Rich thugs, poor thugs

Symon Hill
By Symon Hill
12 Aug 2011

During last year's general election campaign, Nick Clegg said that the Tories' economic policies could lead to riots in the streets. It seems that Clegg was more accurate in his predictions about the Tory policies he is now implementing than he was in his claims about how Liberal Democrats would behave in government.

When I mentioned this on Twitter a few days ago, I was accused of making excuses for the rioters by blaming the Tories. It's been hard to talk about the root causes of the riots without being accused of supporting the rioters. David Cameron attributed the events of the last week to "criminality pure and simple" - a convenient way of avoiding any responsibility.

I wonder how anyone manages to tackle a problem without considering the causes. Do these people invite a plumber round when the sink is blocked and then take offence when he starts talking about the cause of the blockage. "The cause of the blocked sink?! I want to defeat the blocked sink, not make excuses for it! Whose side are you on?!".

Right-wing columnists have been having a field day, using the situation to peddle viciously insulting messages about single parents, benefit recipients, working class people and anyone else they don't like. Melanie Philipps in the Daily Mail attributed responsibility to "a liberal intelligentsia hell-bent on a revolutionary transformation of society".

A number of them have responded to the riots with sweeping assertions about people they know nothing about. Christina Odone wrote in the Daily Telegraph that "the majority of rioters are gang members". How can she possibly know that?

Max Hastings literally dehumanised the rioters in the Daily Mail, writing that "They respond only to instinctive animal impulses - to eat and drink, have sex, seize and destroy the accessible property of others". I cannot accept that this is true of any human being, even those who readily engage in violence and intimidation. But even if it were possible, there is no way that Hastings could know the details of the rioters' psychology.

He also claims to know the details of their everyday lives. His most bizarre assertion is, "They do not watch royal weddings or notice test matches" (I don't watch royal weddings either, Max). He goes on to insist that "The notions of doing a nine-to-five job... are beyond their imaginations".

This claim seems to be in tension with the screaming headlines about the apparently respectable jobs of several of the rioters. Several youth workers, a trainee accountant and an estate agent are among the accused. This fact also undermines the assumption behind the online petition calling for rioters' benefits to be removed.

Writer and columnist Allison Pearson, joined in the guessing game. Writing in the Telegraph, she asked "How many [of the looters] come from homes without a father? I reckon we can guess the answer." Pearson's columns are based on guessing. Some of us would rather wait for the facts.

At least she didn't advocate murder on national television, unlike Kelvin Mackenzie. "All we hear about is these scumbags on the street," he said on Newsnight, "Shoot them. I would be in favour of shooting them."

The attitudes of these professional right-wing ranters - most of whom are far removed from the riots - bear a marked difference to the approach of some of the rioters' victims.

Ashraf Haziq, who was mentioned by David Cameron after he was mugged by people pretending to help him, has said he "feels sorry" for his attackers.

Abdul Quddoos Khan, whose two brothers were murdered in Birmingham, says he spent Wednesday night persuading other young Muslim men not to resort to violence and revenge. He said, "I am angry but violence won't achieve anything except make another mother and father lose their child. What good would that do?"

Given that those of us who talk about root causes are accused of siding with the looters, let me make clear that I oppose the violence, intimidation, trauma, devastation and destruction of livelihoods that have been taking place in the last few days.

Indeed, I think I'm far more consistent in my attitude to looting than the likes of Max Hastings and Allison Pearson. I oppose violence and looting by young, poor men in hoodies and I also oppose violence and looting by respectable middle-aged people in suits.

I oppose the corporations who have looted the treasury through their tax avoidance, the bankers who assaulted society through the financial crash and the arms dealers who profit from selling weapons to tyrants. I oppose Cameron, Clegg and their gang of thugs who are launching a daily assault on the poorest members of society with their vicious cuts to public services and the welfare state.

David Cameron said "The root cause of this mindless selfishness is.. a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society". Clearly, in Cameron's eyes, selfishness and a lack of responsibility are traits that are acceptable only among the rich.

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(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion.

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