The riots across urban England this summer left little room for doubt about the extent of the problems in our inner cities. Those capable of rising to the basic level of understanding that to explain is not to excuse recognised the symptoms of frustration, anger and social alienation amongst the minority of youths that took part, which feelings must surely be shared across their larger peer group. The legacy of rocketing inequality and poor police-community relations, now combined with recession, youth unemployment and austerity, was a flammable mixture which evidently required no more than a spark to burst into a conflagration that shocked the country.
With the government content to do no more than moralise, lecture and punish the perpetrators – who are mostly also the victims of brutal economic and social policies, which are set to continue irrespective of their calamitous effects - it is left to the affected communities themselves to provide practical, positive solutions. A series of events to be held in Lewisham this month aims to facilitate dialogue amongst the youth of inner London about the issues they face, as well as providing workshops to foster the confidence and skills they will need to stake out their place in society. I spoke to one of the organisers, Genesis radio DJ and talk show host Tripple, about the riots and the events being held later this month.
You were first arrested aged 11 and were regularly in trouble until the age of 16. If the recent riots had occurred at that stage of your life, do you think that you or any of your peers might have become involved? Can you give us any insight into how people involved in those events might have rationalised or justified their actions to themselves?
If I’m honest, yes, I would have been there. At that particular stage in my life I was always built up with so much anger. Seemed like everywhere I looked I was considered or portrayed to be the lowest of the low. When you’re so young and feel like the whole world is against you, you have no defence but offence, if you get what I mean.
With the rioters I think we need to be clear that there were various drives which sent those young adults to the streets. I would say it was 55% due to frustration, 30% were after free goods and 15% were just following the trend. The frustration was based on those murdered and assaulted in police custody, some of which makes the news and more of which does not even see daylight.
When I was young I experienced police brutality first hand. You honestly feel like you’re in a helpless situation. When people who are “meant” to be protecting you are attacking and harassing you, who do you go to? You can’t go to the police about police. You have already been demonised in the public eye, you’re lucky if your parents believe you and even if they do, what options do they have? People use the TV to rationalise their lives, and when this same influential medium is telling them that young black youths are criminals, thieves, and nothing more, what can you expect?
In conclusion, the so-called rioters felt “enough was enough”. It’s our time to stand up and fight back.
At the end of July, the Guardian filmed this video in Haringey where local young people spoke about the lack of jobs, closure of youth clubs, and warned of the danger of riots during the summer (which of course later happened). Do the experiences of the people interviewed in that piece resemble the experiences of young people growing up in Lewisham, in terms of the frustrations and the difficulties they face?
As young people we all go through similar struggles. The lack of jobs is one of the biggest immediate issues that results in street crime in my area. I recently interviewed an ex-prisoner on my radio show he said that was the reason he was inside: the lack of money forcing him to turn to crime. Adverts and music videos constantly show things you need to buy, putting pressure on youths to get money, and the only way they know how (aside from working) is through crime.
I feel this problem could be limited by implementing ‘straight to work schemes’ in schools, to prepare young people for work as opposed to higher education. University is not for everyone so the educational system should also cater to those who just want to start earning after school. Not every job requires a degree. This would limit the poverty in the black communities, increase opportunities and bring back that drive to contribute positively in society.
In addition to the lack of jobs, I think the closure of youth clubs and other schemes also play a part. When my local youth club shut down, it had the same kind of effect those youths in the Guardian video were talking about. We began to feel bored and because there was simply nothing to do, we looked for trouble.
Also, I feel if the youths were to learn about themselves in schools, and I mean really learn about themselves in schools, this whole low self-worth/self-esteem thing, which leads to virtually no aspirations, would go. We as youths need to know that being black is a good thing and not something to be ashamed of.
Since my own mindset changed I have not had ANY contact or confrontation with the police what so ever. After realising that certain areas (block corners), clothes and types of behaviour attract police, I have just learnt to avoid them. But the fact that black youths are 26 times more likely to be S’n’S’d (stopped and searched) doesn’t help with the poor relationships we as youths have with the police. I feel a properly independent organisation, which actually has authority to discipline the police force, and which youths can contact to report police misconduct, needs to be set up. This would help the youths, parents and general public to feel like they have some power to protect themselves, if and when necessary.
Tell us about the series of workshops, performances and panel discussions you have planned in Lewisham this September. What’s going to be happening?
