The middle class should leave rioting to the professionals

Couldn't the riots have been influenced by, well, the riots?

Something else has been bugging me. About the riots. Or more specifically, our attempt to find rhyme or reason for them.

We seem to have left no sociological or psychological rock unturned. Poverty and social alienation. Poor parenting and educational support. Cuts to everything from EMA to police numbers. Oh, and the bankers. Mustn't forget those dastardly bankers.

But something's been missing. For a while, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And then, in a flash of inspiration, it came to me.

Couldn't the riots have been influenced by, well, the riots?

We had some. We definitely had some. I distinctly remember. They started with Conservative Central Office getting smashed up, and a couple of police officers nearly being decapitated with a fire extinguisher. Then, if memory serves me right, half the West End got trashed. Not once, but twice. First by the students, then by a mob of anarchist fellow travellers trying to ride the coattails of the TUC rally.

Yet, for some reason we -- and by we, I'm using my traditional lazy short-hand for the left -- don't seem to have mentioned this. John Harris didn't mention it in last Thursday's Guardian, when he pointed the finger squarely at greedy MPs. John Pilger chose to overlook it when he blamed just about everyone but the rioters, here at the Statesman. No. The left has decided to scurry by, looking for more ideologically acceptable excuses. Sorry, causes.

Let's return to the group every right-minded person knows were the true instigators of this month's disorder. The bankers.

If you accept, as I do, that greed and an arrogant assumption of a right to material gain at any price were at a minimum a subliminal cause of the looting and mayhem. And you further accept the bankers, at least generically, are poster boys for that greed and arrogance, then I think the link between their excess and the excess on our streets is a legitimate one.

But if we believe the rioters were spurred on by the image of those in positions of wealth and influence flouting the rules to the detriment of society, surely we must extend that principle to people like Charlie Gilmour and his fellow undergraduates, who not only flouted the rules but physically indulged in rioting themselves. If the sight of a millionaire in red braces pushing a button in a City dealing room is supposed to incite a young inner city teenager to put a brick through a shop window, what effect is that sight of a millionaire in a Keffiyeh putting a brick through a window themselves supposed to have? To judge from the silence of the liberal left, none.

Let's cast the net a bit wider. What about the direct action movements, like UK Uncut? When middle class youngsters lawlessly occupy shops, and are feted for their "brilliant protests" that can "unite us all", we conveniently assume our inner city youth will instinctively know where to draw the line. And for some reason we also assume that whilst a banker engaged in legal activity at his desk can be the spur for a looter, a protestor illegally entering Fortnum's and spraying graffiti on the wall cannot.

This blame game can be fun. Especially when we get to write our own rules, and pretend we're the only side that's playing.

Just ask Jonnie Marbles. Self-styled crusader for truth, justice and the pie-pushers' way. Jonnie, if you recall, decided the rule of law wasn't for him. He had grievances, and a sense of injustice. He needed to fight the power; to take it to the man. So he took it the man, and assaulted an 80 year-old pensioner. He didn't care about the police. He didn't care that his actions would be broadcast on live public television. No balaclava for Jonnie. Jonnie laughs in the face of authority. Taunts it. Flans it. And what's more, he's got himself some much needed street cred. Just read this excerpt from his 'prison blog':

We both break into grins and the familiar dance of how, why and handshakes plays out. I give him the short answer first, then the long one. Five minutes later Beebop, my newest lag friend, is getting me to sign his copy of The Sun.

Eat your heart out, Oscar Wilde.

Is Jonnie Marbles directly to blame for the riots? Of course not. No more than Charlie Gilmour, or Edward Woollard.

But if we seek to go beyond direct to subliminal causes -- apparently all the rage -- then why are they no more or less to blame than Fred the Shred? Because our search for answers is not a search for answers at all. It is a desperate scramble to clean up the house before our parents get home.

Before 6 August, disorder in our streets was fashionable. It was raw and exciting. Empowering.

So long as it remained the preserve of the middle class. The students. The anarchists. The gentleman insurgents.

Then the big boys turned up. Bad boys. Boys who aren't content to sit listening to Asian Dub Foundation while huddled around burning copies of the Socialist Worker, sharing solidarity with the Arab Spring.

Middle class Britain has been having fun with its own unique brand of direct action. But this month the fun stopped. Ed Miliband is right. We do need to look at "irresponsibility" in all its forms.

And perhaps from now on the rioting should be left to the professionals.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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