We lock people up without trial for criticising their own government

Yesterday a friend of mine was held on remand, after being arrested and charged with road traffic offenses for performing a banner drop for the opening of the Liberal Democrat conference.

The banner, which read “Traitors not Welcome”, referred to the decision of many Liberal Democrat MPs, including all the leadership, to break their pledge to vote against the rise in tuition fees – a pledge which led many students – including my friends – to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the last election.

This action caused no damage and hurt no-one, something which the police stated at the bail hearing.  Two of the defendents were released on bail, one has been remanded in custody and has a further bail hearing next monday, by which time he will have spent 10 days locked up.

The difference between him and the other defendents is that he has a previous conviction – for aggravated trespass, which I’m pretty sure was accrued at Kingsnorth Climate Camp, and because he is currently on bail for sitting down in Fortnum and Mason.  Both of these, and the action for which he was arrested for, were peaceful protests.

The judge said that she could not be satisfied that he would not commit further offences whilst on bail and that is why she was holding him on remand

Because of one previous offence, which resulted in a fine, and one offence that has not yet reached trial, the magistrate decided that he should be locked up without trial in case he commits further offences.

By their own logic what happened yesterday is the legal arm of the state detaining people without trial in case they should engage in criticism of their own government. Such a decision is not just disgraceful, it is undemocratic, illiberal and idiotic, not to mention expensive. We can go on about how murderers and rapists get out on bail, but that is not even the most important thing – the fact is that we should never be jailing people for undertaking peaceful protest, with or without trial.

rant: VAT on food!

the Insitute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has reccomended that VAT be extended to nearly all products – including food..

Apparently, they see VAT as a poor way to redistribute money because “the rich buy food too”

This is just stupid.. the same argument could be applied to personal tax allowances – the rich get the first 7k of income without income tax, just the same, but it’s clearly still redistributive, just like VAT, as the rich will not just consume more in absolute terms but will consume more VATable stuff as a proportion of this.

For those who don’t know, those things that are considered “essential” do not have VAT on them (or getting technical, attract a VAT rate of 0%). Gas/Leccy is charged at 5% and all “luxuries” are at 20%. There are some oddities in the decisions about what is considered essential, so that chocolate covered biscuits are luxuries, and rated at 20%, whilst chocolate covered cakes are essentials and zero rated.. this distinction even led to a legal definition of cakes and biscuits, after McVitees went to court to prove that Jaffa Cakes are indeed cakes, and not biscuits. (The distinction: biscuits go soft when they are stale, cakes go hard). There’s also the long running argument over tampons being VATable, and that womens razors are VATable, whilst mens are not.

The point of this essential/luxury distinction is clear though – it has the same effect as the personal allowance on income tax. If you earn less money, then you will spend more of that (as a proportion) on essentials. The principle is right (if you agree in principle on the idea of consumption tax). The decision about what to charge VAT on is often confused (why aren’t adults shoes considered essentials?).

The thought of putting VAT on all food though is utterly crazy – adding 20% to the cost of basic foodstuffs would hugely increase the cost of one of the most important things for any person – and would clearly hit poorer people harder than richer people. Already food prices are rising, and around the world we’ve seen food prices leading to unrest around the world.

The IFS are loony.. yes VAT on everything would make the system simpler, but it would also hit lower and average earners heavily, whilst the wealthy would see little effect. With food prices rising anyway, and fuel prices rocketing, we are facing a hard winter. To add 20% onto food prices would be sheer madness. A society is only three meals away from collapse, and as much as I want a revolution, I’m not overly keen on it being produced through the deliberate increase of food prices.
The only hope is that the idealogues in the tory party can’t be that stupid, can they?

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, Government Statistics and Daily Express Statistics

Today the daily express published a hate filled story – you can see the headline in the image below if you don’t want to grace their website with your hits.
Friday's Daily Express front page - "4m scrounging ... on Twitpic

Two stats there – 4million “scroungers” and 370,000 never worked households..
Both of these are derived from an Office of National Statistics bulletin

Take the 4million figure. Actually, it’s 3.88million, but whats 112,000 households between friends? We’ll accept that sleight of hand I guess, they have rounded up legitimately.
The real deception comes next.. of that 3.88m, 2.92m are classed as economically “inactive”. This includes those on disability benefits; people staying at home to raise children or care for adults; and students, amongst others who are not able to look for work. (I don’t know if this would include refugees who are legally not allowed to work?)
Just 583,000 households have all adults classed as unemployed (ie, in theory they are available for work – assuming they can actually find a job – there are currently nearly 2.5m unemployed and just 260,000 vacancies at job centres – a rate of 5.7 applicants per job (so whilst it may be true that anybody can get a job, it is certainly not true that everybody can).
[edit: I’ve just realised that there’s around 400,000 households missing here – 2.92m inactive + 583,000 unemployed = ~3.5m.. where are the rest of the 3.88m topline figure?]

I’m not sure if it would be possible to find statistics that would tell us how that economically inactive category splits up, it’s not as simple as looking at the number of benefit claimants, because these numbers are about households, not individuals, so there will be some disability benefit claimants who live with partners who do work, and that household would not be counted in this.
Likewise, with students, we could get a number of FE and HE students (bear in mind these stats are for 16-64 year olds, so should include FE students as part of the household and not as a dependent child – certainly will include any 16 year old that has left home for whatever reason). It would be reasonable to assume that most of these will be an individual (which counts as a household, see next paragraph), but working out how many of them do not work would likely be impossible. There are lots of statistical resources out there, and perhaps with the time it could be done. Likewise, working out how many households are economically inactive because the adults are looking after children or caring for other adults is probably possible, but I’m not going to do it now. I suspect the express would be quite supportive of the idea of a parent staying at home to look after their children, but perhaps I am wrong.

We should not forget that a “household” does not mean a family. I am a single man, no kids, living in a shared house. I am a household, so are each of my housemates. Getting any kind of breakdown of that number to come to understand how many of those half a million unemployed households are actually simply unemployed people is probably going to be next to impossible, and I’m not going to look for it this morning. It’s not overly important anyway, but worth remembering given the overall emotional tone of the express piece.. basically the point is that a workless household is not necessarily what it sounds like.

Now lets look at the 370,000 figure for households that have never worked. In the article it states, quite cleary, that 73,000 of those are students.. As the stats are for 16-64 year olds, this presumably includes FE students. I guess those scroungers could have had a paper round when they were 13/14 right? That’s why they are scroungers.. not because they are getting an education and training to allow them to be productive members of their community or to better themselves. Ditto for HE students, who will certainly be included in this number.
So we can immediately knock nearly 20% off the stat given in the headline (or what it’s intended to show)

That leaves us with 297,000 households that have never worked. The first question I have is how many of those households consists of an individual 16-18 year old? With youth unemployment at 20%, it can be hard for a school or college leaver to find work. Give them a few years though, and they’ll have a job.
The express article is clearly painted to make us think that there are 370,000 homes with 2 adults and 2.4 kids (although in their minds it’s probably more like 24 kids, you know how the feckless poor like to breed) in which neither parent has ever had a job, when the reality is quite likely to be very different. Would anyone really say that an 18 year old, who has just finished a college course, and been unemployed for less than a month, is a scrounger? That person would count as one of these households, just the same as a household with two 50 year old parents who have never worked and have no desire to look for or find a job.

Another interesting thing is that in fact this number has fallen by 38,000 in the past year (because of a fall in the number of inactive people, rather than the number of unemployed people).
The express of course ignores the short term fall in favour of a headline designed to denigrate an already marginalised group of people.
The fact that the number of households which have never worked has doubled since 1996 is a more interesting statistic, and one which could be interesting to investigate. My instinct says that this is a result of increased levels of unemployment since the end of the post-war consensus, and the implementation of monetarism & neo-liberalism in the mid-70s, cemented by Thatcherism. 17 years after Thatcher comes to power, we start seeing a significant rise in adults who have never worked – possibly because of the significant rise in unemployment seen under Thatcher.
The fact that there are 300,000 households that have never worked is a scandal. The distortion of the statistics to attack and denigrate a group of people, as part of a sustained campaign by the daily express to vilianise benefit claimants is a disgrace. Just £1.2bn is taken in benefit fraud (DWP PDF), meanwhile over £2bn is lost in errors made by DWP, and at the same time, £70bn gets “scrounged” through tax evasion and £25bn lost to errors at HMRC (I’ve not mentioned the £25bn tax avoidance, because it is not directly comparable to benefit fraud or errors). (Tax Research UK PDF)
How much ink does the express spend attacking people who evade paying tax? What about those who avoid it? I know avoidance is not illegal, but it still is a cost to the taxpayer, who are footing the bill for services used by companies and wealthy individuals who create sometimes elaborate schemes whose only purpose is to shift profits offshore to avoid paying tax.

The whole thing is designed to drive a wedge in the working class, between those who currently have or are able to work, and those who don’t or can’t. By creating an “other” within our class, the ruling class get to divide and rule. The real scroungers aren’t those on benefits, but those who live off the labour of others. We need to keep our anger and attention foccused on the bosses, and the propaganda outlets that support them.

It’s unfortunate that the only people who read this are likely to be those who already know what lying scum the express are. It would be worth pointing out to anyone you hear regurgitating those stats that in fact only 500,000 households are unemployed, and the 370,000 never worked statistic is so undefined that it is worthless.

See also: Tentacles of Doom: More hate from the Daily Express

Newsframes: Scrounging Families who looked into the ONS statistics to show that the number of workless households has actually decreased since 1996, with an increase since the recession (although the number of households that have never worked doubling is not challenged), and takes down the claim that we are spending ever increasing amounts of money on benefits.
Well worth reading as it takes apart the figures in a different way to me

A short note on sentencing

For the cost of sending just 2 young men to jail for 4 years for setting up a facebook group that didn’t cause a riot, you could employ 4 youth workers for 4 years working with up to 200 of the most alienated young people per year (800 young people in 4 yrs) or pay for a full time youth advice service in 8 large secondary schools (benefitting around 10,000 young people) for a year or you could employ 24 young people on £15,000 for a year at a time when youth unemployment has reached over 20%

^ stolen from elsewhere, and making a good point. When thinking about sentencing, part of sentencing should be about detterence, but part of it should be about considering what is the most beneficial thing to do for the community and individuals affected.

What is going to be more useful to prevent further riots? Jailing these 2 people for four years or one of the alternatives for spending the money that will cost? Would community service not have been a better sentence in this case, with the savings made being able to be invested in services that reach out to young people, help them with employment, education or training and seek to give them a viable future outside of gangs and criminality.

Riots, Causes and Tangents

This occurred to me as a tangent when I was writing down my thoughts on the Birmingham riots. It’s also a useful example to show how looking for causes sometimes turns up unexpected solutions, and how we shouldn’t be looking at a single idea to solve this problem entirely.
So this is my proposal for something that will reduce the likely hood of further riots occurring, that are driven by a criminal element, with a focus on theft and destruction, as opposed to riots which are driven by anger within a community over longstanding issues. (I’d also say that it’s a thin line between the two anyway – the criminal element exists because of longstanding issues, but I’m going to try to keep this post a bit focused). I also don’t want to suggest that these riots were simply because of a criminal element – this element was, in my opinion, the driving force behind what happened in Birmingham, but the same is not true elsewhere, nor was there simply a criminal element, as if no-one else that took part in or made the riots in Birmingham possible.
I think we should legalise drugs. All of them. They should be regulated and taxed. Money should be spent on education and rehabilitation programmes, as well as things like social housing and mental health services which can ease some of the underlying problems that often lead to drug abuse.
I don’t hear anyone much saying “it was drugs that caused the riots” – unless it’s as a part of a frothing condemnation of feral youths, out of control blah blah blah. I certainly don’t hear people saying prohibition is the problem.
But if criminal gangs are a problem, then we need to ask what can we change to solve this problem, and although I’m not going to go and fact check, I feel safe to say that a large amount of a typical organised criminal outfit’s income would come from drugs. So by legalising we’d cut off a large part of their income. We’d open up a legitimate business opportunity instead.
Although there is a huge amount of damage and violence, both personal and social, caused by the consumption of alcohol, there is I think little damage done in the production and supply chain, beyond the standard exploitation, unnecessary risk and casual abuse that is the nature of working in the capitalist system. There are I would guess specific pollution/environmental issues with the production of alcohol.
With drugs however, there is much personal and social damage caused in the production and supply chain. By bringing these into an arena where they can be regulated and where it is easier for workers to organise collectively, we can hugely reduce the damage caused by in this area.
In deprived areas, members of gangs are often those with the most material success. In a country that preaches materialism, that says we should be trying to make as much money as possible, is it any surprise that young people aspire to be part of these gangs, rather than working in low paid jobs, or sitting on the dole?
By legalising drugs you would reduce the income of criminal gangs, and in doing so reduce the aspirational value of these gangs, and indeed the relative financial merits of being a criminal rather than working. In no sense am I claiming this to be a complete solution, for gangs or the riots, I simply wanted to say it because sometimes the connections between structural causes and their outcomes are indirect or indistinct. I’m not, before anyone suggests it, thinking that our recent situation is anything like Mexico, or that ending prohibition would have such a strong effect here as it will there. But as a long time campaigner, the chance to shoe-horn in an argument, whilst making a point about diversity of effects, was too good to pass up 😉

#ff @TransformDrugs @Release_Drugs @DrugScope

Thoughts on the Birmingham Riots

I was in Birmingham on Monday night, having heard in the afternoon that something might be happening, and I watched events unfold right from the start, until around 11pm when I left town. Most of what I say here will refer to what I saw in Birmingham on that night. Things may have been different on Tuesday, or in other places, and I will do my best to be clear when I am reffering to Birmingham, nationally or other places.
What happened on Monday night what not what I expected. From the outside, Tottenham looked pretty textbook – decades of bad policing, from stop and searches, to the 400 deaths in custody without a single officer being prosecuted, including the recent death of Smiley Culture, all brought right to the surface with the shooting of Mark Duggan – one which looks increasingly like another attempt by the MET to cover up the killing of a person by their officers, as happened with Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes, Harry Stanley and countless others through the years. Apparently sparked by the beating of a 16yr old girl, the riots seen in Tottenham on Saturday seemed like an angry outburst in response to social conditions – not just the policing but years of deprivation, record youth unemployment and the cutting of services. North London SolFed put out a statement that I would agree with

The video footage here is fairly good to get an idea of what happened, although I don’t agree with the commentators opinion of why it did (the shopkeeper aside).
What happened in Birmingham was not textbook. Like many other people, I had said there would be riots at some point. But I didn’t expect them to be like this. In fact, I’d hesitate to call them riots at all, but it’s what they’ve been dubbed so I’ll stay with that. This could have been about the death of Kingsley Burrell in police custody, or about the same kinds of policing issues as Tottenham residents experience. It could have been about social deprivation, and about cuts. It could have been about criminal’s doing crime, or opportunists taking their chance to grab something. It could have been about bored teenagers in the summer holidays out because it’s something to do on a Monday evening. But it wasn’t. It was about all of these, and that is the first problem we face.

If you think this wasn’t about the police, then ask why did Handsworth West police station get set on fire?
If you think this wasn’t about social deprivation, then ask yourself why this map shows such a strong correlation between rioting in London and the social deprivation index, this map which shows the correlation between unemployment and riot locations, or the map linked to from this Guardian article which maps suspects addresses, riot locations and the deprivation index, and also tells us that 41% of suspects came from the 10% of most deprived areas in England, and that the majority of suspects come from deprived areas, 66% of those areas got poorer between 2007 & 2010.
If you think this wasn’t about cuts, the recession and austerity, then ask yourself why is it happening now, and not a year or two ago?

This is not a simple issue, it does not have a simple answer. There is not a homogenous mass of people that we can label as “the rioters” (although I will use that term to refer to the collection of people who were there on Monday night, who were not shoppers or workers or police). There were looters, and opportunists. There were people who were just playing cat and mouse with the police, some just along for the ride or to see what happened.. there were even some breakdancing crews out.

There is one thing that I feel that I can definitely say about Birmingham on Monday night. It wasn’t a racial thing, black white and asian were all represented. At first everyone played cat and mouse with the police, getting into a group big enough that a police line would appear or run at it and then scattering in small groups, often getting stopped and searched, and regrouping by seeing each other.
I had no real problem working out who was involved and who wasn’t, even though I was on my own and didn’t know anyone. There were obviously friendship groups at play here, people seemingly naturally moving around in groups that anarchists would recognise as affinity groups – something that I think @aaronjohnpeters mentioned as happening in London. Regrouping by recognising other people who are there with a common purpose. And they ran the police ragged.
They had no desire to fight the police though, not at all. When some of them ran up the ramp towards the palisades, cordons went in to stop them from entering and trapping them on the ramp. What this did was to stop the cat and mouse. Up to this point, there had not been any robbing, though there had been the opportunities to do so. I still thought this was going to erupt with the police getting heavy and people defending themselves by fighting the police. All the really rowdy public order situations I’ve been in have been in London, and the Met and TSG handle things rather differently.
If we’d been in London, I think the TSG would have kettled that square of the junction of New St & Corporation street. This kettle would have contained many members of the public – shoppers and workers, who had stopped to see what was going on, as well as the rioters. They would have drawn their batons, smacked some people round the head and it would have kicked off. That’s kind of what I was expecting.
Now comes a surprising statement. I think the police did a good job. You won’t hear many say that, and I’m someone who is highly critical of the police. If the police had gone in heavy then it is likely that many people would have been injured. It feels wrong to say that now that people have died, but if people, especially bystanders, had been injured or even killed by the police on Monday night, then many parts of the city could have erupted in riots out of response to the policing.
I don’t see how the police could have stopped this, bar having thousands out on the streets of the city centre. Water cannons would be useless as people would run down side streets – you can’t take a water cannon up Needless Alley. And after a short time, when it runs out of water, and it’s maximum speed is slower than someone on a bike, it becomes a target for attack, and so do the police.
Give people a common enemy and they’ll turn and fight. This truism is dangerous right now. At the time of writing, it looks like the racist far right are failing to capitalise on this in any large way. The EDL didn’t turn up in Birmingham city centre, and in Eltham they made complete tits of themselves by fighting the police. In Birmingham the fragments of BNP and NF do not seem to be gaining any ground. We need to be aware of their attempts to take advantage of this, but as there was no racial divide in the riots, they are struggling to take advantage of them – I think that most people are aware that this was not racial.
Another danger is that this is used to divide the working class, to get us to see “the underclass” as the enemy. Chavs, scum, feral rats, vermin, benefits fraudsters. They’re the problem. Scrounging off you and then out robbing from the shops. Can’t be arsed to work. So someone who steals a £3.50 bottle of water, gets 6months, whilst someone who steals £22,000 gets 16 months. One of those is an ex-MP, the other is a teaching assistant. To say that we need to be looking at the bosses, the banks, the MPs who steal and scrounge more from the working class every day than the rioters looted from independent shops is not to condone, support or encourage what happened. Instead it is to look at the deeper reasons that have caused these events, and to believe that real change comes from changing the structures of our society, the structures which create the boundaries of how our society looks and changes the probabilities and tendencies of the personalities and characteristics of people in that society.
It’s not a straight relationship. It’s simply about likelyhoods. It is wrong to say that if you are poor you will loot, because many people who are poor do not steal and loot. But that does not mean that it is also wrong to say that poverty makes it more likely to do so.
On it’s own, poverty wouldn’t be enough. The cuts, especially the cut to EMA and youth services will have an effect. The student demonstrations of 2010 were full of teenagers angry about the cut to EMA, and that anger hasn’t dissipated – even if it wasn’t expressed outwardly here, and many participants were too old for EMA anyway. 20% youth unemployment plays a part – at the very least in creating many of the opportunists who hadn’t gone there to rob, who aren’t really criminals, but see the chance to get something they can’t afford to buy, or can sell for a bit of cash or just wanting to say fuck you or the same set of motivations that means teenagers shoplift every day. Lots of different reasons, all adding up to a situation where the state and the police lost control.
Now they know that the police can’t control them, it will happen again, in most major towns and cities at some point. All the measures that people seem to be calling for – water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, live ammunition, the army on the streets, shut down of social networks, internet access, mobile phone networks – seem at best useless and dangerous, and at worst straight up inflamatory.
Then there are calls for rioters to have their benefits removed and talk of them being evicted. Now apart from the presumption that all the rioters are on benefits (some of todays court cases have been for unemployed people, some for employed people – again showing a complicated situation – this is not just an uprising of the extremely poor, precarious and desperate), this idea is clearly ludicrous. If these riots were not just about poverty, you’d be creating riots by creating a group of people who, assuming that the wheels of justice have managed to convict the right people, we can say are happy to riot, and are now homeless, without access to benefits. What do you actually think is going to happen?
3 people in Birmingham have died. Many in Tottenham are homeless. What we need to do now is think about how we stop this – in the short term and in the long term.

What I have is more questions than answers. In the short term, it seems to have gone quiet now. Tariq Jahan’s words on Wednesday night were truly powerful and this man is due a huge amount of respect.

Combined with the rain, and the rumours of football fans and / or EDL coming to the town centre to protect it turned out to be false, meant that what was for a time a very tense situation turned out to be nothing. No rioters turned up – and a police presence meant that anyone who came out in a small group went home so even if there had been enough people there to riot, they never all got together in the same place or time to have the numbers. The EDL didn’t turn up so those problems didn’t come up, and the tensions between parts of the asian and afro-carribean communities in Birmingham that saw Lozzell’s riot in 2005, following rumours of rape, did not surface again. I think that in Birmingham, everyone is aware that this is not a racial issue (apart from the racists obviously, but they would, despite all the evidence to the contrary.).
This is a social issue. But it goes deeper than the cuts. @sredniivashtaar said that this is a glimpse of anarcho-capitalism and I agree with that. The papers called it anarchy, they were wrong.
Anarcho-capitalism is capitalism at it’s most raw, and a total rejection of ideas of the community, placing individuals as the only actors in our socio-economic world. There is no such thing as society, only individuals. Anarchism is built on ideas of community, direct governance and working class, grass roots organisation. The two philosophies share the belief that there should not be a state which means people only have an indirect access to the governance of their lives, but for anarcho-capitalists, the mechanism of governance is the market, whilst anarchists will look for the community, as sets of people who work together for a common purpose, as being the mechanism of governance.
One of the reasons that I am actively campaging against cuts to state spending is that the state provides an arena in which working class organisations can bring improvements in their conditions within capitalism, through struggle. The cuts will only worsen the conditions of the working class, whilst the bosses consolidate their capital, and make sure we pay for their losses.
I am a fan of dystopic sci-fi, especially the near future type stuff. In my head I’m thinking about a story which starts off like this – depression, ever growing underclass, either state loses control entirely and we get a situation in which there is no police force or state and gangs roam the street robbing and looting whilst vigilantes protect their own neighbourhoods, and chaos reigns every night. Or one in which we have a fascist, corporatist state, or an openly corrupt oligarchy or kleptocracy – something more akin to Russia than early Mussolini. But I don’t think those are likely outcomes.. just I can see a story to write from here..

Doom mongering aside, I’m going to give some thoughts about what I think we need to do in the long term, and how we got here in the first place. Events seemed to have shown that in the short term, a strong police presence, some rain, unfortunately a tragic event and thankfully calming words were enough to stop this for now. Possibly by the time you read this I’ll have been proved wrong. I hope not. I don’t pretend to have anything of an answer to this to be honest – I can’t think how any authoritarian policing measures can stop this (although large police numbers clearly can help). The sentences handed down today, some of them have been ludicrous, with people going to jail for swearing at the police, or a 6 month sentence for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water are compared to the sentences handed down to bankers for crashing our financial system, the MPs who fiddled expenses, the police officers and press whose corruption has been revealed, it makes me wonder why we allow ourselves to be divided and attacked in this way.
This is, I think, much of the reason why I will not condemn the looters, or call them chavs, or scum, or feral youth, or vermin (like they should be exterminated).
When people who trash shops, try to set fire to things, manage to set fire to them and get convicted for arson or steal expensive plasma screen TVs, are running the country and saying that people who have trashed shops, tried to or even succeeded in setting fire to things or stolen plasma TVs should all be going to jail and talking up the use of water cannons and rubber bullets (both of which are dangerous, and kill – in the case of rubber bullets very regularly in Northern Ireland) to prevent them from doing so, you have to wonder how such a hypocritical situation is allowed to continue.
In the long term, we need to look at the long term reasons why this is happening. This is the bit were trolls get to pretend they’ve read nothing else, think I blame it all on Thatcher and that I support Labour.
For 30-40 years this country has been run on a neo-liberal agenda. Sometime around the oil shocks of the 70s – before Thatcher – the economic management of capitalism by the state changed from vaguely keynesian ideas to vaguely monetarist ones. I’m not going to go into the economic details, because it is the social outcomes of those details that are important. In the post war period, increases in wealth were fairly evenly shared by everyone – the wealthy got much, much wealthier of course, and it was still very unequal, which large amounts of poverty – but from the late 70s, the income levels of the majority of people stagnated, whilst the wealthiest 10% grew rapidly, and the wealthiest 1% even more rapidly.
Ideas of individualism were pushed forward, and working class structures were destroyed or restricted – both in terms of legal restrictions on unions, and the outright destruction or allowance of our manufacturing sector to be reduced, the casualisation of the workforce and downward pressure on wages. All of these things have contributed to a situation in which there is no society, no reason not to rob these shops. The emphasis on consumerism and materialism that capitalism wants, that the bosses want, the idea that entrepeneurship is about getting money and material objects for you rather than creating stuff for the benefit of the community, that you look after yourself and other people don’t matter – they aren’t your concern – do you really expect that some people are not going to think that it’s ok to steal in order to get the material things they are told that they need in order to be respected?
I know from working with teenagers that having a nice mobile phone does get some respect from others, having clothes gets respect from others. It’s how it works at secondary schools. Some of those are genuinely impoverished, whose parents and siblings live day to day. They may well have taken the chance to grab a phone, or some clothes. To be honest, I don’t blame them, They have their opportunity to steal from the corporate stores that flash these objects in front of their faces but do not have the opportunity to purchase them. I am not at all happy about people stealing from independent stores, especially ones like Ideal who are a truly legendary skate shop in Birmingham that needs our support – I know other independent businesses got hit.
Now at this point in time, I have to remind you, there are many different people involved in this. I’m perfectly aware that many of those stealing stuff were not in a precarious situation, not really deprived in an absolutist sense (although the relative deprivation does have a relevance here, just in a more subtle way). Poor possibly, but also some not. So don’t just go well if they can afford blackberries they’re not deprived, because some of those stealing will be. I talked to a homeless man who was picking up stuff that had been looted from eat, and then dropped by some looters when they got ran at by police with dogs.. don’t tell me that man wasn’t deprived, or that he should be locked up for nicking those cakes and crisps. It’s not black and white, it’s not simple.
Neo-liberalism leads us towards anarcho-capitalism and a shrinking of the state, but also has an element of corporatism to it – outsourcing to private companies so that state spending is done through the private sector and the state and market become a total overlap, only not like communism with the state as the dominant actor, but with the market as the dominant actor – and authoritarian measures designed to prevent dissent from growing (there goes my dystopic doom mongering again).
What I see here is the outcomes of the nature of the structure of capitalism, being allowed to come closer to the surface by decades of neo-liberalist, individualist and materialist governance, a period in which working class solidarity and structures have become weakened. Ultimately what we need to do is to change the structures of capitalism, but for now I think we need to focus on ending neo-liberalism, of which the austerity agenda is just one part. The anti-cuts movement needs to broaden it’s focus, and to argue that these riots are part of the outcomes of neo-liberalism. At the same time, we need to rebuild the community and workplace structures that have become so damaged in the last 40 years, and work towards replacing capitalism with a sustainable socialist system.
I guess it’s time to get round to reading about parecon and whether it’s a good plan or not.

tl;dr? tough. It’s too complicated.

Other articles: David Harvey: Feral Capitalism Hits the Streets

Kenan Malik: Moral Poverty and the Riots

Truth, Reason, Liberty: In The Ashes of a Riot & Opposing the Reactionary Backlash

ALARM: Understanding the Riots, Where Next

Dan Hancox: Rap Responds to the Riots

Rant: removing benefits & evicting convicted rioters

Many people are calling for benefits to be removed from rioters and for them to be evicted from their houses.. How do these people think? What do they reckon is going to happen?
I mean lets just leave aside the assumption that rioters are going to be on benefits (and actually I think many of them will – if we’re going to draw a connection between deprivation and poverty we need to accept that also means that many will be on benefits), and also the question of why people in council or social housing (whose rent payments *subisdise* everyone elses council tax – yep, councils make a profit on social housing, so get off your fucking high horse if you think you, the noble taxpayer, are paying for their houses, cos you’re not) should be punished more than someone who rents privately or owns their own home.
Lets leave aside the fact that many defendants will be too young to receive benefits, except possibly EMA – and we’ve already taken that away.
Lets also make the rather far-fetched assumption that the wheels of justice have turned smoothly and that everyone who is convicted actually did commit a crime.

So the people we have are people we know who are happy to loot and riot (although since some have been jailed for swearing, or for picking up shorts that a housemate had robbed, that’s also an assumption being made).  And you want to make them homeless, and deny them access to benefits?
Just stop and think.
What is going to happen? A load of homeless people, with no access to benefits. Who are happy to loot and rob.  Remember that it’s extremely difficult to get a job if you are homeless – bank accounts and HR departments pretty much require addresses.  Perhaps you can use a friends, or families, but perhaps not.  So no home, no money, no way to get benefits, no way to get a job.  What is going to happen?