Friday, 10 December 2010

The Anger Grows

Over the past decade people have often commented in the media around the question of how educated, intelligent people from an Islamic background, but previously without fundamentalist tendencies have become 'radicalised' and have ended up doing violent acts such as stabbing an MP at his constituency session or driving a 4x4 into Glasgow airport with the intention of causing an explosion. As I watched the fourth day of rioting in central London in four weeks, I began to understand how thinking people can go down the path to turning their back on civil society and see the only way forward as being to engage in violence. Intelligent, well educated people, especially in the medical professions, are often filled with self-confidence which can in many cases turn into at least intellectual snobbery and very commonly, arrogance. If there were not people who felt that society was wrong and that they knew a better way for us to live, then there would not only be no politicians, but also no-one working for charities and, in fact, no clergy. We accept being told how to behave by certain sets of people, whose challenges to us have somehow been 'normalised', but feel free to ignore or even resist others.

I am trying to cling to my faith in democracy but as the weeks go by and I witness act after act of a government which seems bent on harming as many ordinary Britons as possible, it proves to be increasingly hard. David Cameron can argue that he won some kind of mandate for the actions he is carrying out, though, of course, the bulk of them never appeared in the Conservative election manifesto, and the Liberal Democrat manifesto, in fact, outlined some policies completely opposed to what is being done now. Ed Miliband, Labour leader, clearly has learnt Cameron's trick and said yesterday that it was 'better to under-promise and over-deliver', in other words, do what the Conservatives have done, and spring policies on the population once you have the power.

I am increasingly drawn to issues highlighted by the historian E.P. Thompson (1924-93) certainly in 'Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act' (1977) and to an extent in 'The Making of the English Working Class' (1968). Thompson highlighted how populations behave when they feel that the ruling group has lost its moral mandate. He highlights examples such as bread riots in which the rioters seized the bread but rather than simply distribute it, sold it at what they felt was a fair price. This is a very British characteristic, we yearn for what we see as the establishment of what is 'right' and 'proper' rather than anything more radical. This can play into the hands of the left, as witnessed in the poll tax riot of 1990, but it can also play into the hands of the right as seen in the pro-fox hunting demonstrations and attacks against refugees. Moral indignation can bisect with politics and when it does, it can bring out responses from those who feel apolitical. In the UK many people take pride in 'I'm not political', but when it moves into a moral area of their world view, then they do feel they should become involved. The government's policies are cutting so hard into the everyday life of ordinary people that it is even beginning to radicalise those who in the past would have given no thought to being 'political'. Remember those elderly people who put themselves up for imprisonment rather than pay the poll tax? We are going to be back to that soon.

I certainly feel that the current government is carrying out acts which neither have 'right' in a moral sense, nor are proper for British society. The speed and severity of their actions makes Margaret Thatcher's policies, which in themselves were unacceptable, seem mild and considered. If you feel that the government you are dealing with is morally bankrupt then you look around for methods to challenge it. When the government retains the loyalty of the forces of control, primarily the police, but also the armed forces, who use violence to counteract any form of protest as we have seen with baton charges, horse charges and kettling, then it is not surprising that, in time, even intelligent people see a violent approach as the only way to even simply unsettle the bankrupt government. This seems to be the path I am currently going down. I suppose it is because I have lost my faith that anything can stop the crumbling of our society. The current government policies are rapidly creating a highly divided, very hierarchical country where ordinary people have no opportunities to advance themselves and struggle to find work opening up opportunities for the wealthy to exploit them to a scale not seen for many decades.

To some degree the rioting by students and young people (many of the rioters and protestors are too young to attend university yet) who are actually going to suffer more than current university students, especially with the cutting of the EMA, has had an impact. The coalition government's majority should be 84 but in last night's vote on university tuition fees they only won by 21 votes. This is the kind of narrowness of margin John Major experienced as his government began its limp to its death. Five Conservative MPs and 21 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government they are part of; 8 Liberal Democrat MPs abstained. Two Liberal Democrat government aides, Mike Crockart and Jenny Willow resigned as did on Conservative aide, Lee Scott. I wonder if there would have been such opposition if week after week we had not seen thousands of protestors in London. The Liberal Democrats are in trouble anyway, with their popularity at only 11% of the vote. They seem to be reliving the 1920s when they went from being part of a coalition with the Conservatives to fragmentation into three parts and almost disappeared as a party in parliament by the 1950s. If, as seems likely, they do not get proportional representation after the vote next May, then they could be back to a handful following the 2014 general election. In many ways, the Liberal Democrats' blunders are helping to make politics more extreme. Meanwhile David Cameron is shifting constituency borders and reducing the number of MPs by about 8% in order to engineer an automatic majority for the Conservatives and, with fixed term parliaments of 5 years, we will find it far harder to have unpleasant/incompetent governments removed.

Rioting did not overturn the decision in the House of Commons but it reduced the majority to a quarter of what could have once been expected. It should be noted that this was on an issue, which despite the fact that 42% of 18-year olds now go to university, in fact, does not affect the bulk of the UK population. Even with the rise of university attendance 58% of 18-year olds do not go to university; Scottish students do not pay fees; Welsh and Northern Irish fees will not rise. Families without children and people who have finished their education will not be affected. Yet, already the government is struggling to get a majority and trying to work out how to deal with riot after riot. Now, what will happen when the legislation removing the EMA comes up? What happens when the reduction in housing benefit really starts biting, especially in London where it is to have the most impact? What happens when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are out of work, especially in places like South Wales and North-East England where in some towns the public sector makes up 40-55% of the workforce? What happens when the 2011 equivalent of the Jarrow Crusade reaches London? As I have noted before, the extremity of the government's policies has triggered off such a reaction far faster than any government of the 20th century. It may believe that the worst of the unrest is over, but I think that this is only the beginning. If we have had such a severe response to policies which only hits a slice of the population, can you imagine what will happen when the policies that affect so many more of us begin to come into force?

This government seems to have no interest in compromise, so the only solution left for it will be repression. The police were out in force across central London last night, but ironically, as I have noted before, just at a time when they will be called on more, they too are being cut. Incompetence seems to already be playing a part. The failure to defend the Conservative Party Headquarters four weeks ago, and the inability, last night, to defend the Treasury and Supreme Court buildings, let alone Prince Charles and Duchess Camila in their car, shows that a lot of work needs to be done. Again, I emphasise, that in contrast to what will come, this was a pretty small incident. I quite expect that a 'Bannmeile', i.e., a German term meaning a zone around government buildings in which no protest is permitted, will be introduced to Westminster and Whitehall, with the kind of gates we see at the entrance to Downing Street, or, at least, a 'ring of steel' as is around the City of London financial district being introduced. I am sure public order penalties will rise. I noticed when in London last week that MI5 is actively recruiting staff. I did wonder if they were using the right media by advertising in the free 'Metro' newspaper, but I suppose if they are looking to recruit homeless people and students to infiltrate the rioting groups, this is probably the correct channel as thousands of copies of 'Metro' are daily littered across London's public transport and streets.

These steps will only address the symptoms rather than the causes of unrest in the UK. I am a left-winger who would be opposed to a Conservative government, but it has taken the leadership of David Cameron to lead me to begin doubting democracy, to sit watching television cheering on the rioters as they smashed the windows of the Treasury and wishing that Charles and Camila had been dragged from their cars and beaten up. This was something even Thatcher took 10 years to achieve. With no hope for my future or that of the 9-year old living in my house, you can see why people are radicalised. Lecturers at the University of London have praised the protests (though not the rioting) and more buildings are occupied by students at the moment than any time in the past forty years. Opponents of government always have levels in their structure. You can see this if you study any revolutionary group or terrorist groups such as ETA, IRA and RAF. There is a small group at the centre who carry out the action, but vital for their survival are the next two layers, far less visible. There is the layer of people who provide funds and active support and then the layer who provide passive support, might hide an operative on the run for the night, etc. Whilst the focus is on the rioters, the government seems oblivious to the fact that the anger they are provoking is rippling quickly through society and rapidly building up these layers of active and passive supporters. I imagine these are people who MI5 will also go against. So, if this blog goes offline, you will know what has happened!

Of course, David Cameron and his cronies have absolute faith in what they are doing. It is clear that they want to reshape society under the cover of addressing the deficit, which ironically was incurred to help out their banker friends. I believe they, but probably not everyone in the state machine, is blind to how they are radicalising the population. As they take away any hope we might have, they remove more and more of what we might lose if we protest or riot. People with nothing to lose are the most dangerous. People with a lot less to lose than they once did are the necessary structure for the active radicals to thrive. The government must stop its harsh policies or the coalition will crumble within a year or two, and this period will go down in history as the one which saw more unrest and public violence than the UK had witnessed in a century.

1 comment:

Rooksmoor said...

Interesting quote which seemed to echo my view:

"There will be more people on the streets [in coming months] - we've got to fight the coalition ripping apart the social fabric of this country."

James Greenhalgh, aged 20, Politics student from University of Leeds, in London meeting his MP rather than rioting. Quoted on BBC website: