In London, protesters took to the streets and turned violent after a man was shot dead by the police. Law-enforcement authortities have been able to do little to stop the carnage and London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, is being severely criticised for not being in the city at this time. Violence, vandalism and looting are continuing and the arrests of over 100 people has done little to tame the unrest. Much of the unrest was restricted to the suburb of Tottenham but then spread to other areas. The question that needs to be asked is: why now? Previous incidents of police brutality have led to condemnation but never descended into such an orgy of violence.
The answer may be found in the austerity measures taken by the Cameron government. The brutal spending cuts led to violent protests and there is every indication that alienation has increased thanks to the steep decline in the middle class standard of living. While organised crime may have played a role in worsening the situation, it appears as if residents of Tottenham opportunistically took advantage of the chaos to pillage the area. This is a phenomenen that is ever present in large cities. Think back to the Rodney King verdict in 1992 and how Los Angeles was ablaze for days after that, with the police left to play the role of the disinterested bystander.
The challenge for the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government in Britain is to get the country back on track financially without dismantling the welfare state. That is, of course, easier said than done, and is further compounded by the Tories’ dislike of big government. Unemployment is steadily rising and creating new jobs requires investment by the government, not a cut back in the budget. Further job losses will only lead to further strikes and violence. All it takes is one isolated event to bring all these frustrations to the fore. And soon the government may find that the situation is spiralling out of control and there is nothing it can do to pacify its angry citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2011.