Reading the Riots Conference Review…
It was only last week that Iain Duncan Smith was yet again forming a correlation, not causation, with the occurrence of the riots. This time, Smith argued that X-Factor was partly the cause of the riots. That’s right. The cause. Now, when I was younger, I was rather glued to the television when X-Factor came on. But now, I see it for what it really is. It’s glorified mass consumption, that removes the talent and meaning behind music to rather commodity, sometimes at the expense of the contestant, representing our instant gratification culture of excess, capital and agonising over becoming a millionaire. For me, rather, X-Factor, like the riots, is a product of a society and culture that has been consistently eroded by successive governments over the last few decades. Whilst Smith was correct in some of his statements regarding X-Factor’s vacuous nature, his analysis was skewed, getting things the wrong way around, as usual.
I wrote at the time of the riots regarding the racism, poverty, social segregation that many people taking parts in the riots experienced. The government wanted to take a different stance, however. They promoted the line that this was a subsection of the population, a small ‘uncivilized’ group of thugs, they advanced a crack down on gangs and social media – two things that The Guardian and LSE study into the riots, Reading the Riots, have found were rather trivial in terms of the cause of the riots.
The Guardian and the LSE hosted a conference regarding the Reading the Riots part 1 publication, with Theresa May and Ed Miliband amongst the attendants. The report is the first real in-depth sociological study into the riots. Whilst Cameron was busy arguing that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality’ and the justice system became dis-proportional with the Court of Appeal arguing that sentences had to be a lot stricter than normal sentences in order to ‘deter’ others, with the recent Sentencing Committee for England and Wales legal guidelines review becoming stricter due to the riots and the potential for curfews to be placed onto areas in case there are future riots, all illustrate the backlash and law and order response the government had/has.Rather than sitting down, talking and listening ultimately to understand why such events could occur, we had the media and politicians teaming up to stigmatise those taking part. They were placed onto a scrap heap of so-called ‘degenerates’.
This heavy law and order, punishment approach was criticised by the report. The Reading the Riots report on the other hand managed to interview 270 people involved in the riots and talk to them about their reasons, experiences – as their voice has been consistently shut out by mainstream channels. With the use of methodological triangulation (qualitative and quantitative methods), the research offers initial data on understanding, not stigmatising, the rioters. For instance, the conference highlighted that despite David Cameron’s assertions that poverty had nothing to do with the riots, the data showed substantial evidence for a casual, not correlative, relationship. Poverty and desperation for wealth given the numerous amounts of constraints and lack of opportunities within society for people not as connected are often reasons many people try their luck on X-Factor, as well.
Paul Lewis talked about the opportunism of the riots – this is something again that relates to the desperation related to X-Factor and its instant gratification culture, encouraged by a society with a ruling elite based on greed, amorality, lies and corruption. Obviously, there are those critical voices of the Daily Mail and such forth that denounce the report as “left-wing claptrap”. Well hardly a surprise. To give the people they base their factitious hyperbole headlines on a voice would produce evidence to the contra and undermine their purely sickening ideological agenda.
Theresa May’s speech was framed by the usual rhetoric of the rioters’ being ‘irrational’ and ‘thieves’. She then claims to be using the study as a way to understand the riots, but you can’t call the rioters ‘irrational’ if you are willing to try to understand their rationalisation – the point of the study. It’s a prior undermining of the study’s findings! She annoyed the audience when claiming “The riots weren’t about protests, unemployment, cuts … They were about instant gratification.” Well, as I have been trying to illustrate with the X-Factor example, instant gratification culture relates to aspects such as protests and unemployment through the sheer ideological callous nature of this government’s economic political policies that are destroying the communities, mainly of the poorest. Instant gratification has been nurtured by a world in where bankers receive excessive bonuses for screwing over the country. A culture where people spend a few months in a talent contest and receive a million pound record deal. These are therefore surface events that reflect an underlying structural deficiency in democracy, fairness and equality. In other words, by blaming instant gratification May ignores the reasons for why we have such a culture; social and economic neoliberal policies, that is.
Regarding Theresa May’s announcement of a review into Stop and Search powers, it’s hardly going to be a revelation given the amount of criticism over years the powers have received, alongside promises from various politicians that the powers will be dropped, or restricted. As has been widely reported, there was a great deal of anti-police sentiment amongst the rioters. May pretty much defended the Stop and Search powers in her poor speech. One wonders why she even bothered turning up – she could have simply submitted an earlier speech on the topic, as the findings of the study clearly mean nothing to her and her millionaire out of touch friends. She even went against the study’s findings that gangs had NO significant effect upon the riots, arguing that we should be listening to victims not rioters (going against the entire meaning of the study) and that the government will press ahead with their anti-gang strategy, alongside supporting the court’s tough punishments. I repeat; why the hell did she even bother to go? She learnt nothing. The government learnt nothing. They don’t care. As long as they have their millionaire bubble. As Julia Urwin said, “if we say that any understanding of why people did it is only an excuse, we are really missing the point.”As the conference also pointed out; what about rioters as daily victims themselves of a political and economic agenda?
Jokingly referring to Theresa May as a ‘warm-up act’, Ed Miliband was better when it came to the content and tone of his speech alongside accepting questions at the end of it. Miliband criticised the view purported by the government that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality’. There was a lot of emphasis upon values and morality, what this means in practice is hard to tell. Furthermore, he also backed the harsh sentences of the rioters. Whilst he addressed issues such as a living wage, as expected there is a genuine inability to connect the dots across the mainstream political channels. These riots are a consequence of a system that is beset with corruption, greed, conflict and where the ruling elite perpetrate their ruling agenda and ideology to the detriment of the mass majority. The study is a good building block to illustrating these problems, and I look forward to phase two of the study.
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