I’m sure the news of the rioting and looting which took place in Britain last week is common knowledge in most parts of the world. It isn’t that rioting and looting is unknown in other parts, it is that is is quite rare - though not unknown - in Britain. My first reaction when I say the live coverage on television was bafflement. Being a well brought-up, middle-class chap, it has never occurred to me to go looting just as it has never occurred to me to smash up a telephone kiosk or bus shelter for the hell of it. But in the days after the looting, it became obvious that being well brought-up and middle-class had nothing to do with it: quite a few of those who have already been brought before court were patently not the dispossessed, disaffected, jobless black youths the left would so dearly have loved them to be in order for their theories and ideologies to be confirmed. There were as many whites as blacks (and, it has to be said, given the amount of interracial coupling that has taken place over these past 40 years the description ‘black’ is used pretty loosely), there were apparently as many employed as unemployed among the looters and by no stretch of the imagination were they all ‘dispossessed’. Take a look at the six mugshots below (of men who have appeared in court these past few days): these guys look more like
white career criminals than dispossessed and angry blacks. The most bizarre revelation was the identity of one of the looters: she was a 20-year-old foreign languages student at Exeter University, the daughter of a millionaire who grew up in some comfort in Orpington, Kent. She cannot, of course, be regarded as typical of the rioters, but her presence does suggest one motivation for many of the younger rioters to take part. In the words of one, excessively stupid girl interviewed in Birmingham by the BBC, the looting ‘was great’ and she and her friend had a ‘brilliant time’. Others, of course, went on the rampage as soon as they heard what was going on because they fancied acquiring goods without having to pay for them: plasme TVs, cothes, booze, shoes, anything really. It didn’t matter.
That attitude initially made it all rather inconvenient for the left to shoehorn the event into their ideological explanations, until a day or two later they came up with a quasi Marxist explanation: consumerism is to blame. There, they had managed it. Now, counterintuitively, I shall partially agree: consumerist attitudes were part of the make-up of the psychology of the looters. But it is 24-carat bullshit to suggest the they were the cause. What about all those with a consumerist attitude who chose not to go looting?
Sadly, both the left and the right have very quickly adopted their fall-back positions: for the left society is to blame; for the right it is a breakdown in law and order. And by quickly adopting those positions, any analysis of why it all happened and what could be done to cure what is undoubtedly a chronic social problem here in Britain, becomes ever less likely. Ironically, of course, the kneejerk reactions of both political wings are equally symptomatic of the social problem. There is a suspicion that neither side is particularly interested in sorting out what went wrong: they are more interested in winning the debate of what happened and why it went wrong.
As far as I am concerned the canker which lies at the heart of society and which led to the scenes we saw in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol and Birmingham was a long time in the making, and it will take equally as long to get rid of it, if we ever manage to. (It should also be pointed out that such rioting and looting is nothing new in Britain; it’s just that we have not had a lot of it for the past 60/70 years, but the Victorians were quite accustomed to it.) But at the end of the day, I am inclined to agree with the right’s analysis: the moral compass of too many in Britain has gone awol. The benefits the state pays have gone from being help we give those in a fix to see them through while they get back on their feet to an ‘entitlement’, a ‘lifestyle’ choice. It is also my view that the left as adopted the payment of generous benefits no questions asked as a useful means of buying popularity. For example, recent government figures have shown the three of every four jobs created in Britain over the past few years have been taken up by EU migrants from Eastern Europe. So it’s not as though there has been no work available and that people were obliged to live on benefits.
. . .
When I left university, I spent five months living at home, then went to Italy to teach English for five months. When I returned, I went up to Dundee, where I had studied, to visit friends. What was to be a two-week visit eventually lasted ten months stay. For the first eight of those ten months I worked as a barman. Then, courtesy of the schizophrenic girl I had ‘fallen in love with’, I was bust for possession of dope (er, cannabis, not heroin, which I understand is also called dope). It’s a rather involved story which I shan’t recount here. But a previous boyfriend had been a dealer and she had on her an ounce block of Morrocan. She, her flatmate and I went to the cinema and she purposely dropped the cannabis. (Why? She wasn’t playing with the full set.) A copper on the beat was in the foyer at the time, saw the ounce on the floor, came over and told me I had dropped something. I quickly picked it up and put it in my pocket. Then, when he searched me, I didn’t - as I should have done - explain it wasn’t mine, but being a green-behind-the-ears idiot, I took the rap for ‘the girl I loved’. We were, of course, taken to court, but one upshot was that becasue, coincidentally, Mick, the barman I worked with in the public bar of The Galleon, had gone sick, the cops stuck in an ‘undercover’ officer to work with me and pump me for information. They assumed that because the dope had been an ounce block, no more, no less, that I was dealing. Anyway, this idiot was hopeless. Within five minutes of him starting a chatty conversation, I cottoned on to what was going on - it didn’t help that at the time when everyone was wearing very long hair, this idiot, who claimed he had just graduated from art school, had a regulation short-back-and-side - I said as much - my exact words were: ‘You’re asking a load of fucking questions, aren’t you?’ - and I walked out. My next job was working for a landscape gardener, and one of the guys I worked with was a very friendly, very rough and tough, ginger-haired chap. We got on well, then one day at the end of the day he said goodbye. I asked him where was he going. He said he was due in court the following day on burglary charges, he was pleading guilty and he was bound to be jailed. Oh, I said, did he do it? No, he told me, he was innocent of the charge brought against him. So why plead guilty, I asked. Well, he said, he would not be able to give an alibi. Why not? I asked. Because he was burgling another house at the time, he said.