Friday, 12 August 2011

Disorder spreading to Reading?

#riots - As coverage of rioting gripped the nation this week, locals have been keen to get in on the act.

Mike McNamara reports Thames Valley Police recorded several small incidents in Reading and Oxford, and  offered precautionary advice to carry on with business as normal so as "not to cause widespread public concern".

Bracknell's Cllr Alvin Finch says an additional Police street presence coupled with wet weather meant things have been quiet despite fears of more major outbreaks.

The most serious saw 11 people charged with 'burglary in joint venture with others' and 'violent disorder' after an incident at the Makro store in Reading - which has been linked to the rioting around the country, according to BBC reports.

9 people charged had their names released, while those of two others aged under-18 were not. All 11 were remanded in custody until Friday 12th August. The oldest charged was 39.

Jan Gavin gives further details, explaining that between thirty and forty 18-19 year olds were involved, many of whom were previously known to the police. She says there were signs of coordination, including use of BlackBerry closed messaging networks, although it was not described by Police as an 'organised crime'.

However she may not be fully heeding the official warning as she reports a variety of incidents of vandalism, arson and burglary along major arteries and known trouble spots.

The Redlands councillor also argues a clear message needs to be sent to 'young people' that there are no exuses for 'senseless' action.

Matt Blackall strikes back at the Labour politician, pointing out how demonising young people is a soft option. He refuses to defend the violence, but he uses his own experience to point out how the lack of youth provision leads to gangs forming on street corners with nowhere to channel their energies.

He explains that the motivations of disorder are fundamentally political, even if not directly or explicitly so - they expose a level of social inequality which dates back decades.

Matt's view is supported by University of Reading's Dr Matthew Worsley, who argues longstanding class identities have been 'eclipsed' by the lifestyle choices of consumer society and create a sense of political exclusion, explaining, "the politics of youth and the politics of the street do not reflect or recognise the traditional politics of party or ideology."

Greens and LibDems both agree on the need to tackle poverty and inequality - Adrian Windisch reprints a statement by his party's London Mayoral candidate made in response to the events while Cllr Daisy Benson gave a more detailed account of what practical measures can and should be made as part of her party's ongoing campaign in this area - as she points out, Labour's ambition hasn't been matched by results.

This site previously provided some statistics on unemployment and the level of NEETs.

Chairman Bill also notes that employment is a serious issue because minimum wage jobs provide no prospects of advancement and therefore disincentivises engagement with civil society. He thinks the riots are a direct response to urban decay and degradation of the fabric of society.

However Kirsten Bayes dismisses any pessimism about moral collapse with some powerful insights into the lack of empathy some people feel and points out unavoidable consequences have a way of reasserting natural order.

Wokingham's John Redwood MP is fullsome in his viewpoint, particularly as his outspokenness turns him into a lightening rod for opponents. He makes a withering attack on those who claim public policy under the coalition is to blame for the violence, saying they "are infected by the Ken Livingstone approach" - and that if they were accurate it would also be an equal indictment of Labour.

He argues it is less about economics than morality.

Meanwhile fellow Conservative Cllr Richard Willis uses some emotive language to argue 'lessons must be learned' from the events.

He criticises the 'politically correct' agenda of former years, arguing that parents of under-age criminals should be held to account. Although both agree on the need for reform of policing he also provides deepening evidence of a party split by saying his party's cuts to Police and defence budgets hinder the first duty of the government to provide security and will "send out all the wrong messages".

Elsewhere Orbilia eloquently expresses her anger at the anger seen on the streets, it's not only futile, but counter-productive: "if you were truly poor, you'd be stealing food, basic clothing, and the materials needed to build your own shelter."

Right-wing libertarian Rob Fisher complains that the middle classes have been disarmed and made powerless from intervening in situations where the Police can't or won't, which allows the bad guys to cause havoc - it's obvious to him who's guilty.

But left-wing libertarian Left Outside argues that is a simplistic outlook. While consumer electronics such as BlackBerrys are typically costlier purchases and property even in the capital's most deprived neighbourhoods is expensive wealth is a relative measure and it would be better to look beyond the headlines.

He states: "there appears to be a poverty of ambition in these riots" - a poverty which may not starve you, but will certainly disenchant you.

So the fascinating picture of life in Tottenham which Babyrambles' Emily O paints from her own time living in the borough as a poor student gives a handy insight into conditions facing such sections of society. Looking back at it might make it seem like a colourful experience full of entertaining stories, but she'd probably view it very differently if she'd known it wasn't just a temporary interlude.

Tim Liew writes an excllent post to argue that there was no single cause of the events. He also considers the longer-term impact of the events and the role of social media as a potential force for good.

And on another blog I write an account arguing that with everything we know it was easy to predict a riot - indeed, certain groups did just that!

On the other hand Wendy wonders if it was a revolution, a rebellion, a riot… or just the return of an ancient national pastime!

But the penultimate word goes to Steve Borthwick who writes a fantastic post complaining that he's suffering from 'analysis fatigue - so he, like the rest of us, will enjoy the inspired 100-word prose poem by the Baglady.

And that's one thing on which the vast majority agree - we might like words, but what we really want is action!


For the latest worldwide reaction BBC Monitoring based in Caversham provides an excellent rundown as standard.

Local PR guru Nigel Morgan discusses the role of social media as a communication tool with BBC Radio Berkshire's Anne Diamond. They conclude free speech is the price of democracy, which means the purpose social media is put to and the manner of expression depends on the intention of the people using it.


More about crime and policing


  1. Thanks very much for the mention. I can imagine parts of Reading being affected by the discontent. I wondered if it would kick off when the Thames Valley police travelled up to London leaving the area less monitored than usual. Hopefully things will quieten down now but riots traditionally occur in this country at times of economic slump and warm weather so who knows what the rest of the summer holds.

  2. No probs Emily - it was a really good post with a fresh angle so I'm happy to recommend it.

    I agree there's something cat and mouse about the way the police and gangs are going at it, but there doesn't seem to be a reason why it happened now as opposed to any other time - someone suggested to me the criminal elements are being 'flushed out' ahead of the Olympics in preparation for it... far-fetched? Maybe, but not inconceivable.

    Anyway, I hope you get your plantains:D

  3. Thanks for the overview.

    I'm mystified by most of the discussion: who doesn't like free stuff and the chance to let their hair down?

    I would like to understand how the phase change from "ordered" to "disordered" worked, but I suspect that that needs painstaking research and analysis rather than opinion.

  4. Agreed, but none of the stuff is really free, all the damage costs extra and then there are the lawyers who charge another chunk on top - so it ends up as another means of redistributing wealth to the professional classes.

    It all goes back to the Met's Operation Trident against gun crime in the capital, which the death of Mark Duggan was a product of. As I understand it there was an incident when the vigil for him in Tottenham changed to a protest and Police reacted to some crowd aggression (stone throwing apparently). Some of those involved moved to Tottenham Vale retail park and more people were sucked in, which is when the gangs got involved and further disturbances started.

    Like Emily's post describes, everyone in a community makes connections - so I guess you could describe it as a social earthquake which took on a snowball effect by rippling out along those connections from the epicentre in Tottenham.

  5. I rather suspect that, presented with a pair of expensive trainers by a generous providence, the British Opportunist's first thoughts do not go to the legal and social costs. You are quite right that the professional classes do always seem to end up sorting out the mess: a burden they are happy to bear.

    Six sets of players spring to mind (you can probably think of more):

    - The professional gangs - looking for any opportunity to boost their business strategies
    - The hobby troublemaker - the sort of person who turns up at a peace protest with a motorcycle helmet and a baseball bat
    - The opportunist public - open to sudden opportunities for free stuff and a bit of a larf
    - The principled public - who will defend their fellows by protesting against injustice or standing against a mob coming down the street
    - The public who just keep their heads down
    - The police

    You can mix and match these groups against the different stages of the riot to get very different pictures of what was going on. No doubt the truth will out soon... more analysis, please!


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