August is muggy. The balmy evenings of crimson glow across the horizon turns the ordinary man litigious and the not-old-enough-man into a tactile reactionary frenzy. Riots broke out this August in London, Birmingham and Manchester. 'Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh, Asleep in granite Aberdeen, They continue their dreams..'. Yet the youth of London, Brum, Madchester and the smaller cities where rampaging youths steamed along the streets like W. H. Auden's Night Train were dreaming of something else. What were they dreaming of? Politicians, litigators and intelligentsia debated as dawn broke out over the charred horizon now not so crimson, but ashen grey.
As planes landed one by one on ashpalt not too dissimilar in colour to the morning after the riots, Boris, Dave and others returned to the capital having cut short their summer holidays. Before the events in Tottenham I read in The Independent that the Prime Minister had gone back to the same busy cafe somewhere in Tuscany to tip the waitress who had not been tipped the morning before, apparently, for poor service. He returned to London on the first available flight after the riots had been raging for three consecutive nights to chair a meeting of COBRA. Cobra is the extraordinarily dramatic name for the civil contingencies committee which leads responses to a national crisis. On that very same night, heavy police presence ensured that very little happened.
The Coalition government had averted the crisis from turning into something far worse. Law and order was the order of the night again. After three nights of staying in largely due to a cold, my friend Charlotte decided to go to the pub again. As the police raided properties in search of rioters in the usual locations, they slept in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and in my very own Cardiff dreaming of something no doubt very different from the near two and half thousand arrested elsewhere. What do teenagers dream of?
Sex, when I was one.
Much has been attributed to teenage gangs operating in deprived neighbourhoods. The youth vilified all over England. Yet so many of the rioters were not teenagers. CCTV pictures which in itself seems to have been accepted as a necessary evil have revealed faces of men and women, largely black and white, but a few belonging other ethnicities too were within an age range of 12 to 35. What is it that they all have in common? The obvious answer seems to be criminal intent. Proving intent to commit a crime isn't difficult after poking one's right hand through the broken glass of a convenience store to steal a packet of £1 Haribo sweets. They are all criminals. Lump them into the same jail cell and throw away are key. A 'broken society' has descended upon us as David Cameron had declared. To mend this broken society new laws on rioting are required in addition to those allowing councils the power to evict rioting families. The parents of the children rioting are brandished with the same brush. Theresa May, the Home Secretary alluded to possible new curfew powers for the police. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had defended orange jumpsuits, Guantanamo style that could be worn by prosecuted rioters and made to clean up the streets themselves, and mend broken windows.
Broken glass can only be replaced not mended. The shards laying on the pavement and inside of shops get brushed up into dustpans by the broom-army and put away. The rioters are like the very same shards of broken glass. They have been broken. Perhaps they broke themselves. What started out as an 'old-skool' protest by the gangsta-designer label wearing black men in Tottenham soon became diluted into a general protest mele with the word protest losing any significance soon after dusk. New anti-terror laws and stop, and search powers brought in by the previous New Labour administration of Tony Blair, and never really repealed by Gordon Brown thereafter had often been misused by the authorities. The ethnic minorities have faced the brunt of it alongside the odd Holocaust surviving pensioner and Labour Party activist within conference settings. A young black man is more likely to be stopped and searched.
The criminal intent of the rioters in whatever capacity is unjustifiable in a civilised society. Clapham Junction is indefensible. Yet, by labelling each and every one of the rioters a criminal, and ushering in illiberal anti-riot laws ignores the social conditions that led to the first night of rioting in Tottenham.
Glasgow, Edinburgh and granite Aberdeen slumbers. Long ago the Night Mail Train stopped crossing the border whistling all the way, shaking gently but a jug in the bedroom. No jugs of water in Clapham bedrooms, only vials of Tamazepam and white-brown-black powder stains on the bedroom floor. This is England.