I have just come back from three weeks in England, most of which spent in London. I watched events unfold and how the media covered it all from the initial understanding of the Police shooting a man who may or may not have had a gun through to the more rabid hang ‘em and flog ‘em chorus that is still playing out.
What is really striking though is the complete and total divide within the ordinary working people. I spoke to quite a few people over the period and while a riot could be happening in Hackney – or more accurately, a part of Hackney – the clientele of a pub in nearby Stratford were shouting at the TV in an echo of the tabloid commentary. Working people are divided. They are not mixing with each other let alone sharing their anger.
When stepping even slightly outside of working class London, the gulf widens further. I spoke to people living on the more affluent suburbs – decent, Liberal types – who obviously inhabit a different country.
Was all of this any different from the riots of the early eighties? That’s an interesting discussion. I remember those riots too. I remember white working class pub goers ‘tooling up’ in case black rioters came into the area. There was division then too. The us and them, encouraged and fostered by Thatcherism, manifested itself in these divisions within the working class – the white pub goers, soon to depart the East End for the sanctuary of Basildon and Billericky, to aspire to become Middle Class, leaving ‘others’ behind.
All of this is a manifestation of the success of Thatcher and her successors to debunk the idea of Society and have us compete against each other - a competition that has to have winners and losers, us and them, whites and blacks and not cooperation, solidarity and shared understandings. Alas, it also underlines the failure of the left to move beyond sectarianism and navel gazing and work in a broad project to defend Society and offer a vision for the 21st century. Its an open goal. Shoot!