We’ve developed workshops to provide interviewing skills, to offer music and performance experience, acting experience and much more. We tried to create a project which benefits young adults in the planning and performing side of the entertainment industry.
There will also be live acts and performances from young adults keen to showcase their talents. Youth panel discussions with special guests to explore topics posted up by young adults and the audience. So we are really gearing towards creating an unforgettable project, followed by an unforgettable night.
I’ve been planning this event since late 2009 and over the past few years it has developed. Originally it was just meant to be a show, but in 2010 after partnering up with Kaye the director of drama workhouse, it turned into a project that will offer a lot more. Alongside the other core members of the project I have already been learning all the efforts and skills needed to run and plan a project like this, which will undoubtedly help me and the team run similar projects in the future.
What sort of positive effect do you think these events can have?
We hope to inject more self knowledge and self-worth into the young adults of today, in an attempt to lower the amount of crime amongst them. One of our special guests on the discussion panel will be a representative of the police force, and their involvement will hopefully allow us as youths to understand the police better and vice versa.
Through this event we are also trying to bring about awareness of some problems we as youths face on a day to day basis, and encourage other organizations to get involved and help. This will also help youths to not feel like they are suffering on their own, let them know that there are others who are going through the same sorts of things, bringing about a real sense of unity.
The media does not really publicise the good things that young adults can do, compared to the bad, so through this project we are hoping to promote a more positive image of all young adults. And hopefully this will in turn get more young adults on a positive path.
The underlining factor that really separates what this project is offering to others is it’s based on current issues, presented by young adults going through, or who have gone through these issues, with solutions that actually work. Empathy not sympathy. The educational aspect in all of the performances, be it music, acting or the discussion panel, will get their minds right. The rest of the show provides examples of how to then apply this new mind set.
More details on Da Word Out Show Live and the preceding series of workshops can be found here.
David Wearing is a post-graduate researcher in Political Science at the School of Public Policy, University College London, and co-editor of the New Left Project.
A guest post from Jake Stanning
How disappointing are our young urban poor! How unloveable! If only they could have rioted politically! If only they weren’t so aggressive! If only they had stuck to trashing big corporate stores we could have defended them! If only they could have been a disciplined working class! Why, they don’t even work! If only they could have been the doe-eyed victims we send millions to help in Somalia! If only, if only, if only – above all, if only they could have used our language!
It is a terrible position for many on the left – both marxist left and liberal left – to have such unloveable poor people. If only Africa would send photographers to take pictures of young builders in noble poses on their scaffolding in the light of dawn perhaps we could love them more! If only Central Asian nomads would visit us and capture in their art the faces of the housing association poor when their eyes are clear and deep! If only Yemeni tribespeople would eulogise in print the thrilling dangers of standing in front of a group of hoodies at the cash machines! If only a dense nineteenth century economic text could be uncovered revealing jobless teenagers to be the true saviours of humanity! Perhaps then we could love them! And if they didn’t play music on the buses! That would be better too!
I am glad the rioters did not use the political language of the left. I preferred the incoherence or silence to what they (we are dealing here in a heavily fictionalised ‘they’, but let us use it here since everyone else seems happy with fiction) might have used instead. What do we have? We have the language of the marxist left, whether party marxist or libertarian marxist, or we have the language of the liberal left.
The former fixate endlessly on a massively broad category: the working class. Never mind that an extensive literature is available to subvert, even tear apart such crass categories as claimed in political speech. Never mind that the neo-liberalised state is using us differently than it did in Marx’s day. Never mind all those people who don’t work, or aren’t paid for working. Ah but the working class is an objective category describing a relationship to capital, comes the standard defence. And isn’t that precisely the problem? It is an objective category within a certain frame of reference, but it is not a subjective category that people see in themselves. It is not a lived, shared category any more. Perhaps it was once. Not now. Now it means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. The working class is whoever the speaker believes will save us, or for those with a particularly fatuous leftism (stand up parliamentarians), whoever needs to be saved.
The language of the liberal left, meanwhile, is ever convinced that niceness will save us. It suggests, as solutions to grinding poverty and mum’s part-time job at Lidl, equality of opportunity and social mobility created through appropriate funding streams. Never mind that mobility was always mobility for a few and meant leaving everyone else behind in poverty. Never mind that equality of opportunity was an equal chance at being the 20% to make it, thus acting as a safety valve for a system that kept most at the bottom. Never mind that the liberal blindness to structural injustice made the dishonest promise of a better future for all the perfect foil for neo-liberalism’s dishonest promise of trickle-down one day.
So the rioters did not announce their class oppression to the world. They did not raise banners demanding equality of opportunity. How dare they return our ignorance of their language with ignorance of our language! How dare they ignore us! All we did was stay supine through fifteen years of a neoliberalising Labour government that entrenched poverty like never before. All we did was ignore them! And when their music was so loud! It was only politeness! Or perhaps fear. But it’s so stupid: they haven’t taken the language we designed specifically to save them! How dare they not! Trust them to recognise the stench of failure! Trust them to know the defeated!
This is the poor we have. They have been unloveable for a long time. If you didn’t notice them it was because you didn’t care to. They are unloveable because they have not been loved. They do not use our language because our language is not what they need. It is not created in their world and so it does not reflect their situations or their desires. I should underline again that ‘They’ are largely fictitious: in truth I don’t know what all those people think. No one does except each of them. But I want us all to know, and so leave such shallow fictions behind. If we start from nothing, as they are forced to do, we might finally get somewhere.
I thought I glimpsed, watching looting in Peckham, what a new political language might need, though I know it is only an interpretation. The liberal left promises a better future for a few, dependent on a break with both the good and bad of the present. The radical and social democratic left promises a better future for all, and harks back to the successes of the past to prove its worth. The rioters weren’t looking for a better future any more. They didn’t care about a glorious past. They weren’t waiting for opportunities that might never come. They wanted life now. They wanted a better present, and demanded it, a few with the brutality of those who feel they owe nothing to anyone. The present was their politics and they practiced their politics better than any political activist I have ever met.
Perhaps we should all give up the politics of the past and the politics of the future. Perhaps our political language and our political practice should offer each other a better world right now. I am not talking about creating a new society. Again, that is for the future. I am talking about creating ways, between ourselves, not through the bought state, to live better now. There is still room in that for moving some or all of the economy out of the realm of profit. There is room in that for being nicer to each other and giving each other a helping hand. We could talk about these things, as we need to talk about many things, and not forget future plans entirely. But in the meantime we should stop promising each other futures that don’t arrive, or that only arrive for some of us, and create for each other a better present.
Earlier this week, we published an article by Julian Petley which argued that the Press Complaints Comission was not fit for purpose, and that what is required is an effective system of press regulation devised from scratch. The PCC subsequently published a response to that article, which can be found on their website. Here, Professor Petley provides his reply to the PCC.
Whilst I’m glad that the PCC’s Jonathan Collett found my article a ‘lively read’, his response reminded me both of perusing one of the Commission’s Annual Reviews (a yearly treat for me) and receiving a reply to one of my complaints (fortunately a less frequent occurrence). The former because it’s largely a catalogue of the PCC’s achievements (understandable, if unconvincing), and the latter because for the most part it fails to engage with the substantive issues which I raised.
Jonathan says that I’m ‘obviously wrong to try to characterise the PCC as a mediator and not a regulator’, but ignores the rather inconvenient fact that, in doing so, I was simply echoing the sentiments of its erstwhile Chairman and Director, not to mention quoting from the Commission’s own website. If he means is that the PCC is not only a mediator, I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge that the PCC frequently does an excellent job in dissipating press scrums and other forms of harassment (particularly when they involve ordinary people as opposed to publicity-seeking celebrities). However, when it comes to the other activities which Jonathan mentions, the record is far less positive.
For instance – negotiating prominent apologies in national papers. Take the following example. On 29 September 2008 the Star ran a front page story headed ‘Peaches: Spend the Night with Me for £5k’ which stated that ‘glamour girl Peaches Geldof is bagging thousands of pounds a night from people desperate for her company …. Peaches and her girlie pals rake in the mega-bucks fees for providing their services at A-list parties’. The article, which clearly implies that Peaches was selling sexual services, was published by the paper in the knowledge that it was untrue. After Peaches had complained to the PCC the paper agreed to print a retraction, but refused to do so on the front page because ‘the subject matter of the apology and of the complaint is not proportionate with a front page apology. The headline on page one was a taster for the article as a whole, which appeared on page 5’. A very small apology, about 30 cm2, thus appeared on page 2. The PCC meekly endorsed the Star’s refusal on the grounds that ‘while the front page may have been open to a certain interpretation, it did not contain any specific claims about the “services” offered by the complainant’. Subsequently Peaches went to court and won substantial damages against the Star, whose owner, Richard Desmond, has since withdrawn both the Express and the Star from the PCC.
