Press releases

LRC statement: After the riots, resisting a reactionary backlash

22nd August 2011

A deeply reactionary furore has been whipped up by politicians and the media in response to the riots that swept London and other English towns and cities in early August.

People in the communities affected were understandably angry at the destruction and disruption caused, but their distress has been hijacked by the government (most of whose leading figures stayed on their sun loungers while the riots were happening) to whip up a witch hunt against anyone involved, and to push an authoritarian agenda.

The riots were not caused by technology, benefits, council housing or the lack of police – and future social unrest will not be prevented by shutting down technology, removing incomes and homes, or by deploying, or even employing, more police.

Likewise the punitive and summary sentencing of those charged with offences during the riots has made our legal system a joke. It has also exposed the myth of judicial independence, as magistrates and judges have been told to ignore sentencing guidelines and dish out ridiculous custodial sentences. Some would say such sentencing is a deterrent, yet the UK already has the toughest sentencing in Europe, with proportionately more people in prison than any other EU country.

But the hysteria around this witch hunt is not just limited to the grotesque sentences handed down for minor ‘crimes’ – like six months for stealing £3.50 of bottled water – but has extended to demanding that people’s benefits and social housing should be removed. This is both ethically and logically nonsensical. It would mean poorer people being punished twice, and a collective punishment on their household.

This government is already making £20 billion of welfare cuts, while cutting corporation tax – now it using the riots to further demonise those on benefits and in social housing.

Those MPs, like the bumbling Hazel Blears (who asked why young rioters weren’t in school – on August evenings!?) and the Cabinet of Looters that govern are hypocrites of the highest order who opportunistically looted through their expenses as greedily and amorally as any of those so far sentenced. This same political class that condemned Mubarak in Egypt for attacking communications networks, now suggest they should have the right to close social networks here.

The anger, hopelessness and consumerist opportunism expressed in the riots will not be resolved by greater authoritarianism or even addressed by those whose interests lie in the maintenance of policies which lead to them in the first place. They deny that such causes even exist. Alienation and nihilism are the inevitable consequences of a generation of policies that create inequality, promote individualism and condemn hundreds of thousands to unemployment. The labour movement needs to engage with, organise and mobilise the whole working class against such policies and all attempts to divide us against one another and for a form of society which abolishes inequality. As a start we must make every effort to stop this repressive backlash.

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