Yes, these rioters are thugs...

... but understanding why they are thugs is what matters now.

It's not often that the majority of the adult population who comment on youth-related issues are right. But since the riots erupted in Tottenham a week ago today, the youth who have destroyed buildings, set alight random cars and looted shops, have been labelled as "animals" and "thugs" and quite rightly so.

The excuse of government cuts, student tuition fees or the brutality of the police is a farcical and frankly ridiculous vindication for this indiscriminate thuggery.

The killing of Mark Duggan by a policeman in Tottenham last week was indeed the catalyst, but it also acted as a pretext for widespread looting by those who knew nothing about Duggan. One particular masked hoodlum confirmed my accusations about the riotous youth when, upon being asked by a Sky News reporter: "If you're law abiding then you've got no reason to fear the police," he replied: "But I'm not law abiding." No wonder Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester police says he has never witnessed anything like in his life this before in his life.

I tweeted on Saturday evening "# Tottenham is the first of many." I was right, it was all too obvious to me. Like Twitter and Facebook, the youth have become people who follow trends in a profoundly impulsive manner. For these opportunistic youngsters, the prospect of free trainers, TVs and apparently even 'sausage rolls' was something far too irresistible.

My only fear is that the riots may emerge again some time in the near future. It has become clear that sporadic and mass rioting will catch the police of guard if they have no intelligence beforehand. There is only one way to prevent this from happening in the future. Harsh penalties need to be meted out to those found guilty to act as a deterrent to anybody thinking about causing havoc in the future.

Although severe reprimanding may be a preventative measure for future rioting, it will not cure the "sickness" our Prime Minister describes. Ed Miliband believes the causes for the riots are "complicated" and he's right. Yes, these rioters are thugs, but understanding why they are thugs is imperative. Deprivation, government cuts and police brutality may play a small part in it all, but really, it has everything to do with the voracious and egotistical messages espoused to us by various media outlets causing us to behave in such dysfunctional modes.

There has been palpable tension between the police and the youth in many areas in London for years -- especially Tottenham. The chronology dates back to the mid 80s when race riots ensued; the police were accused of institutional racism and, eventually, a policeman was hacked to death by a group of men armed with machetes.

Sherish Aftab, 22, is a London based youth mentor and Secondary School teacher, she said: "First, it [the Tottenham riots] was understandable; then it became ridiculous, and now it's out of control and grim. I say it was understandable at first because I still agree with the initial motive behind the riots. That is, the first protests that took place in Tottenham in retaliation of the police officer shooting Mark Duggan. A lot of young people have always had a vendetta with the police, particularly from areas such as Tottenham, Hackney and Peckham. Incidentally, these are the areas where the riots have taken place. It worries me, as a secondary school teacher, who works with young people from 11-18."

David Cameron put the riots down to a "complete lack of responsibility". Responsibility is one factor yes, but a word more befitting is the ubiquitous and old-fashioned term "respect" - or the lack of it for that matter. The riots have done nothing but confirm the profound egoism and immorality prevalent in many of the youth today.

Indeed, the police do abuse their powers on certain occasions and that needs to be redressed, but the underlying issue why the youth see the police as an anathema is because they don't respect authority. This view is echoed by England footballer Rio Ferdinand who said this week: "It seems these kids/people have no fear or respect for the police."

Miliband described the unruliness as "complicated" and the Prime Minister said "there are things badly wrong in our society." Well, obviously. Disgracefully, three young Asian men were run over and killed in Birmingham amidst the riots. And Mohd Rosli, a Malaysian student studying in London, was another victim of harassment -- after suffering a broken jaw he was robbed by those pretending to help him causing nationwide disquietude.

If anything, the riots will serve to better relations between the various ethnic communities in the country. Take, for example, the group of Sikhs who stood outside Southall Mosque to allow Muslims to pray during the riots. And those who stood up against the riots and decided to clean up the mess on the streets the following mornings. Indeed, we have seen the worst of Britain, but also the best.

Omar Shahid is a freelance journalist currently reading journalism at City University

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories