Tottenham Riots: cause and effect

It’s easy to dismiss rioters and looters in Tottenham as ‘feral youth’, and indeed it’s possible that some were motivated by little more than opportunism. On the other hand, it’s equally possible to justify criminal damage and intimidating behaviour as a result of police brutality, and the wider context of a government that preaches austerity for all while pushing the vast majority of that austerity towards those least able to bear it. The truth, we think, lies somewhere in between.

Nothing excuses burning people out of their homes, and no true politically-minded protest would have sanctioned such indiscipline. Moreover, it’s a foolish move on behalf of the rioters, one which alienates people who might otherwise be in support of their cause, and damages an already-beleaguered community further.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the base frustration and anger evinced by the rioters. We’re angry too. A Coalition government enacting a largely Conservative manifesto, propped up by a party who professed to disagree with them prior to the election, is slashing the money available for public services and infrastructure while signally failing to tackle massive drains on our resources such as tax evasion. It doesn’t take a genius to see the injustice in those policies.

If people find themselves disenfranchised, see no prospect of improving their situation, and are simultaneously confronted with evidence that a small minority of the population is immensely wealthy and becoming more so, there are few available ways for them to express their discontent.

The deeper message of the Tottenham riots is simply that government policy is not working. There is no room for greater inequality in the UK; in fact, we need to be moving in the opposite direction. For all the balance sheet savings George Osborne can point to, and the economic projections he can make to ‘prove’ that swift, deep cuts in public spending are necessary, economics takes place in lived experience, not merely in theory.

For the sake of whatever ‘savings’ are being made, already marginal boroughs are becoming more marginal. Events in Tottenham are a perfect example of the increased costs (to emergency services, of rebuilding shops and houses, to local businesses, and in trust between authorities and local people) that result from pushing through Osborne’s economic programme. Are those on your balance sheet, George?

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We drew from articles by the New Economics Foundation, Diane Abbott in the Independent, and NBC in the writing of this piece

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