Tuesday, 9 August 2011

In the evening there is fear, in the morning they are gone...

It is the morning after the night before, or rather the third morning after the third night of looting and rioting in London.

This city is so gargantuan that it rolls on anyway, with people making their way to work in the morning sun as if it is just another office day at the slightly chilly end of high summer.

But last night, after it became dark and the police sirens could be heard criss-crossing the city, the mood was apprehensive and edgy. The disorder that broke out in Hackney in broad daylight began to look like pantomime rioting when the rolling news coverage began broadcasting the looting and the licking flames in Croydon and Peckham.

Cuts, racism and plain bad policing don't go near explaining what is happening in the capital and in other cities across Britain when darkness falls.

Mary Riddell, in the Daily Telegraph today, give the best account of the insidious reasons why we are seeing London ablaze against the backdrop of a global economy posed for freefall.

She argues that massive social inequality, stories of corporate larceny and a crippled economy are combining as they did after the Great Crash of 1929 and that the hopeless generation is mustering for the backlash.

She quotes Isaiah, Adam Smith and JK Galbraith in short order to work out why young people who have already fallen off the edge of the economic cliff have taken a peculiar consumerist vengeance on society. The unrest, for now, seems more centered on targeting shoe shops and mobile phone franchises than it is at overturning the political system. But each night has been different and the mood of the mob could change again.

Apart from the question of public order the big political issue is whether Cameron's premiership take a fourth night of pillaging on the streets of the Olympic city without being seriously wounded?

The Prime Minister was badly behind the curve on the last big political crisis, the hacking scandal, and he is in danger of being seen as not having a grip on this far more serious issue. It will take more than a fine speech and a stiff upper lip to sort out the underlying causes of the violence.

Mary Riddell hits the mark by paraphrasing Adam Smith's observation that a well-ordered society cannot develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable, and as a consequence, dangerous. Read her Telegraph article on the underclass riots here.

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