Why London's Burning

This time next year, London will be hosting the Olympics. Right now it’s on fire.

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Why London's Burning
Police officers in riot gear and with dogs block a road near a burning car on a street in Hackney, east London. (Photo: Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

This time next year, London will be hosting the Olympics. Right now it’s on fire.

Why? A man was shot dead by the police last week. He may have been a bad man. He may not have been. He may have fired a gun first. He may have not.

We do know that the death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan ignited a deep rage. Certain sub-sections of society have had enough, and don’t care what happens anymore.

Tottenham, Hackney, Lewisham, Peckham, Croydon—all disparate areas within London—have seen riots, and now the trouble has spread to our second city, Birmingham.

You could say it’s the disaffected poor with nothing to lose, or criminal louts intent on lining their own pockets, but in a way, that’s irrelevant. The point is, very large numbers of young men (and women) across Britain today are angry or bored enough to set fire to buildings, loot shops and throw petrol bombs, seemingly at the drop of a hat.

This is not a race thing. It’s about an entire generation. And it has caught the political and media classes completely off guard.

Over the past 15 months, our government, to cope with the debt crisis, has been hacking away at benefit entitlements.

That would be fine—if most people had faith in what is being done. Unfortunately, no one has any faith in what any politicians are doing.

Over the past 10 years, a series of crises has rocked the powerful in Britain. Stories of corrupt politicians, financial meltdown, scandals in the media and coppers on the take have been writ large in the headlines. As a result, respect for authority has almost entirely withered away.

This may be perfectly harmless when times are good. With food on the table and money in your pocket, a healthy questioning of our supposed betters is what a free society is all about.

But when we’ve got a generation that has grown up in a something-for-nothing culture, who see the rich living high on the hog whilst their jobs and benefits are cut, the tinderbox dries out. All it takes is the right spark...

Of course, once the match is lit, out come the criminally minded individuals and gangs who spot an opportunity. All they have to fear is a justice system so overloaded, its stated aim is to keep as many people out of jail as possible.

People with no stake in society, with nothing to lose, out for themselves and not remotely bothered about what happens if they get caught, should never be allowed to grow into a standing army. Yet that is exactly what has happened here in Britian.

There are people now on Twitter saying the rioters should be shot dead. The police say they will track down those on Twitter who have been encouraging the rioters. Ministers are issuing threats and pleas in equal measure. Some parts of the country are no longer governable.

It will quieten down. Soon. Probably of its own volition. These rebels have no cause, no doctrine and no leader. It’s just a flash of very intense rage.

But, somewhere along the way, someone is going to have to face up to the fact that Britain has lost control of an entire generation. A generation with no jobs, no prospects and no sense of social responsibility. The country is imploding.

Not the best slogan for 2012.


'The Grit' is a TakePart series that presents global news, pulverized. The author is a British journalist who has been writing about world events for more than a decade, and still thinks there is a future for the human race.