This story (and others like it) sums up a great deal of what is wrong with the PCC. No doubt it did its best for Peaches in the circumstances, but it lacks sufficient sanctions to be able to punish effectively those who breach its Code, which is precisely why Peaches and others wronged by the press have turned to the adversarial system of which the PCC is so frequently dismissive. And if owners such as Desmond can with impunity simply put up two fingers to the whole system, there is, in the last instance, nothing that the Commission can do about it. It needs to be stressed that there is nothing wrong with the PCC Code itself (except that it shouldn’t be in the hands of practising editors, and its conception of the ‘public interest’ is rather more limited than that of the BBC or Ofcom), rather it is the inability of the PCC to enforce it even adequately which is the real problem (and which, as I have suggested, is not its fault but that of the papers which finance it).
Let’s just remind ourselves of what an inadequately regulated press is capable of doing. In October 2008, Express Newspapers agreed to pay £375,000 in libel damages to the so-called ‘Tapas Seven’, the friends of Kate and Gerry McCann who were with the couple in Portugal when Madeleine McCann disappeared. The previous July former suspect Robert Murat and two associates, Michaela Walczuch and Sergey Malinka, accepted between them £800,000 in damages from the Daily and Sunday Express, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Record, Metro, the London Evening Standard, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the News of the World. And four months before that, Express Newspapers had paid £550,000 to Kate and Gerry McCann, who had sued over more than 100 stories about them in the group’s four titles, some of which were grossly defamatory. And no doubt they could have sued other papers with equal success too. Brian Cathcart (writing before hackgate) quite rightly called this ‘the greatest scandal in our news media in at least a decade’, a seemingly endless, unstoppable outpouring of the most despicable stories imaginable containing allegations which the papers concerned were finally forced to admit were entirely without foundation - allegations which could hardly have been graver, since they included lying to the police, paedophile activities and involvement in the abduction of Madeleine herself. And yet, as Brian says,
‘not one editor and, so far as I know, not one reporter has lost his or her job or even faced formal reprimand as a result of the McCann coverage. There has been no serious inquest in the industry and no organised attempt to establish what went wrong, while no measures have been taken to prevent a repetition. Where there have been consequences, as with the Tapas Seven, they have come from outside and been reported to the public with the most grudging economy’.
What appeared in print – purely to sell newspapers – involved a total disregard for not only ethical standards but even the most basic of journalistic standards: an absolutely classic example of the ‘if we can sell it we’ll tell it’ attitude castigated by Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News. And as for the PCC Code, Clause 1 (1) of which states ‘The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information’, it might as well not have existed. The Commission did in fact help to dissipate some of the press scrums around the McCanns, for which it certainly deserves credit, but although such debased ‘journalism’ was shown to be absolutely routine across large swathes of the British press, this whole ghastly affair barely merits a mention in its 2008 Review. And, in its aftermath, the PCC appears do have done absolutely nothing to analyse the reasons for this complete abrogation of journalistic standards nor to criticise those responsible for it, with the result that the whole grotesque pantomime was played out yet again, admittedly on a smaller scale, when sections of the press libelled Chris Jeffries in the Joanna Yates murder case, following this up with breaches of the law of contempt so basic that any first year student of media law would have seen them coming a mile off.
If this kind of journalism cannot be stopped by the ‘non-adversarial, responsive and adaptive system that self-regulation has brought’, the sooner that something else is put in its place, the better for all of us.
Julian Petley is Professor of Screen Media and Journalism at Brunel University
A guest post by Robert McLaren
Michael Gove no longer respects his fellow MP Harriet Harman. Gove made this melodramatic announcement on Newsnight after Harman suggested that government cuts may be one of the causes of the riots.
For Gove, this factual claim was clearly meant as a justification for rioting and, what’s more, it was incorrect. After all “it is ludicrous … to assert that there are people who burned down an EMI factory because they were concerned about the disappearance - I should actually say ‘the reform’ – of the Education Maintenance Allowance…”. The principle underling Gove’s reasoning – and that of many others who have voiced the same argument – must be this: no fact can be a (even partial) cause of a person’s action unless that fact is the person’s (conscious) motivation for the action.
