What's behind the London riots? - VIDEOS
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 at 09:39 AM
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If you've ever been to Tuscany in Italy you'll know how near to Heaven the region is. Grapes grow effortlessly on the vine, olives and tomatoes can be plucked right from the kitchen window and the air at night is filled with stars.
But Britain, on the other hand, just had the coldest July for 50 years.
Like Ireland, the ordinary working class folk there are settling in to a hard diet of austerity, rising taxes and biting social welfare cuts. Times are getting pretty thin. It's about as far from the perfumed opulence of Tuscany as its possible to get.
So spare a thought for David Cameron, the beleaguered British Prime Minister, who had to curtail his idyllic Italian holiday this week to return to the grim situation rooms of Whitehall - all to contend with the horrendous and rapidly spreading riots engulfing England.
As Cameron's plane landed in London on Monday he must have felt the world was coming unglued.
First he has had the massive News of The World scandal to contend with, as revelations of years of corruption and breathtaking arrogance threatened even his own premiership. Then at the weekend a protest over a police killing lit an all-too flammable fuse and sparked epic street riots that have now spread to Liverpool and Birmingham.
It began as a protest but it quickly descended into anarchy and lawlessness; these nightly confrontations are terrifying in their violence and frightening in their pointlessness; but they have not come out of nowhere and they're about more than just urban alienation or aggression.
Anyone who tells you otherwise has no appetite for reality. It's not erroneous to accuse the rioters of criminality - but you shouldn't just stop there. Something's shifting in the wider British culture and you're kidding yourself if you pretend not to see it.
All you need to do is look at the scale of the riots now engulfing London - they pass from district to district, they're highly organized and they're growing.
It's not just the thought of stealing a HDTV or the entertainment factor of petty vandalism that luring these masked youths onto their own streets to set them alight. As report after report is showing, the rioters do genuinely hate the police - who they see as hired flunkies - and behind that they hate their government.
Deep cuts to education spending and welfare, the closing doors of opportunity, the near certainty that the economy won't get better for years, and the sense of having been completely cut off and left adrift - these awarenesses are all in the mix.
Thinking back we got our first foretaste of what was to come when the Rolls Royce carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall was attacked on their way to the theatre last year.
A mob of around 50 demonstrators managed to muscle past their police escort to throw paint bombs at their car, kicking its doors and smashing its rear window — all the while chanting 'off with their heads!' and 'Tory scum!'
Armed protection was traveling with the two royals on the night and someone could quite easily have been shot dead. It's a measure of how far the times are out of line that had become a real consideration.
But there's a sense, in England, especially among young working class people there, that their leaders have no plan for them and no interest in their futures. The Murdoch trial has just shown them a world where the absurdly rich and well connected can make and play by their own rules, without - as yet - significant consequences.
Inside her Rolls Royce, dressed in a green evening gown with a diamond-encrusted emerald necklace, Camilla's shock was clear on her face. Every aristocrat in every decade of history has worn a similar expression when confronted by underclasses who have decided they've had enough.
I imagine Cameron is contemplating his options now, with the memory of those olive groves and August sunlight still fresh in his mind. He lives a world away from the people who's fates he now has to contend with. He always has. I don't think he'll be in a mood to compromise.
And I don't think shooting these kids off the streets is going to work at all. They've already had most of the hope squeezed out of them. They're more dangerous than most of us imagine. I suspect we're at the start of something, not the end.