One of the most depressing things about this week’s looting / riots is the way so many politicians and commentators have used their pre-existing worldviews to provide simple accounts for what has happened across England. These political narratives may provide some with an easy sense of assurance, but they do little to help us understand the whole complexity of what has happened, or to work out how to prevent this kind of mayhem from happening again.
Aditya Chakrabortty has a brilliant article in The Guardian today explaining how the political classes, left and right, have seen just what they want to see.
If you’re a leftwinger, the causes of the violence and looting are straightforward: they’re the result of monstrous inequality and historic spending cuts; while the youth running amok through branches of JD Sports are what happens when you offer a generation plastic consumerism rather than meaningful jobs.
For the right, explaining the violence is even simpler – because any attempt at understanding is tantamount to condoning it. Better by far to talk of a society with a sense of over-entitlement; or to do what the prime minister did and simply dismiss “pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick”. You can expect to hear more of the same rhetoric in today’s debate in parliament, especially from backbenchers on either side.
Later, he says:
Offering up a single explanation for the violence and looting that began in one London borough on Saturday and has since spread as far as Birmingham and Salford must be a nonsense.
The Commons meets later today, to discuss the “public unrest”. Let’s hope that MPs from all sides can move beyond the old mindsets and stories. The right needs to acknowledge how recession, spending cuts, social inequality and consumerism have created the environment for what has happened.
But it’s time for the liberal-left to acknowledge fully that not everyone who smashes into a shop and loads up a car with electrical appliances or commits arson is a tragic, downtrodden victim of neo-liberal economic policies and that there is such a thing as right and wrong.
Most of all, let’s hope that the government sets out a new vision that can unite the country in addressing social and economic exclusion, as well as educational failure and family breakdown. That’s right, we need a new political narrative. We’re all in this together, after all.