time for simply increasing the power of the police state. This is what was established in Cairo. There ARE limits to state power. There ARE limits to people's tolerance, inertia, fear, indifference and unwillingness to protest and demand justice.