With riots kicking off left right and centre, an article by Penny Red called Panic on the streets of London keeps reappearing in my timeline.
Apart from some hyberole and cliche (“watching my city burn”, “society is ripping itself apart”), it’s a good article. I find her statement “Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis” to be incisive.
But one thing really grates. Primarily, I find this to be disturbing: “The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays”
Firstly, and least importantly, why the word “foreign” there? Is it to imply that going abroad is the hallmark of a cigar-chomping, caviar-snorting top-hatted capitalist? It looks as if “going to Foreignland” is code for “disgustingly rich” which, at the turn of the last century it might have been. But it ain’t now.
Most importantly is the implicit assertion that if only our leaders had returned earlier (or not gone to Foreignland at all) everything would be alright. If only our wise paternalist leaders had their hand reassuringly on the rudder of state, there wouldn’t be unrest.
This is, of course, preposterous. This lazy belief in Leaders is prevalent in the right and the left (I’ve seen lots of comments on Twitter from left-leaning friends deriding the fact that our leaders have been on holiday. In holiday season, the bastards).
If only David Cameron hadn’t cut this budget, it implies, Dwayne Scumbag wouldn’t be nicking from an injured boy (video). If only Nick Clegg/ Boris Johnson / Ed Milliband were sitting in their office in a suit and tie, it’ll be OK because it’s not the rioters’ responsibility and it’s not our responsibility – we can all turn on The X Factor and go back to sleep.
But David Cameron, tosser though he is, did not seize power in a military coup. We – as a society – elected him, and no-one seriously expected him to do anything else other than gleefully rekindle Thatcherism.
We – as a society – enjoyed the practically free credit that allowed us to stock up on the shiny consumer durables that are being looted now. And we as a society tell each other that ownership of Brand X or machine Y is so important to your value as a human being that you should break a window to acquire one.
And if we as a society are so infantilised that we believe that we’re helpless until a Leader comes back from Foreignland, smiling benignly to roll up his sleeves and clean up our poo, then we’re in even bigger trouble than it appears.
What worries me is that once Our Leaders come back to take charge, to the relief of both the right and the left, they’ll feel the need to show they’re in charge by Utterly Condemning the Mindless Violence and then getting out the rubber bullets and water cannons. Because whatever it is that’s going on, rubber bullets and water cannons won’t cure it.