This piece was written in August 2011, a year before the Olympics, when outbreaks of rioting were happening all over the capital.
Greenwich is like a ghost town at the moment. Those people that are about, though, seem quite jolly, with shopkeepers, chipboard-installers and members of the public all chatting happily to each other – maybe we can keep that up when the boys and girls in the hooded tops have got bored and moved on to something else? A lot of people seem very despondent, wondering how this can ever end, and I remember feeling the same at the start of the 1980s, when every bulletin on the BBC seemed to bring news of another town centre in flames.
But back then it did stop – obviously – because these things always do when there’s no political agenda driving them. And there’s nothing like that here, no agenda beyond the procurement of trainers and electrical goods for personal use. There are deep-rooted problems in society without which none of this would be happening, and which need to be addressed NOW through political action (by which I mean chiefly good old-fashioned redistribution of wealth via taxation, aka an increase in fairness, not water cannon), but that’s not the same thing at all; and, speaking as someone firmly and unrepentantly of The Left, it frustrates me when left-wing idiots conflate the two and try to pretend that the violence and looting are politically inspired and pretty much the moral equivalent of the Jarrow March. I’m not trying to to sound like Gandhi – I really can’t do the accent – but violence is rarely the best way forward, and looting, despite what my little anarchist chums tell me, is not a legitimate form of protest, it’s just a nicely photogenic manifestation of ego and greed. These kids ransacking Currys and JD Sports don’t have a coherent political thought in their heads: they probably couldn’t even name the prime minister. But they’re angry, and resentful, and don’t feel they owe the outside world respect; maybe we need to think how much of that anger, resentment and lack of respect is justified. Boris Johnson, speaking today in Croydon, said: “It’s time that people who are engaged in looting and violence stopped hearing economic and social justifications.” Echoes of John Major’s “Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less”. Because, heavens, if you understand a problem, you might run the risk of solving it. This may well be “pure criminality”, Boris, but there’s a reason it’s happening in Tottenham and not, say, Chipping Norton.
(There are more photos of the hoardings going up on the Flickr page, if anyone’s interested.)