So, we’re seeing the Mark Duggan effect. His death which pulled the trigger to the riots in Tottenham on Saturday night, has spread to other parts of London in the last three days.
So far, Enfield, Hackney, Peckham, Brixton, Lewisham and Clapton were affected as more youths smash, steal, loot and destroy shops, cars and buildings at will. The police, as in Tottenham, have been caught by surprise yet again at the fast moving nature of the riots. You don’t necessarily need a (stolen) mobile to find out if your (unaffected) district is going to be next.
Of course, people should not have to resort to rioting to make their voice heard. But what else have they got left? Many commentators, and the youths themselves, have criticised police tactics with repeated stop and search, but I need to argue this is a symptom to what is going on.
What is clearly wrong is what is happening both at national and local level. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, public spending cuts will hit places like Tottenham harder than elsewhere. The area has a high number of homeless families, transients, asylum seekers, immigrants, and a minority poor white working class that has been left behind. Local people need help, yet they are poorly served by those who are supposed to help them.
On one hand, you have the Conservative-Lib Dem government, who are pursuing a programme of spending reductions in the light of the previous administration’s mismanagement of public funds. One of their main plans was to make changes to the benefit system, making it harder for claimants to apply for anything.
On the other, Tottenham’s local council, Haringey, has had an unenviable reputation of being a dysfunctional Labour authority. This is the same council which locals claim have mismanaged the area for nearly four decades. As I posted previously, Haringey has failed to protect vulnerable children from abuse, and has been criticised for its regeneration policies. Despite receiving a significant amount of funding to improve the area, it remains rundown in some areas, and derelict in others.
Key issues such as poor housing, lack of youth and leisure facilities, a poor general environment, problem schools leading to high levels of illiteracy and poor numeracy are at high levels in Tottenham. Unemployment, already among the highest in London, is set to soar as many people, particularly working for the local council, lose their jobs.
Also put in the current world economic situation, and many can see those tensions on the area’s population, where many are already struggling, against what both the council and the government are doing, to stay above water. Unfortunately for many, after Saturday’s events, it comes too late. The few chain stores and the banks left in Tottenham will up sticks and leave. Spurs football club would definitely leave. Many of the small businesses that trade in the area have been destroyed and may never reopen. All this will in turn leave a main shopping street that is basically deserted.
The situation is set to get worse. Both the government and the council will have to make more spending cuts, which would certainly lead to a repeat of the very scenes that ravaged the area on Saturday. Now that would be embarrassing particularly with the Olympics coming up 2012. the last thing most people would want are gangs of angry young men storming the Stratford stadium, smashing it up and setting it on fire.
Pulling places like Tottenham back from their current abyss requires some humility from those in positions of influence and then to seriously change their present destructive course. However, I fear that the same mistakes are about to be repeated.