I was very fortunate, last night, not to be living near any shops. The rioters got to within a few hundred yards of me but no nearer. After five hours on Twitter, watching buildings being burned to the ground on the news, I was starting to wonder where the army were. Eventually I dragged myself to bed. So what now? There is the expected clash between hardliners and liberals which I won’t rehearse here.
As far as I’m concerned, last night’s riots were a physical expression of what has been going on in the minds of many people who would never consider smashing a window. I’ve had the ‘Why aren’t we rioting?’ conversation several times recently, always while discussing the banks. I had to laugh at Nick Cohen’s otherwise good piece in the Guardian the other day. He seems to think those in debt are okay because of low interest rates. Alas, I am one of the many who is being bent over a barrel and shafted by certain financial institutions constantly raising rates, and I have felt like rioting myself at times.
The gap between rich and poor has been getting visibly wider since I started working, over 20 years ago. And it has only got worse. Businesses and individuals are going down all over the place, while the UK is still being run by millionaires who, with the best will in the world, have literally no idea what it’s like to have nothing but the money in your hand to live on. No property, shares, ISAs, land to sell, or rich family members to borrow off. Too many of those in power are fortunate in that way, and they simply have no idea about how most of the population live. The media hasn’t helped because so many people who work in it are comparatively well off, or at least get to write about enough freebies to make it look like they are. £500 quid facial, anyone? There is still an ‘us and them’ feel, even in supposedly left of centre papers.
It’s important to say that there is no golden age when everyone was lovely to each other. But last night’s rioting is a legacy of decades of eroded values and obsession with money and possessions over all else. Also, as a result of this, I have observed, in the last few years, a sense of self-righteous entitlement about some young people that is way more alienating than simple aggression. But it’s always the bad apples that give the rest a bad name. Most teens just want to get on with their lives and grow up and learn things and experience things, but they are demonised. Now it will be much, much worse for them, because of a few.
Also, because of a few, legitimate political protesters are going to be hit much harder in the future.
I am so tired of money culture being thrust in all our faces, all of the time. Not everyone makes money. Not everyone can. But over the last 15 years or so there has been a corporatisation of the individual. Some of it comes from trying to import US values (get up and go, a certain kind of professionalism), which isn’t all bad either. But there are certain things that you must be doing, or you are second class and/or stupid, and one is make money and therefore own things. Our ‘proper citizen’ homeowner culture is part of this, and I am really tired of it. (What has been done to housing in the last 10-15 years makes me utterly furious – but that is another blog post.)
Plus, this culture has made us really soft – ‘Hey, there’s a Pret in the high street and I can just about afford another Jo Malone candle, so I’ll just keep quiet,’ – and to get publicly or visibly angry would be an instant giveaway that you might be having problems. If you aren’t one of the haves that the media has waved in our faces so much for the last decade, it’s best to hide away in shame.
Perhaps this will change now? Last night’s riots affected us all. So perhaps it’s time for us all to come out about the realities in our lives and start talking to each other.