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I ran away from teaching to the country to grow veggies. There are also some chooks and a pair of troublesome goats who were so much trouble they had to go! My simple green life isn't always as simple or as green as I'd like...but I keep trying!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

London Riots

History buffs will know 
that both the U.S.A. and Australia 
started off as a British penal colonies.

There was a huge amount of poverty in England during the the latter part of the 18th Century.  The poor had little or no access to social support and the work houses were full.  Crime was rampant.  Public hangings were common and drew many spectators.  The jails were full to bursting point forcing the authorities to use the old hulks of ships anchored in the river Thames to hold the overflow of prisoners.

The primary/elementary students I taught were always amazed by the seemingly small offences that resulted in transportation...stealing a loaf of bread, picking a handkerchief from someone's pocket...  However, many of those chosen, by the judges of the day, as suitable for transportation were actually up on a number of charges.  If they had been found guilty of more serious crimes they would have been hanged or imprisoned for a long time.  By finding them guilty of the more minor charges they could then be transported to the colonies.  Often their age, sex and background played a more important part in this decision than the crime/s they had committed.  

In a nutshell, 
transportation was a way 
of ridding London/Britain 
of its poor underclass.

Later on the Irish potato famine, which resulted in the deaths of over one million people and the emmigration of approximately two million to Great Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia, was blamed on the blight that destroyed the potato crop ... the peasants' main food source. (Wikipedia)

However, the famine can also be explained as the culmination of a social, political and economic catastrophe caused by British policy which reduced the amount of land available for feeding the Irish which then stimulated the demand for Irish political independence. (New World Encyclopedia)  

Who was most affected 
by the potato crop failure?  
The rural poor.

Then there is Hitler.  What enabled him to convince the Germans that he had all the answers?  Well he was a charismatic, some say hypnotic, speaker.  But his German audiences were ripe for his oratory following years of hyper-inflation (the price of an egg increased 30 million times in just 10 years).  Economic upheaval generally breeds political upheaval, and Germany in the 1920s was no exception. (Hitler's rise to power)  

In the 1930s support for Hitler 
mushroomed and consisted mainly of 
the lower middle class 
and the peasantry 
who feared an 
economic depression.

  Let's not even begin to discuss the French Revolution.

And so now to London, today.  
Are we sensing a pattern yet?

Many factors are at work in Britain, and many western economies, that mean there is a huge and growing gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots'. 

There is an excellent article on Sky News that outlines the possible causes for the British riots citing: demographics, youth unemployment (600,000 people under 25...that is 25%), inter-generational poverty, education levels and failure (although they also have the highest rate of graduate unemployment), inequality (in inner London 20% of the population have 60% of the income), racism, combined with the recent austerity cuts.

And don't forget, these economically poor youths are also existing in a consumer society and are bombarded with messages proclaiming happiness can be found in the latest designer shoes or electronic gadget.  No wonder they are feeling locked out and disenfranchised.  

Is it surprising that a multitude of factors 
and inequality can build resentment and anger?

Or that some spark like a police shooting
can set of something like these riots?

At what stage does a riot
become an uprising?

So, surprise, surprise,  history repeats itself!  The underclasses grow, become disillusioned and angry, act out and are called criminal.  I am not condoning what happened and a lot of what happened was clearly unlawful.

However, a four year prison sentence for two stupid young men who posted messages on Facebook to incite a riot (which did not eventuate) is, I think, a bit of a knee jerk reaction.  The harsh penalties being handed out do not address the causes of the unrest or make any attempt to redress the disadvantage at its roots.

The architects of the Global Financial Crisis mostly walked away from the wreckage they caused...not many of them felt the hand of the law!  And of the banks here in Australia who were supported and bailed out by the taxpayers' dollars and are now unashamedly making huge profits.  One rule for the rich and another for the poor?

Half of Europe is reeling under financial troubles. Globally the share markets are unstable and we are being warned of the possibility of another Global Financial Crisis.  Australia is only surviving because we are digging, pumping and gouging the heart out of the land and shipping it overseas.  I wonder how long it will take for our governments to realise that reducing everything to a monetary bottom line and trying to spend our way out of trouble doesn't work any more...if it ever did.

Maybe the judiciary in England 
should consider reinstating 
transportation as a deterrent.

Or if the poor could catch a fishing boat and make it to Christmas Island they could apply to Australia for  refugee status on economic and political grounds. 

Now there is an interesting scenario...
I wonder if they would be welcomed? 


  1. Brilliant post. It's easy for me to judge and condemn from the comfort of my middle class 'lifestyle', and though I do think what happened was drastic and sad and no doubt 'innocent' people were hurt, BUT how bad it must be, that people come to such points?

  2. I hope you heard my applause from here Hazel. The apparently senseless actions in the British riots held us all looking on with horror, but surely we knew it had to come to this? Equality doesn't come in degrees.

  3. I think another part of the downfall of modern civilisation will be the fact that history is not taught in schools any more. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And we are!
    thanks for your brilliant post.

  4. Very well written was one question I kept bringing up with my husband while the riots in London were happening..."Who is it that is doing this????????" What kind of people , for want of a better term, would be capable of doing this..????? The figures of unemployed and their age bracket, being so high is scary...

  5. Thank you for an Australian perspective, which is actually very relevant in the U.S. too. We now have a whole generation of very well educated young people in their 20s and early 30s who have no prospect of a career. The jobs they do get are menial, temporary, and they are treated awfully by employers who know they can easily find others to replace them. It's not that this generation is overly materialistic - at least the young people I know - it's that they just want a chance to build decent lives for themselves. They have the education, they have a good work ethic, they simply have no work. And meanwhile, the rich get richer and the politicians get stupider. It's a recipe for disaster.

  6. Very interesting, Hazel. I also cite as one of the causes of our recent trouble lack of proper parenting. Many people these days lack the elements of common decency and concern for others. Parents don't seem to teach their children what is right and what is wrong any more. Everything is centred around selfishness and greed - pushing yourself to the top by climbing on the shoulders of others less fortunate.

  7. It's interesting to read how people in other parts of the world view the recent events in London, which also spread to some of our other Cities. For every action there is a reaction, and I was proud of the Public response fuelled by Social Media sites in cleaning up after the riots and offering help to thise affected by them.

  8. Expressed so well! We are still hoping and praying for a job for my husband here in the USA. It's been a very rough two years for us. We are definitely NOT helping the consumer spending indicator... we have ZERO to spend AND don't want to. Spend, spend, spend days are way over for us; I never want to borrow money from any banking institution again. They will not work with you during this crisis too bad the government caved in for them.

  9. And an added FYI... we are NOT young but have suffered deeply but we are not planning any riots. ; ) Age discrimination doesn't stop with the very young and we were in the "middle class" until the lay off. My husband thought it would "never happen to him" because of his education and skills - he can fix nearly anything and will research a problem until it is resolved but that did not stop them from cutting him from their payroll. So for anyone "comfortable" in their position in society - DON'T BE! Because no one knows whats going to happen tomorrow.

  10. I've been discussing with my partner whether he thought the riots could happen here in Australia. I think we have the same issues simmering in many suburbs - poverty, disillusionment, no job prospects. I remember visiting Centrelink when unemployed, now there is a place that can aggravate the calmest of people. If only our government truly showed compassion and a desire to help find meaningful employment and care for all its citizens.

  11. It's a moral issue. No amount of money and social degrees can solve this. It's spiritual.
    A lot of people think feeding a child and putting a roof over their head is the end of their responsibilities. It takes more time than that to grow a responsible human being.
    @Kirsty- we have had our riots here in Australia. What about the Cronulla riots and Redfurn.

  12. I happened to be living in London and other parts of England in the Thatcher years -there were many of them!Many remember she was first called Thatcher Milk Snatcher before she became The Iron Lady.The beginning of these riots was then, with the dismantling of the social welfare system,industry and built on the sense of entitlement of the few who hold power, wealth and privilege in British society.Britain is not a 'can do' society with a positive attitude to solutions.This won't be the end of it.
    America has made the grave mistake of mixing politics with religion and greed with entitlement.A heady mix with the results clearly visible.
    Here in Oz we have seen a few skirmishes.We need to ensure we don't raise any more kids who feel disempowered, lacking a place and without purpose.Parenting without boundaries has a payoff.Let us be warned and take heed.

  13. I hesitated for several days before posting about this subject. It is so interesting to hear other people's views on the subject. I agree with Von, that events like these usually have a long genesis.

    Becky, I am sending my best wishes to you and yours. It is horrible when the ordinary man gets dragged down by the system...sadly you are not alone.

    Mo and Steve...we also heard about the citizen clean up corps. It does restore one's faith in human nature doesn't it. Australia has a long history or 'pitching in' when needed and this was seen in the recent flooding in Queensland and other places and after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

    Mark, it is true that poor parenting can result in maladjusted children. However, it is also a very difficult job and hard enough for people who have a good education, positive life experiences, financial resources, familial support. I can't imagine how hard it must be for people who have none of these and who are enmeshed in generational poverty and disadvantage.

    Gullygunyah, thanks for the reminder about the Cronulla riots. The causes of those were also muddied by the 'racial' tag. Race did play a part in those events but the underlying causes were similar to those in Britain...inequality and poverty.

    Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this post and for your thoughtful comments.

  14. Thank you for this wonderful post, Hazel! I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly.

  15. Thought provoking post Hazel and can I say how much I enjoyed thinking along the historical lines, being a non-working history teacher myself. One of my favourite aspects of teaching history is examining the long term causes of events, in particular the move to transportation to Australia and also the start of the First World War.

    Let's hope those with the power are also thinking so analytically about these riots, but somehow I doubt it.

  16. This is the best post I have read on the riots!!! And you were very brave to post it.

    All the posts talking about "the bad youth of today" didn't dig deep enough and reflect why. Disenfranchised youth are angry. Bombarded with media telling them what they deserve (glitzy consumerism) and yet no meaningful job or future to get the prize. We may be living in uncertain times financially and ecologically too. There is a lot to be angry and depressed about.

    There is a deep social unrest in the developing world and young people are starting to rise as they find their voice just as they have in the past. It's time for a revolution and the Monarchy today are the Multi National Conglomerates.

  17. Ouch... I mean to say social unrest in the DEVELOPED WORLD.

    The developing world is angry too but they are often too busy struggling to get food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs while we buy stuff that they spent the day slaving over for little reward....


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