"Why did the Tottenham riots happen?" Let's all guess

Discussion of the riots is dominated by guesswork, and coloured by the same old agendas.

There's been a riot, I understand. A riot or two. Some local shop-smashing and this and that. And for some dripping wet liberal idiocy reasons -- call me a fool for ever trying to understand things, rather than just shout about them at the top of my voice -- I want to try and work out why it happened. I am just a person, sitting in a not uncomfortable chair, many miles from the sound of breaking glass and the smell of burning car. I know nothing of these things, having grown up in (relatively) leafy suburbia. But I'd like to know.

Is it wrong to want to understand? I can't see rioters from my window, but I should like to get some idea of why this is happening. I can guess. We can all make guesses. But I feel sufficiently distant from these events, in so many ways, that I don't think my guess could be anywhere close to the truth. Yet all I seem to read, and see, and hear, is guesswork. They did it because of this. They did it because of that. They did it because of this, and that. I wonder how many of the guesses are close, and how many are just long-range salvoes to drive the same old agendas.

I'm not going to make the mistake of having an opinion about these things. Having an opinion about these things invariably leads to arguments. If you're on the political left, as I am (although I wonder sometimes), you always run the risk of getting into trouble with others on the left if you try and have an opinion about these things. Particularly if you're not the right kind of person to have an opinion.

You're not allowed to have an opinion if you are one of the educated liberal metropolitan elite, for example. And even though I live on a council estate and am currently on Job Seekers Allowance, I am still very much doomed to be seen as a horrible elitist who patronises the working class, whom I don't understand, whose struggles I shall forever be detached from, in my lofty elitist perch. How dare I try and think about things? And so I try to look as embarrassed as possible when discussing these matters.

If I were on the political right, of course, I have a feeling it'd be absolutely acceptable for me to have a bash at trying to guess these things out. I could quite chirpily make a hundred and a half assumptions, despite not knowing anything about it, and no-one would bat an eyelid. Look at those people, I could say, with a nudge-nudge here and a wink-wink there about their ethnicity, look at those criminals, being criminal because they're criminals. I could point and laugh and say "silly old leftists trying to defend them", cleverly pretending that "try to work out why something is happening, while not condoning it" is exactly the same as "defending". I could even staple on a hasty "Well of course I was brought up in a plastic bag underneath Blackfriars Bridge but I never robbed a pair of trainers from Foot Locker, so I'm just better than them", and it'd be game, set and match.

For me, though, it's the usual hand-wringing struggle. I have no idea why people are rioting. I couldn't possibly tell you, and a great deal of the coverage I'm reading enlightens me so little that I'm often left with more questions than answers. Perhaps the answer is that no-one knows. Perhaps there are some people who know, but we don't hear enough from them to find out for ourselves. It might be something to do with the economy, or something to do with it being August and relatively warm outdoors, or something to do with a feeling of disconnect between young people and their government, or just criminality for criminality's sake -- or it might be none of these things. I can certainly find people telling me what I might want to hear, depending on what that might be.

But as someone who actually wants to be informed, who really wants to know, I am left as ignorant as ever.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear