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Sunday, 21 August 2011

The riots, according to Tony Blair

Were many people expecting Tony Blair’s ‘first public verdicts on the riots’ (the Observer)? I don’t know. Does he give public verdicts on all current issues or just the sexy ones? Do people wait for the public verdicts of Bernard Manning or Michael Heseltine on the issues - from the riots to Katie Price’s new dress - of the day?
This is what I think happened. The riots had subsided somewhat so the editors of various nationals decided they could do with some profound quotes from various ex-politicians. No doubt some responses were in line with what David Cameron and others have said. The editors would have had no use for them. However, Blair’s analysis is at odds with Cameron’s. Therefore the newspapers, or the Observer alone, have decided to feature it. It is a sexy take on the sexy riots.

That’s not to say that what Blair has said is not true. Indeed I largely agree with it. I simply don’t believe that an outburst of riots, even throughout the entire country, necessarily signals that ‘Britain has lost its way morally’. If that were the case, then Britain had already lost its way in 2000, 1996, the 1980s or in whatever other periods there have been riots in the UK. Indeed riots have been part of the English way dating back to the Middle Ages.

That’s not to say, however, that we like to riot as much as, say, the French or the Greeks. There are limits after all. (They riot at the drop of a hat and sometimes because a hat has been dropped.)

Cameron and others have simply over-reacted. Not by criticising the riots as such, but by seeing them as signifying that something is profoundly wrong with the country. Sometimes riots just happen. Or sometimes they simply aren’t symptoms of a 'larger cultural malaise'.

The other point is that many young rioters just riot because they like rioting. Because it is fun - especially if the rioters can loot at the very same time. Young people, especially, can’t be expected to have exactly the same mind-set as the older generation. Sometimes events like this are simply young people asserting their difference from older people and thus showing them exactly how different they truly are. That doesn’t make what they have done right. And it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished.

I simply think it was wrong for Cameron to offer such portentous analyses of the riots. Riots are not always the signal of our ‘slow-motion moral collapse’. They can be; but that’s not necessarily the case.

Again, generalisations don’t always help or work. Our ‘society’ is not ‘broken’. That’s too Platonic or Hegelian. There are parts or sections of our society that are broken. Then again, there are always parts of nearly all societies that are broken. This is true of all societies the wrong side of Utopia or Paradise. Politicians, however, can use any portentous spin that’s available to sell themselves as True Statesmen and as the only cure for the country’s ‘moral decline’.

Despite all that, Cameron is right to concentrate on the malign influence of ‘human rights legislation’. I see human rights groups and organisations as having, as their first aim, what should be called - revolution/radicalisation-through-rights-activism. Human-rights activism has become a good way to chip away at the state and society as a whole and divest it of all things which are seen as ‘reactionary’, ‘racist’, ‘fascist’ (as well as all the many other political sins with ‘ist’ and ‘ary’ on the end).

Blair is certainly right to reject the simplistic and naive, perhaps deliberately so, verdicts of the Left and the Liberal-Left. The fact is that so many of these ‘spontaneous riots’ were in fact organised by criminal gangs that simply made the most of the riotous situations. (Think here of the Palestinian Authorities, Fatah and Hamas organising, in incredible detail, the ‘spontaneous’ Intifadas of 2000 and, before that, of 1987.)

In addition, if it were all a question of ‘social deprivation’, then why were so many students and professionals involved in the riots? Unless the Left is making an even bigger fool of itself by saying that students are ‘socially deprived’ as students, just as they are as ex-students (through paying off their student loans). If students are now seen as socially deprived, then you quickly come to realise that poverty really has become relative. Relative to Tony Blair or Observer journalists, maybe some students are poor. But relative to the millions of genuine poor throughout the world, they are rich.

Having downplayed the reality that is riot, as Blair himself seems to have done (at least in a sense), I would say that is also a reality that sizeable sections of society are indeed made up of ‘dysfunctional’ persons, to use Blair’s term again. I have lived amongst people who are little more than moral zombies. People completely devoid of conscience - even towards their nearest and dearest (if they have any). Also, these people are not just a small minority. They are sizeable sections of society. (For example, in the inner-city areas and on certain council estates - but not all council estates!)

Shouldn’t we ‘stigmatise’ these people (to use another word of Blair’s)? Yes we should! The nicely-nicely (as well as nicey-nicey) approach of revolution-through-rights-and-riots activists simply doesn’t work. Indeed many professionals, in the rights industry, don’t really want the dysfunctional to become functional. They want them to become more revolutionary or radical. A radicalism which will be the result of middle-class professionals telling them who’s really guilty for the state they're in. We can safely assume that it’s not dysfunctional people themselves that are to blame. It’s other people. These others include the platonic State, the platonic Media and various other ‘reactionary’ elements in society. Thus Leftists and Liberals are attempting to use society’s dysfunctional elements for political ends. They do not particularly want to cure their dysfunctionality; only to radicalise it.

But, again, Blair is wrong when he says that all this is ‘a phenomenon of the late 20th century’. It has been a product, or a result, of states that have become decadent and too wealthy. (Yes! Too wealthy.) States and societies which have become too flabby and too self-critical.

When relativism and rights-for-riot-and-revolution rhetoric rule the roost and no-one, except the state and various right-wing bogeymen, is guilty of anything, then you have riots - amongst many other things.


  1. Tony Bliar looks uncannily like Anders Breivik...

  2. For Tony Blair to have stepped forward to give his views on August 2011's riots smacks guilty conscience. The policies set by his government - during New Labour's time in office - contributed significantly to the riots. Stepping forward and attacking an unpopular Prime Minister's (David Cameron) comments is just a defensive approach from Blair.