Anyone can see how ridiculous this is (quite apart from whether or not Gove is right that no one had political motivations). But in order to be classed a ‘fallacy’, and have its own name, I feel it would have to be a little better known. And so, in an attempt to widen recognition of ‘The Govean Fallacy’, let me offer three other examples of its use:
1. The whole of evolutionary psychology can be disproved by the observation that most people do not wake up in the morning wondering how best they ensure the replication of the genes to which they play host.
2. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was not a cause of the First World War since most of those fighting it were not trying to avenge his death. (Recall the famous joke headline: “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Found Alive. World War ‘A Mistake’ ” – to Gove this must be no joke at all)
3. Cuts in police budgets cannot lead to greater crime rates unless people start mugging others in order to protest the reductions (even ideas associated with the Right are undercut by Gove’s way of thinking).
And our bonus absurdity: The only causal explanation of a person’s decision to smash a window or steal goods is the trivial one that she/he wanted to do it. That desire comes, literally, from nowhere – a ‘mindless’ void, from which criminal volitions periodically emerge.
McKenzie Wark, author of a new book about the history of situationism, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, is coming to London this week for a series of talks. Given the connection between situationism and the 1968 uprising in Paris alongside the current situation in the UK this seems like a timely visit. Wark has brought out this theme in a recent article, reflecting on the analysis given by Guy Debord, one of the most influential figures in the Situationist International, of a Los Angeles riot in the 1960s. Read the piece here:
The spectacle of consumable life ranks goods in order of their desirability. The fancy brands are so much better than generic knock-offs. But this is also an order that ranks its subjects. To be Black in the sixties is to be at the bottom of the visible order. Just as the ranking of which are the better brands changes over time, so too does the league table of desirable kinds of people. You have your Kate Middletons, and then you have your chavs.
Here are the details of the upcoming events:
August 23, 2011 / cafe OTO
The Beach Beneath the Street at cafe OTO
£5 advance/ £6 on the door
August 24, 2011 / Housmans
The Glorious Times of the Situationist International
£3, redeemable against any purchase
August 25, 2011 / Whitechapel Gallery
The Beach Beneath the Street: New New Babylon
£3. Book here
A guest post by Robert McLaren
Today marks 20 years since the defeat of the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, which was in turn a marker of the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. When that happened it is supposed to have become possible to say things like “egalitarian communism has clearly failed”, and we have certainly had 20 years of such confident statements.
The above quoted formulation of this common view is taken from the blurb of a book on political philosophy by Thomas Nagel. When reviewing the book, the socialist philosopher G.A. Cohen took issue with the statement. His argument may help us to better understand what we are celebrating today: to better understand what the thing is the end of which we are marking.
“... That is my review of the text of Equality and Partiality. But I would also like to review part of its blurb, the bit that says: “Egalitarian communism has clearly failed.” It is no accident that both the subject and the predicate of that sentence are ambiguous. Exactly what has failed, and what does it mean to say that it has failed?
If “egalitarian communism” is just a name for the Soviet experiment, then it has failed, in every sense. But one may not infer, as the ambiguities invite us to do, that the social form, egalitarian communism as such, cannot succeed.
The other ambiguity is in the meaning of failure. And in this connection I want to protest against the mix of political malevolence and intellectual fatuity within the horde of clercs who show triumphant confidence that no one with any sense can still be called a socialist.
Before Mikhail Gorbachev took office in 1985, there was already broad agreement among socialists and antisocialists who read and wrote for papers like this one [i.e. the London Review of Books] that the Soviet Union had utterly failed to achieve a classless, or even a decent, society. And there was a serious and honorable disagreement about the reasons for that failure, with the Right referring it to the very nature of the social form that the Bolsheviks had set out to realize and the Left assigning failure to some combination of adverse circumstance and human error. Nothing that has happened since 1985 settles that important question. What has happened is that Soviet civilization has failed in a further sense, beyond failing to achieve its objectives, in the further sense, that is, that it has collapsed, disappeared from the scene. Yet the Right, and not only the Right, infers that the debate about why it had failed in the first sense (that is, to achieve a classless society) should now be concluded, in favor of the old right-wing answer. It is understandable that people should want to make that inference, since it would be a relief not to have to think about the matter any more, but the inference remains unjustified. “Egalitarian communism has clearly failed” is a cheating shortcut around a crucial question of our age. The premise that the would-be egalitarian society has collapsed is true, but uncontroversial. The interest of the sentence lies in its cheap insinuation that we now know that an egalitarian society is unachievable. This new conclusion is cheap because it is bought at no extra cost of evidence or argument.
Nagel’s own reflection on the matter of the Soviet collapse is decently nuanced (see page 28). If you favor vigorous crudity in political thought, read something else.”
(pp. 209-210 of Cohen, G.A. (2011), ‘Mind The Gap’ in On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, and Other Essays in Political Philosophy, Ed. Otsuka, Michael. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford)
Robert McLaren is an undergraduate student at King’s College London, reading philosophy.
The “Productive Class” vs. the “Moocher Class” - how class conflict looks from the other side:
It is not an exaggeration, I don’t think, to say that government policy is very rarely based on evidence. For example, when Professor David Nutt (the head of the advisory council for the Misuse of Drugs Act) wrote a scientific paper on the relatively modest risks of MDMA, he was instantly dismissed for contradicting government policy. As the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, explained very clearly at the time: you cannot be a government adviser and go against government policy.
Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist and author of Bad Science, notes:
“Drugs instantiate the classic problem for evidence based social policy. It may well be that prohibition, and the inevitable distribution of drugs by criminals, gives worse results for all the outcomes we think are important, like harm to the user, harm to our communities through crime, and so on. But equally, it may well be that we will tolerate these worse outcomes, because we decide it is somehow more important that we publicly declare ourselves, as a culture, to be disapproving of drug use, and enshrine that principle in law. It’s okay to do that. You can have policies that go against your stated outcomes, for moral or political reasons: but that doesn’t mean you can hide the evidence, it simply means you must be clear that you don’t care about it.”
Of course, government policy with regard to drugs is not the only area of social policy that actually goes against its stated outcomes. One example that springs readily to mind this week is Conservative policy with regard to families. Nadine Dorries, representing the Christian fundamentalist right of the party, recently exclaimed: “We believe that given what happened over the past week our number one priority should be reinforcing family, reinforcing relationships.” However, Gillian Pascall, writing in the journal Social Policy & Administration in 2002, looking back at 18 years of Conservative rule, notes:
“The marketization of life, pursued under Thatcherism, contributed to undermining the family form which has traditionally underpinned the market. Deregulated labour markets and spreading owner-occupation in an unstable housing market have been important contributions to family breakdown, insecurity and women’s access to – and need for – jobs. The idea of family responsibility was promulgated, but in practice family members have become less able to support each other.”
As Gramsci once said “history teaches, but it has no pupils”. This week The Financial Times reported that “David Cameron is being urged to accelerate tax breaks for married couples as part of his moral clean-up of Britain following last week’s riots”.
During the course of his speech (described by one unnamed “senior Conservative” as “a very long, drawn-out way of saying ‘we told you so’”), Cameron apparently:
“…attacked the riots as the culmination of a ‘slow-motion moral collapse’. He complained that ‘social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face’. But the prime minister supplied no evidence that the riots marked a long-term decline in behaviour – perhaps because the available data point in the opposite direction.”
Commenting on the findings of the latest British Crime Survey (BCS), the FT goes on to note that “the riots are anything but the climax of a crime wave”. Indeed, findings from the BCS indicate that the rate of lawbreaking “now remains around the lowest level ever reported”.
This is not the first time that Cameron has conveniently ignored the results of the BCS. When he first started talking about the “broken society” in 2007, he made much of rising crime rates. “We need a big cultural change in favour of fatherhood, in favour of parenting, in favour of marriage,” he said. Writing in the International Journal of Social Welfare though, Leeds University’s Simon John Prideaux notes:
“…it seems incredulous that Cameron has chosen not to acknowledge the findings of the British Crime Survey. Could it be that such evidence represents a direct contradiction to Cameron’s analysis? After all, the 2006/07 British Crime Survey report states that violent crime in general has actually fallen 41 per cent, with assault with minor injury falling by 58 per cent since 1995. Indeed, at its current level, this amounts to over half a million fewer victims over the period covered. Arguably, then, these findings make a mockery of the belief that there is a growing and threatening ‘underclass’”
As I have written about before, this ideal of family life and the expectation that it offers a panacea to crime is highly problematic. For example, the family itself is the site of significant crime - the 2007 British Crime Survey for example, shows that 16% of all violent crimes are domestic, and for women, domestic violence is the most prevalent type of violent victimisation. What is more, this ideal of family life presented by David Cameron is patriarchal, racist, and elitist. As the governor of Morton Hall Prison, Jamie Bennett, explains:
“It is patriarchal as it seeks to undermine the economic independence asserted by women and seeks to impose upon them a traditional domestic role. It is racist because it presents a particular white, Christian ideal of family life that does not embrace diverse ideas about the family. It is elitist because it posits a middle-class view of family life - for many working-class parents, the option of obtaining flexible working to suit family life is unrealistic as indeed is the option of non-working parents dedicated to parenting.”
Rather than being based in any kind of social reality, the “return to core Conservative values of marriage, commitment, discipline and duty” are constructed around elitist ideals and do not embrace the diversity of people living in the UK or take account of their needs. It is an approach that is destined to fail its own stated outcomes because it is based not upon any kind of evidence, but merely upon prejudice.
Do you work in the press or campaigning team at a progressive NGO? Have you struggled to get a matter of clear public and humanitarian interest covered properly, or covered at all, by the corporate media? Help us expose the way the media marginalises the big issues to serve its own narrow priorities and agenda.
The phone hacking scandal presents those of us on the progressive side of British politics - from liberals to socialists - with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to loosen the corporate media’s destructive grip on our political culture. It is vital that the post-scandal momentum is not allowed to fade.
New Left Project is currently putting together a series of articles by authors and academics on the subject of media reform, discussing the question of how we can create a media more grounded in the needs and concerns of ordinary people, and geared towards the public interest rather than the demands of a narrow state-corporate elite.
We suspect that NGOs, charities and campaigning organisations will have a unique and valuable insight, drawn from years of experience, of the ways in which matters of grave public concern - such as poverty, inequality, human rights, and climate change - are either marginalised by the media, warped in their presentation, or excluded altogether from the national discourse.
We are therefore seeking testimony from press and campaigning staff at such organisations, describing the struggles they have experienced in attempting to gain media coverage for matters of clear public and humanitarian interest. General descriptions of experiences and specific illustrative anecdotes will be equally welcome.
In the first instance, the best of these will be drawn together for an article to be published on our website, as part of the media reform series. But if we can collate enough testimony then we will give serious thought to how it can be presented in order to maximise its impact on the wider public debate.
We understand that press and campaigning staff rely on good relations with the press, so any requests for submissions to be treated anonymously will be completely respected.
Please email us if you wish to contribute, at info[at]newleftproject.org
David Wearing, NLP co-editor
Two members of the public, Marcus Dowe and Mr Jones, discuss the recent riots in England. By Sam Grove
Marcus Dowe: I think the reasons for the riots are complex and it is important at a time like this to not to forget to think. To think about what is causing this, what it represents, and the types of consequences it can have both in the short term but also in the long term.
Mr Jones: I don’t think we can talk about causes. This was just opportunism.
Marcus Dowe: Sure a large part of it was opportunism, but that doesn’t stop it having a political dimension; and in fact multiple political dimensions. When someone takes the opportunity to steal what the advertising industries tell them they must have; products that cost twice as much as the benefits they have just been denied—that is political, whether the looter himself or herself is entirely aware of it. At the same time a lot of it was explicitly political. The riots were provoked by the police execution of Mark Duggan; and a lot of the rioting has targeted the police. In Nottingham six police stations were attacked. There aren’t i-phones and Nike trainers to be found there.
Mr Jones: There aren’t Nike trainers to be found in small grocery stores or people’s homes either.
Marcus Dowe: In a major upheaval such as this many things will be going on. Some of which are politically meaningful. Others that are criminal and senseless. Nobody is condoning the targeting of small businesses or people’s homes.
Mr Jones: You are. You are making out that they are revolutionaries.
Marcus Dowe: No I’m not and to attempt to explain is not the same as justification.
Mr Jones: What is there to explain? There are bad people. It’s human nature.
Marcus Dowe: If we get into a question of human nature we are looking at the wrong level of analysis. Yes there is opportunism and selfishness. And in fact we see that at all levels of society, with the political class, with the bankers that are looting the treasury and so on. The question is why this particular type of opportunism and why now and why in these distinct places. When you start asking these questions you start to tie things together.
Mr Jones: You are being too simplistic.
Marcus Dowe: I am trying not to. I think there is a lot that is informing this crisis. There is a crisis of legitimacy for the police and media after ‘hackgate’. There is a crisis for the political class after the expenses. There are real long standing issues of policing, poverty and so on which are set to get worse with the cuts. There is a sense of despair in these areas which leads to people having no respect for themselves or each other. Finally we are seeing social mobilisation, protest, incivility, and upheaval all over the world. And that has an impact as well.
Mr Jones: If you are comparing this to the Arab Spring you are mental. These people are fighting for their rights not looting JD Sports.
Marcus Dowe: I am trying to list some of the many factors that contribute to this. And if you look at history events going on in one part of the world do affect others. We saw it in the 1960s. Many different types of protests and incivility and upheaval with many different stories and contexts—but nonetheless feeding off each other.
Mr Jones: You are just resorting to rhetoric. What about the parents?
Marcus Dowe: Well the parents, obviously, are exposed to many of the same forces as the kids. As we might expect. They live in the same areas, they suffer from the same types of insecurities and economic hardships (which impacts upon them as parents. On a wider scale they have been exposed to the recent crisis with the political class and media, as well as events elsewhere in the world.
Mr Jones: I have economic hardships. That doesn’t mean I go out and steal whatever I like.
Marcus Dowe: Most people don’t. In fact most people who are really suffering right now just get on with their lives regardless and try to make do. However the media aren’t interested in these people. They are interested in drawing attention to and sensationalising the minority of people who exhibit the worst symptoms of economic hardships. Then they can make this the generalisation and justify further regressive reforms and policies against the poor and those that are struggling as a whole.
Mr Jones: You talk about the symptoms of the hardship, but there is still individual responsibility and agency. These people need to take responsibility for themselves.
Marcus Dowe: The question of individual responsibility is an important one when addressing individuals. However when addressing society at large, when addressing the media, when addressing collective issues we need to again look at a different plane of analysis. That is not to say that individual responsibility isn’t important. But I think if you look, the types of people actually engaging with these people, the community organisers, the community activists, the people that live in these communities and are trying to improve things on a daily basis—it is them that will be talking to the people individually about improving their lives and the importance of taking responsibility. However when they stop addressing their own and address the public at large they start talking about wider social issues. And that is the reason they are ignored. The political class, the media,the journalists, the police, have no right to talk about individual responsibility when they routinely fail to live up to their responsibility as public servants.
Mr Jones: Again so simplistic. You are just saying that the police, media and politicians are responsible. If you look there are real attempts by the government by the media and the police to try and solve these social problems but the people in these communities don’t want to help themselves.
Marcus Dowe: We are bombarded on a daily basis about what our governing institutions are doing to try to help the situation. We hear virtually nothing about what they are doing to make the situation in these areas much much worse. Since 2001 an average of 2 people a month have died in police custody. They have been disproportionately black. We don’t hear about this. Not until there is a riot.
Mr Jones: You are wrong. We hear about it all the time.
Marcus Dowe: On the contrary we don’t. There was a march on Scotland Yard a few weeks ago protesting police brutality. Thousands were involved. Not a peep from the media.
Mr Jones: I saw Darcus Howe the other day on BBC News.
Marcus Dowe: And did you see how he was treated?
Mr Jones: Darcus Howe has been going on about the same things for 30 years. We require a new analysis.
Marcus Dowe: We are not talking about analysis. We are talking about straightforward facts that don’t get reported.
Mr Jones: So you are justifying the riot?
Marcus Dowe: No. What I am saying is that we have a choice. Either we understand and recognise the political dimensions to this crisis and attempt to resolve them, or we allow the political Right to control our editorial line. If we do then we can expect the situation to get much worse. We can expect to see an enhancement of police powers, police brutality to get worse, greater controls on our right to protest, a strengthening of the reactionary elements of the state and ultimately a strengthening of the corporate powers that want to force through these cuts and ensure that the only looting that goes on in this country is done by them.
Mr Jones: This Marxist analysis is old and was disproved a long time ago.