There are some very angry people out there. I’m not talking about those involved in the disturbances of the past few days – I’ll come to those later.
I’m talking about ordinary, common-or-garden, white, middle-class, middle-aged people, the sort you wouldn’t think of as trouble-makers.
They’re angry because of massive and unnecessary cuts to things they hold dear – the health service, the welfare state, education, social services.
They see their pensions becoming worthless, they see their kids about to take on £27,000 of debt in order to gain degrees that have no guarantee of ever getting them a job, they see their own parents’ future uncertain as care homes are closed and social services budgets cruelly slashed. They see their local libraries closing, spending in youth services and care for the elderly, mentally ill and vulnerable pruned back savagely. They see a future in which, at a time they should be relaxing in relative comfort, they will more than likely have to share their homes with – and support financially – their jobless children and their enfeebled parents.
It’s a slow-burning anger. The government and the mass media tells them the cuts are necessary and for a while they believe it. But gradually they start to question this: why should they shoulder the financial burden while the rich get richer and the greedy corporations slyly avoid their tax burdens? Why are we as a nation continuing to wage fantastically expensive wars that appear to be for no real purpose, to achieve nothing, to put our troops and our citizens into needless danger? How, they ask, can we afford to keep waging war when we are hugely overdrawn as a country, in hock to foreign investors to the tune of billions, and as a result cannot afford to pay for essential, day-to-day services for our own people?
And they get more and more angry.
If you can understand this anger, you must understand how that anger is multiplied in communities hardest hit by the cuts. I’m not going to bandy figures around – the figures for the cuts to public services in the areas affected are freely available from local councils on the internet – but they’re scary. People who have little already are being deprived of much of what they do have.
No-one is able to explain why violent disturbances on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are described as “anti-government protests” and those involved described as “rebels”, when similar events here are described as “riots” and those involved are vilified as “yobboes and criminals”. There have even been frighteningly fascist-overtoned threats of evicting protesters from their homes and depriving them of their benefits. As one Tweeter put it tonight, “people calling for authoritarian measures never think it applies to them or anyone that they know”.
Another reminds those “baying for water cannons and rubber bullets” that those instruments could be turned on them in other circumstances. And a Tweet from the US points out that, in a parallel with what’s happening here, “the United States spends more than $780 billion on war each year and less than $10 billion on improving housing in the ghettos”.
The sad fact is that peaceful protest doesn’t work, as millions of people have found when they’ve taken to the streets to protest against the wars that are bankrupting our country and against the cuts that are being forced through in order to keep paying for these wars. Time and time again, the media has ignored the tens of thousands of “normal” people who attend each rally, most with great good humour and many with their children, and focused on the minority trouble-makers, in order to perpetuate the myth that dissent is somehow a minority sport.
What happens when polite protest doesn’t work? People get angry. And we’re seeing, to our cost, how such anger can manifest itself and how quickly it can spread.
“This sense of anger has been brewing for years,” commented a young black man on Twitter tonight. “We are all stereotyped as thugs hoodies criminals mobs gangs crews… It’s funny how [the] media portrayed it [the riot] as a minority of poor black youths when we now see other ages, classes, races in court facing justice.”
You can’t quell anger, or any other disease, by attacking its symptoms, you have to treat its root causes. That’s not condoning violence or justifying it – it’s common sense if you don’t want it to keep erupting. This week it’s the inner cities – what happens when the increasingly angry middle classes finally lose their temper?