Silly me, I didn’t realise the rioters were victims
Well, that didn’t take long – just seven months to turn the summer rioters from the scum of the earth into victims. There we all were during those tense few days in August, glued to our TV screens as shops were looted and homes burned to the ground, misguidedly thinking that the police had lost control of the streets to a rag-tag army of opportunistic, feral criminals.
In reality, what we were witnessing was a protest by politically sophisticated, disenchanted and alienated young people driven to despair by police brutality. This, at any rate, is what we are invited to believe by a study commissioned by The Guardian, in collaboration with the London School of Economics, and published across eight pages of the newspaper yesterday under the heading “Reading the Riots”. Needless to say, the BBC ran with the story all day.
Now, there is nothing wrong with researching the causes of the worst outbreak of lawlessness in this country since the early Eighties. It is right to try to put what happened into context, since so many of us were shocked and angered. But the Left has been desperate to seize back what it likes to call the “narrative” of these riots, which was hijacked early on by the law-abiding majority who just happened to witness most of it.
As the mess was cleared up, and a motley procession of ne’er-do-wells appeared before the courts for a taste of condign punishment that the rest of us cheered to the rafters, the Left seethed with indignation. Since the fires were still smouldering and the funerals of those who died had yet to take place, its spokesmen were unable to line up their usual excuses for bad behaviour: deprivation, poverty, hopelessness – and, of course, police brutality. Nor could they trot out the previously unsuccessful remedies: more money, intervention, community penalties – anything but punishment.
However, they also knew that if they could bide their time, there might be another story to tell; and sure enough “Reading the Riots” provides it. All those dreadful, white, middle-class, Right-wing moralisers were wrong: gang culture was not to blame; the rioters weren’t mostly black; they weren’t an underclass: in fact, many were surprisingly political, but found it hard to articulate their grievances without chucking a brick through a shop window or stealing a TV set.