Tego Sigel: Can Politicians Be Allowed To Lead The Debate On The UK Riots?

Well, no, obviously. From RWD:

Following the very serious disturbances across the UK this week, RWD online editor Tego Sigel asks whether it’s right that we trust the most important issue of a generation to to the political elite.

A lot will be written in the coming days, weeks, months and years on what was originally called The Tottenham Riot, then The London Riots and finally the The UK Riots. Before the politicians are given the opportunity to reach for the mud and start slinging, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves, what right do they have to take the lead on this issue as fundamental as the behaviour of our neighbours? This is not a revolutionary call to arms, but a genuine belief that following the recent expenses scandal and the more recent Hackgate revelations, it is not right to hand the most important issue of a generation to the political elite for it to be twisted into agenda-matching propaganda. David Cameron walked around the UK yesterday, as did Boris Johnson, as did Ed Miliband. On Newsnight last night, Michael Gove was induced into a fit of rage by a smirking Harriet Harmen, entertaining television perhaps, but we’re no closer to any of the answers we seek. Playing party politics with this issue could be the most dangerous step toward a complete segregation of the new “under class”, the most dangerous step, but by no means the first.

The Tottenham Riot, was started following the death of a local man at the hands of the Police. This is fact. While many focus on squeezing the semantics out of the day, Mark Duggan was killed, the lack of communication and a lack of a want to communicate, coupled with a perceived lack of respect from our law men enraged a few to the point of violence. What happened in Tottenham on Saturday night represented more than just the death of Mark Duggan, it represented the death of Smiley Culture, another man killed at the hands of the Police with very little explanation and what appeared to be very little desire to explain. It represented 333 deaths in Police custody with no prosecution since 1998. But it represented even more than that. There is a perception, right or wrong, that the Police have allowed themselves to become so distant from the people they serve as to become not only neglectful, but also resentful of the societies in which crime prevails. Those frustrations are palpable in the areas neglected by the ruling elite and when people feel neglected, frustration brews and as we’ve seen in the past, that can and will lead to violence.

It’s not just the Police who are guilty of neglect though. While much of the focus in political arenas will be on “the cuts”, the protesters, the looters and the trouble-makers didn’t forget how to behave when the markets crashed, to link the barely implemented austerity measures with these riots is misleading and dangerous, we can not allow the agenda to be manipulated in this way. More money is definitely something Tottenham and Brixton could do with. Who couldn’t? But if the hope of the bickering politicians is that promising to throw good money after bad in this situation will solve it, then they really do risk another generation of even more disenfranchised, angry children.

Attempts have already been made by media outlets to highlight rap music for the troubles as well as social media outlet Twitter and mobile communication tool BlackBerry Messenger. It’s natural that while searching for answers, symptoms are mistaken for causes but very little respect should be shown to anybody that believes the art of music or the way people communicate could inspire destruction and violence on this scale and frankly, anybody who does believe that should be removed from the debate forthwith. The news outlets credited Twitter with the people’s uprising in Iran to justify their coverage of the story being largely based on information from the social networking site, they now see the biggest story on home soil in a generation being played out at a pace they can’t match and are frightened by its power. Whether or not a BBM broadcast was directly responsible for the communication between the people that started any of the disturbances, you can no more blame the device as you could an email or a letter.

There will be a natural desire to focus on the looting element of the disturbances, it’s a damning indictment of our society that so many saw the situation as an excuse to steel and destroy the way they did and we’re nothing without our laws, so it’s right that anybody found guilty of participating in the theft of property be punished to the full extent of the law. BUT. The focus can not be allowed to remain on the looting, we mustn’t allow this to be another “Broken Britain” soundbite, we can’t hold-up our “Broken Society”, place it opposite to the broom wielding, Police applauding bystanders and ask wherein the difference lies. That level of anger, frustration, disregard and separation is symptomatic of something so ingrained in our society that any point scoring on the part of politicians, commentators or onlookers will only serve to further widen the gap that has been allowed to drift for too long. These are your neighbours, your cousins, your brothers, they are of the society we create, we develop, we revere; why are they so disengaged? If a politician can stand at the end of an affluent, well Policed road and say “These are the real Londoners” then he/she can explain why the looters are not.

I have my theories on the causes of these disturbances stemming from the social and state neglect through to the failure of our education system to mould responsible, engaging, contributing members of society, but the priority as I see it, has to be that we first and foremost decide how we want to have the debate, is it through the well choreographed PR assaults of the political elite? Or are we finally ready to take responsibility for a problem it took way more than a Prime Minister to create?

Words by Tego Sigel