Poverty isn't an excuse for the riots. It's a reason

Why we must stop ignoring the bottom five per cent in society.

"A form of civil disorder, often characterised by disorganised groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority." This is the definition of a riot. It's also an acceptable definition of what the country experienced just weeks ago.

On the evening of the riots, I was reviewing the newspapers on television and the language of the media was peppered with hyperbole. "London's burning" and "Britain's on fire", newspapers and broadcasters proclaimed. Politicians and thinkers were almost sports commentator-like in their take on what was happening. Words such as "gangs", "mindless", "punishments", "water cannons", and "rubber bullets" were all used within hours of the riots. This was quickly followed by a recall of parliament, which I attended, and a statesman-like speech by the Prime Minister which was roundly applauded.

I've always believed the future is decided by the "non-discussable", yet the comments following the riots now seem to define what can be said about them. We may live in a democracy where freedom of speech is favoured but, for some reason, it's considered taboo to point out those things that haven't been said very often during the analysis and reflection on what happened. But we must, otherwise any discussion is pointless.

One of the non-discussables is that any analysis of where the rioters came from showed a direct link between them and the poorest areas in the country. These are the same areas that have seen living standards decline over the past 14 years, and which will decline further as a direct result of public spending cuts.

It's become a defence to say that poverty shouldn't be an excuse for rioting. Poverty isn't an excuse. It's a reason -- the same reason that the same social and political pundits would give to explain riots in South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The second non-discussable relates to punishment; that jailing somehow solves anti-social behaviour and ensures public safety. What, of course, hasn't been discussed is the evidence produced by the government and by previous governments (and endorsed by Kenneth Clarke) that prison simply doesn't work. Instead, it will provide many of those convicted with a masterclass in criminal activity and become a pressure cooker for their sense of injustice and alienation. Many will come out angrier and less educated than when they went in. Take the 11-year-old boy who was given an 18-month rehabilitation order after stealing a bin from Debenhams in Romford. The child already has previous convictions and his extreme desperation is illustrated by his decision to smash the window of a moving bus so he could jump off and escape detention. I'd argue this boy doesn't just need prison. He needs a psycho-social intervention.

The other non-discussable is the context in which the riots took place. This context has been ignored by pundits and politicians, save for those who have pointed out that it's virtually impossible to ignore the example set by the wealthy, including bankers, MPs and peers. Context is important: children need role models who they can look up to and who lead by example. At the moment, this isn't always what they're getting.

There's another non-discussable. It's a convenient and comforting presumption that the riots were simply down to organised gang activity. This presumption provides us, particularly in inner cities, with a ready enemy in the form of young (and let's face it) African-Caribbean men who the authorities can be given complete licence to rout out. The flaw in this theory is that 30,000 rioters couldn't have been organised that quickly by anyone and in that many places. And while it's no doubt true that "gangs" did take advantage of the general chaos to loot, this sort of behaviour is hardly surprising and largely defines any riot. However, the evidence is that these rioters were actually people who are unlikely ever to buy or even rent a house, have a meaningful disposable income, go to college with enough money to enjoy the experience, get a university degree without leaving with crippling debts, or get a job which might lead to a career. The overwhelming problem in engaging the staggering number of Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in a meaningful way is that some local authorities have simply stopped funding any kind of infrastructure for young people.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying "hug-a-hoodie", and it's not that I don't fear social disorder. But the solutions are not beyond our reach, or even beyond our time frame. We must understand that this link with poverty is unacceptable; a link which is known about, tolerated and excused. We must also realise that the job of government in protecting its citizens doesn't just begin and end with creating a police state for the few. It's clear that an appropriate punishment for many of the rioters may instead be found in restorative justice, which confronts those who have broken the law with the consequences of their actions, and educates them at the same time. Housing, health, criminal justice policy, and education are the issues of social policy surrounding the events, and there are two ways to deal with these. Either we ignore them and comfort ourselves with rhetoric and the inevitable follows: water cannons and rubber bullets, and locking down those communities which we fear, whilst making excuses for poor leadership. Or there is another way. We accept that social infrastructure is important. We stop ignoring the fact that the bottom five per cent in society have as much impact on everyone else's lives as the top five, and that the two groups are connected by the same things: criminal justice policy, education, and health.

Of course the deficit is the one thing that we have all been told cannot be changed or managed without the poor. The question in this democracy must surely be: what kind of debt in society do we want to live with, and what kind of debt-free society do we want our children to live in? I have no doubt that solutions exist which mitigate against riot by engaging young people, the poor, the middle classes and the wealthy in new and better ways of building services for the public. I'm also in no doubt that the implementation of such solutions isn't without struggle and difficult discussions. But I don't want to live in a society which comforts itself with the discussible.

Lord Victor Adebowale is chief executive of Turning Point

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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