Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Articulating Riots: 'MUG THE RICH - BASH THE RICH ...'

LAST WEEK, on the door of a public toilet in Cockermouth in Cumbria just across the road from the birthplace of one of our Northern poets William Wordsworth, I spotted the following piece of graffiti: 'MUG THE RICH ... If the State stops your money become happy shop lifter ... MUG THE RICH'. The same day in a cafe in Church Stile, near Elterwater, I overheard two middle-aged, middle-class men talking about sociologists and then one said: 'These riots over here are just me-too vandalism!'.

There has been a determined attempt in some quarters to shrug off this month's riots and to dismiss them as opportunistic crime - even some on the lower middle-class left have made superficial judgements about them based on outdated ideological positions. Others want to relate the riots to economic causes and the Government cut backs, and some define them in terms of 'Stop and Search' and police behaviour based on the original shooting of Mark Duggan. It was following this shooting that the BBC began by describing the riot outbreaks as 'protests' but later withdrew this categorisation when it seemed that what was taking place was random acts of vandalism and looting. There was an attempt to interview some heavily masked Afro-Caribbean lads on TV in which they gave sociological grounds for their actions, but afterwards Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, said they 'seemed to be making post-riot self-justifications after talking to their social workers'.

Harry Eyres, in his column 'The Slow Lane' in the Financial Times wrote a piece entitled 'When words fail us all' on August 20th: 'So these were not protests in any articulate sense - in the sense, that is, of having a defined target or grievance at their core.' Public disorder on a major scale rarely happened in Britain in the 20th Century in contrast to mostly disciplined and mostly peaceful protests. Harry Eyres writes that what happened this time was 'different from the only other riots in London that I can remember, the Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985 and the poll tax riot of 1990; the former arising out of long-standing tensions between the black community and the police, as the subsequent Scarman Report confirmed, and the latter arising out of a demonstration against a levy very widely seen as unfair.' Mr. Eyres doesn't mention them, perhaps because they were in the North rather than London, but the recent riots also differ from the ethnic riots that occurred in Burnley, Oldham, Leeds and Bradford early in the last decade but he does say that they bear little resemblance to what he calls the 'essentially non-violent protests of the Spanish Indignados, people with defined grievances, especially concerning unemployment, able at least to articulate their own mood' and '... they were certainly different from the protests in Tahrir Square, marked by bravery and eloquence.'

The inarticulate responses of these riots were profoundly English just as the organised vengeance called 'justice' perpetuated by the Courts, egged on by the politicians, lacks a coherent grasp of what is actually going on, shelving sociological analysis for later consideration and placing us all in what Harry Eyres calls 'a peculiarly English tragedy of inarticulateness'. This English inarticulacy clearly extends beyond the realm of the young rioters and what's called the under-class, into the political classes in all their self-righteousness as anyone who has listened to their bumbling bombast will have recognised in the last few weeks: even a regular writer for Northern Voices - an anarchist and one of our own - has urged us to take a moral stand against the riots. In this country, as Harry Eyres maintains: '... The ruling classes seem as inarticulate as the so-called rioting under-class.' Sociologists, such as the ethnomethodologists, have drawn our attention to the 'seen but unnoticed features of everyday life' and Mr. Eyres writes: '... in England (not in Scotland, Ireland or Wales) there is an inarticulateness of the upper classes, the mumbling, stumbling inability to perceive what is staring you in the face.'

Northern Voices 13 - OUT IN NOVEMBER 2011: will be covering the riots; hacking; the Luddites; John Ruskin & the Arts & Crafts movement in the North; as well as the usual features such as 'Six O' the Best Northern Theatres'.

Northern Voices, a bi-annual regional journal available from 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley BB10 4AH.

Send cheque for £4.60 (post & packing included) for the two forthcoming issues.

1 comment:

J. Edgar Hoover said...

Yet another epistle from comrade Bammy. He`s beginning to sound like the denunciatrix Polia Nikolaenko, the scourge of Kiev, whose denunciations helped to destroy about 8,000 people under Joe Stalin. It was said that her appearance in a room could spread mortal fear among people.Listening into conversations in Cockermouth and noting graffiti on shithouse walls, and all this, while he`s on holiday. As the say, there`s no rest for the wicked. And please tell us Bammy, we`re all ears, who is this anarchist and regular writer for Northern Voices who is urging us all to take a moral stand against the riots? You`re not usually so coy when it comes to bubbling your friends and colleagues in print. I bet it`s the geezer who not long ago was calling for more public spending cuts and who votes UKIP.