"It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society; people allowed to feel the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and their actions do not have consequence."
So said David Cameron in the aftermath of the summer riots. As The Guardian commentator, Gary Younge, writes today, "He could just as easily have been talking about bankers"…
Younge adds: "The government's high-handed moral pronouncements were particularly hard to take given the recent behaviour of our political and financial elites: a corrupt political class embroiled in phone hacking and expense scandals, and a disdainful financial sector where failure brought huge bonuses."
If naked greed and power are what caused the moral collapse of feral politicians and the rich, what caused people to nick tellies and trainers off Salford Precinct and lob bricks at the police?
The answers can be found, perhaps, in Reading The Riots – a huge research project by The Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics, which took 1.3million words from 270 people across the country who were actually involved in the riots. The Guardian's coverage of the Salford part in the riots today focuses on 46 year old `Barrry'…
"I heard someone say, 'Let's burn the bingo down,' and I heard someone say: 'I can't burn that, my mam will kill me.'" he recalls ""I think most of the spectators did exactly the same – they came along just to watch; they just found themselves wound up in it ... I found this iPod and as I picked it up this girl was looking at me. I just gave it her. I actually went into one of the shops and I took a load of the cigarettes and I gave them to the people."
This backs up the Salford Star's coverage at the time. The site was hammered in the comments section for the impression – but got almost 500 `likes' on Facebook (see here).
Barry goes on to explain in The Guardian why he thought that the Salford riot eventually turned on the police…
"I think it was about having a go at the police – you know, after years of abuse" he says "Because the police do abuse people, they do like take liberties. I know people who get harassed by the police on a regular basis, and it will always go on – and I can't see it ever stopping. What you have to understand is there are a lot of people from Salford who love Salford – who will fight for Salford."
Barry's comments were echoed by a 27 year woman from Salford…
"Young people in general cannot walk down the street without the police stopping them" she said "[They say]: 'Take your hat off, take your hood off, what you doing, empty your pockets, there's four of you, you've got to split up, you can't go round in a group' – even when they are not doing anything wrong."
Nationally, The Guardian asked 270 rioters the causes of the riots and 86% and 85% cited poverty and policing as `important' or `very important'. A parallel survey by ICM of 1001 adults in the general population cited `poor parenting' (86%) and `criminality' (86%) as the main causes of the riots,
The Guardian states: "What appears to have been the result of this outpouring of anti-police attitudes was, for some at least, a five-day catharsis. Many spoke of being `empowered, liberated' and paradoxically, while the streets burned, of being euphoric. Repeatedly, the rioters said their confrontations with police made them feel `powerful'..."
The Association of Police Officers retorted: "In a survey of 270 rioters, it would be quite odd if a high proportion did not cite the police as a factor in their behaviour. But August also showed the ability of our police to restore order using robust, common sense policing in the British way."
Research from both The Guardian and from Government statistics shows that those caught were overwhelmingly from poorer backgrounds but, as The Guardian states, "While general levels of achievement for the group as a whole were relatively low, many were highly articulate and politicised, particularly when it came to describing the problems they faced, the frustrations in their lives, and the lack of opportunities available to them."
Gary Younge, attempting to sum up The Guardian's research, concludes…
"The government's narrative may have been ridiculous, but in the absence of a counter-narrative, many believed it plausible. The impression of unclaimed chaos and the shots of burning cars, devastated shopkeepers and hooded youth lent credibility to claims that this was nothing more than young hooligans running amok. `A riot,' said Martin Luther King, `is the language of the unheard.' Now, thanks in no small part to a study undertaken by the Guardian with the London School of Economics, we've had a chance to listen…"
The Guardian's Reading The Riots research and conclusions is being featured all this week in The Guardian newspaper (£1.20) or online at www.guardian.co.uk
See Salford Star coverage of the Salford riots… click here and follow the links at the end of the feature
Photo by Paul W