Tuesday 9 August 2011

London's burning

I'm still shell-shocked from the terrible scenes I saw unfold across London last night. Much has been written about the hows and whys of this by far more experienced and intellectual social and political commentators than myself, but having lived in London for the last 10 years these scenes really upset me and I want to understand - why and how, and what more is to come?

A long time ago Samuel Johnson said: ""Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." I couldn't agree more. I love London. Sure there have been times in the last decade when I've felt a red mist when tourists have walked too slowly on the pavement, when people pile onto the tube train before you've had a chance to get off, and when no one gives way or offers to help you carry a heavy bag. But London is, underneath its grey bravado, a vibrant and beautiful place. A unique complement of history and innovation, of unity and diversity, of creativity and science, of classical and avant garde, and of simple beauty and complex mechanics. It's the richest melting pot I've ever experienced and I absolutely love that about the place I consider to be my home.

That's why it is so devastating for me to see London turn in on itself. I find it so upsetting that there are so many young people here who just don't care, who don't give a 'tiny rat's ass' and who have no stake in society. Who have no respect for themselves or their communities, and who see rioting as something funny to do to pass the time - with no pause for those whose livelihoods and lives they destroy in the pursuit of their mindless high. It all breaks my heart and I found myself moved to tears by the news last night. The images of the innocent folk who've lost everything in the last few dark nights will haunt me, as they should all Londoners, and all Brits. And when London has ceased burning - and please God let that be tonight - from the ashes of this horrible mess, we must try to find some answers.

I'm no fan on the current government and I don't hide that. I think it's appalling that all the senior figures didn't come back to the UK sooner from their holidays to show some leadership. As I write David Cameron has finally come back from Tuscany, but George Osborne and Boris Johnson (Mayor of my beautiful city!) remain AWOL. invisible to communities who need guidance and leadership now more than ever. We need a steadying presence to calm and reassure, but instead there is nothing, and Londoners - with that infamous Blitz spirit - are sorting this out for themselves, organising riot clean-ups and peaceful vigilante patrols.

I have my own theories on what's gone wrong, not just in London but across my nation. I feel strongly that if you take away the life chances of a generation, consign them to the scrap heap just because of the postcode they are born in, take away their services, give them no education, no jobs and no respect - well... it surely doesn't take a genius to work out that sooner or later enough will be enough. If you've got nothing, and nothing to lose, why would you engage with society and follow its rules? I don't know when this all began - and while for me it's tempting to blame it on the current government, I'm guessing the seeds were sown long ago - but I think the signs that this has been coming have been there for a while. We had a few flickers of warning signs at the student protests, and then the march we organised back in March. But nobody listened. I pray they are listening now.


  1. Great post. I agree that the signs of this brewing unrest have been there and ignored for some time.

  2. Thanks both - what a week. Hopefully that's the end of the unrest just now, although can't help but think we haven't seen the last of it.