And so, like an expensive pop-up restaurant from a country you’ve never heard of, the riots have disappeared from Hackney as quickly as they came.
What’s left in their place is a sense of bewilderment, community and thousands of words explaining, analysing, considering what just happened.
One reason people are so confused is the complex nature of the disorder that just occurred. These riots weren’t like Oldham in 2001, Tottenham in 1985, Brixton in 1981 or Notting Hill in 1958. They may have been sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan, a fact that played upon a general sense of oppression among largely ethnic populations, but they weren’t specifically race riots. That is, the targets of the violence were not racially motivated and there was no sense that the violence was being sustained by racial grievances.
These riots also weren’t the student protests of 2011, the poll tax riots of 1990, the Cable Street riots of 1936 or the peasants’ revolt in 1381. There was no discernible political movement behind the riots and no goal to which to aspire. It was not Marxist, anti-fascist, anti-tax or anti-university fees. It was just disorder, fuelled by a sense of general injustice, poverty and inequity.
Soundbites and anecdotes from the rioters themselves are the most illuminating aspect. These two women describe the incoherent reasons for rioting, while a tale from Clapham Junction had rioters shouting vaguely at people forming a human barricade that “you’re rich, we’re poor.”
These sentiments, lacking consistency or a clearly articulated goal, make us believe we have just witnessed the UK’s first post-ideological riots. Zoe Williams of the Guardian termed them the shopping riots, “what happens when people don’t have anything.” There’s certainly something in that, as Williams explained they are defined by the consumer choices of the things they were looting, but it’s also true that there was a strong anti-authoritarian streak to the rioting, battling the “feds” and burning cars.
Perhaps it is just that the recent riots have nothing specific to fight against or for. They mirror the post-ideological politics in which the UK (and many other countries) are thought to currently wallow. (Cf. Slavoj Zizek, Terry Eagleton, and others.) The end of ideology in British politics, epitomised by the creation of New Labour, means there is no clear agenda for the dispossessed to pursue, and no obvious political organisation representing their views. In the ’80s, if you were angry and anti-Thatcherite, there was a cornucopia of movements to get involved in. Now? The unions are dying, Labour has detached itself from the poor and Cameron’s Big Society means funding cuts to publicly funded social organisations.
All of which is largely depressing. At least with racially motivated riots, you can institute policies designed to tackle racism: positive discrimination, seeking out role models, getting John Barnes to make a rap. But with post-ideological rioting? It’s just a general malaise, a sense that something isn’t right and there are no clear ways to fix it.
Still, we at the DLR are eternal optimists, so we would like to focus on the positive things that came out of the riots, to wit:
3. The sense of community engendered by the #riotcleanup.
4. Irony as a weapon against criminality: http://photoshoplooter.tumblr.com/
5. People proving Londoners aren’t all douchebags: http://somethingniceforashraf.tumblr.com/
6. And realising that Boris Johnson is one: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14464579
7. Random acts of kindness and improved relations with the ‘feds’: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixel-eight/6024429000/lightbox/
8. And the fact that, despite riots spreading to Birmingham and the football being cancelled, there was never a thought, not even a discussion, that the Test match would be suspended.
There, that’s better now, isn’t it London? Now, how about a nice cup of tea and a biscuit?