One year after the 2011 England Riots, what do we know?

The Equality Trust presents their digest of the causes of the riots.

Children and parents, personal resilience, hopes and dreams, the brands, the usual suspects, police and the public, community engagment, involvement and cohesion. What do these have in common? They were identified as key themes to address in the wake of the 2011 England Riots.

The Government-commissioned Riots, Communities and Victims Panel put the themes together. The Equality Trust’s Research Digest 5 (pdf), out today, reflects on the themes and summarises academic research on the relationship between the themes and income inequality:

• Children and parents: British epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have explored the link between income inequality and the UNICEF index of child well-being. What they found is that where inequality is high, child well-being tends to be lower.

• Building personal resilience: Relative deprivation adds to the stresses of family and community life, so removing sources of resilience (pdf). Over time stresses accumulate, and resilence is often worn away.

• Hopes and dreams: In wealthy, market democracies, inequality is a good predictor of how likely it is that a person who is born poor will stay poor. As far as dreams go, if these do not match up to real prospects, it is easy to see why some young people would think that they have no stake in society. According to the OECD, social mobility is less likely in the UK than in any other wealthy country in the world. There are many possible reasons for this, including resource-rich neighbourhoods, good schools, better preparation for higher education, family and friend networks, and snobbery and prejudice – all of which are available differentially to certain groups in a more stratified society. Those born less lucky benefit less from good neighbourhoods, good schools, and family networks, so creating a stickiness of family background for the more disadvantaged that it difficult to escape.

• The brands: Relative deprivation has been linked to conspicuous consumption and consumerism.

• The usual suspects [criminality]: Crime, including violent and acquisitive crime, has been linked to inequality—in multiple contexts and through multiple methodologies (pdf).

• Police and the public: Where inequality is high, there is evidence that there is more deadly use of force on the part of police. One young person from Tottenham commented:

“Police need to be more open. Just a short statement after Mark Duggan’s death would have helped. And if any police officer does anything wrong they should be dealt with. Need to show that they are not above the law themselves. We need to be able to trust them.” (Young person, Tottenham, National Centre for Social Research).

• Community engagement, involvement and cohesion: From the World Values Survey there is evidence that inequality reduces social cohesion, weakens community life and lowers levels of trust.

On the first anniversary of the England Riots of 2011, it is useful to reflect on our society and the outbreak of riots one year ago, in August. According to the Equality Trust’s report, income inequality affects starting points (children and parents), trajectories (personal resilience, hopes and dreams) and outcomes (consumerism, violent crime and excessive force by police). The Digest concludes that, if we want to foster a cohesive, shared society, we should be aiming for a less stratified society, with high levels of trust and strong communities.

Broom rat. Photograph by Infrogmation/CC-BY-SA

The Equality Trust is an independent, evidence based campaign working to reduce income inequality in order to improve the quality of life in the UK.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue