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"Riots played right into British govt’s hands"

Published time: August 23, 2011 09:48
Edited time: August 23, 2011 16:59

AFP Photo / Anthony Devlin / PA Wire / Pool

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The very principles of democracy are being tested in the UK these days, finds Owen Jones, a writer from the UK, and the looters have been made scapegoats for all the social problems in the country.

Dozens of courts are examining day and night the looting cases in London and other British cities. Over 2,000 arrests have been made so far in connection with the unrest that plagued the country in the first week of August.

Entire districts were ravaged in London, Liverpool, Birmingham and other cities, and clashes with riot police became common in the streets. Hundreds of shops and businesses were looted.

The working class has been intentionally demonized in Great Britain believes Owen Jones, the author of the book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Classes. “Chav” is a slang acronym standing for “council house and violence”.

A myth appeared, says Jones. The image of people at the bottom – lazy, violent, stupid – has been created to justify the inequality existing in society and make people believe those poor workers deserve their lot.

What politicians and journalists do, Jones continues, is try to turn a social issue, unemployment and poverty, into a moral issue.

“It is very convenient for the government to say: ‘These people are on unemployment benefits and it’s their own fault, their behavior is their fault.’ And that is what needs to be sorted out,” he says.

A huge amount of social problems are not being addressed in the UK. That is why the recent riots play so well into the hands of the government.

“I think these riots are being manipulated by the government. People are understandably angered and scared, but what this government is doing – is using this to justify attacks on people who are on benefits. We’ve seen attacks on single parents, this idea of fatherless families which are made responsible. We’ve recently seen attacks on civil liberty and even these attacks on social media to be closed down,” Jones comments.

It has become a test for the very principles of democracy in the UK, Jones emphasizes. What the government’s response against the looters implies is that you will be punished twice if you have committed a crime and are poor, he says.

“Justice needs to be proportionate to the crime. If you take away all forms of income and all forms of housing from people, than what reason [do they have] not to be involved in criminality? That becomes their only means of survival. This is what our country needs to resist,” he insists.

The second factor that influences this imbalance in British society, Jones mentions, is the consumerist nature of society. The consumer society has a lot of responsibility, he stresses.

“In Britain your status has so much to do with what you possess and what you are. And there’s a whole group of people, particularly in poorer communities, who feel they have no access to [consumerist ideals]. And that inequality mixed with a kind of consumerism helped create the situation we saw,” Jones argues.

Dwelling upon certain measures that can help change this deep social inequality, the writer thinks the country needs more progressive taxation, higher taxes on the rich that can take people at the bottom end out of the taxation system, a living wage as well. Social mixing is good, he says, but what the government needs to tackle first is inequality.

The people involved in the looting and rioting are of various ethnic and cultural origins, according to Jones. They have different backgrounds. The only common factor for all of them is poverty and unemployment. We should not go and make scapegoats of them, the writer urges.

“What happened was completely inexcusable,” Jones admits, “but when you have enough people who feel they have no future, only a small proportion of those is needed to respond in this outrageous way to make chaos in the streets of London. But multiculturalism and ethnic groups have nothing to do with what happened.”

And if the number of such people who feel desperate, who do not see any future, gets bigger, the recent riots may appear to be only a “perfect storm” and may bring much worse consequences, Jones warns.

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