Obviamente, a questão de saber as causas do que se tem passado em Inglaterra é difícil porque é complexa. É fácil enumerar causas, e com um bocado de bom senso e de conhecimento, consegue-se listar um conjunto de factores que estarão, com toda a certeza, na base do fenómeno (desintegração social, ineficácia educativa e policial, banditismo, políticas, etc.). O que é difícil é imputar pesos à influência de cada um deles, e ao modo como se interligaram dinamicamente uns com os outros, logo caracterizar, de modo adequado, o "mix" que originou isto (e que já tinha sucedido em França, e há-de suceder em outros lados). Daí que toda a discussão, mesmo admitindo que seja informada e extensiva, só terá resultados aproximados na perceção da especificidade do problema.
Ter informação sobre o contexto mais amplo em que isto se insere poderá, no entanto, ajudar de modo significativo. Daquilo que li mais recentemente nada melhor do que o III Capítulo, A Insustentável Leveza da Política, do livro de Tony Judt, Um Tratado Sobre os Nossos Actuais Descontentamentos, Edições 70, para dar essa profundidade de campo - leitura fortemente recomendada. Eu questiono-me se os bairros marginais onde a polícia só entra em força não são a outra face do problema que gera as gated communities (traduzida no livro como comunidades muradas e não como condomínios fechados). E aquilo que lá se diz não é contraditado, no essencial, pelo que é dito por alguns conservadores (real conservatives)como se poderia cotejar com aquilo que vem abaixo.
No Irish Economy, sob a epígrafe Real conservatives have always worried about social cohesion dizia-se a propósito do artigo que se referencia abaixo:...which is why it makes sense that this article should have appeared in the Telegraph rather than the Guardian (HT FT Alphaville). O artigo, escrito num jornal conservador, é magnífico pela sua lucidez.
No one seemed surprised. Not the hooded teenagers fleeing home at dawn. Not Ken and Tony, who used to live in Tottenham and had returned to stand vigil over the missiles and torched cars littering an urban war zone. Tony claimed to have seen the whole thing coming. “This was always going to happen,” he said.The police shot a black guy in suspicious circumstances. Feral kids with no jobs ran amok. To Tony’s mind, this was a riot waiting for an excuse. In the hangover of the violence that spread through London, the uprisings seemed both inevitable and unthinkable. Over a few days in which attacks became a contagion the capital city of an advanced nation has reverted to a Hobbesian dystopia of chaos and brutality.“In the evening there is fear, and in the morning they are gone. This is the fate of those who take our goods, and the reward of those who violently take our property.” Isaiah 17:14. No suchfate awaited the pillagers of N18, strolling away from 21st-century megastores with a looted haul of iPod accessories and designer trainers.This is the most arcane of uprisings and the most modern. Its participants, marshalled by Twitter, are protagonists in a sinister flipside to the Arab Spring. The Tottenham summer, featuring children as young as seven, is an assault not on a regime of tyranny but on the established order of a benign democracy. One question now hangs over London’s battle-torn high streets. How could this ever happen?Among several obvious answers, one is a failure of policing. The evidence so far points to more ignominy for the rudderless Met, as doubts emerge over whether Mark Duggan, whose death inspired the initial riots, fired at police. The stonewalling of Mr Duggan’s family precipitated the crisis, and the absence of officers to intervene in an orgy of looting led to a breakdown of order suggestive of the lawless badlands of a failing state.The second alleged culprit is ethnicity. But, as, Tottenham’s MP, has said, these are no race riots. The Eighties uprisings at Broadwater Farm, as in Toxteth and Brixton, were products, in part, of a poisonous racism absent in today’s Tottenham, where the Chinese grocery, the Turkish store and the African hairdresser’s sit side by side.
So blame unemployment and the cuts. It is true that Tottenham is among London’s poorest boroughs, with 10,000 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy. In other affected boroughs, such as Hackney, youth clubs are closing. Unwise as such pruning may be, it would be facile to suggest that homes and businesses have been laid waste for want of ping-pong tournaments and skateboard parks.
The real causes are more insidious. It is no coincidence that the worst violence London has seen in many decades takes place against the backdrop of a global economy poised for freefall. The causes of recession set out by in his book, The 1929, were as follows: bad income distribution, a business sector engaged in “corporate larceny”, a weak banking structure and an import/export imbalance.
All those factors are again in play. In the bubble of the 1920s, the top 5 per cent of earners creamed off one-third of personal income. Today, Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since then. Last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion.
Europe’s leaders, our own Prime Minister and Chancellor included, were parked on sun-loungers as London burned. Although the epicentre of the immediate economic crisis is the eurozone, successive British governments have colluded in incubating the poverty, the inequality and the inhumanity now exacerbated by financial turmoil.
Britain’s lack of growth is not an economic debating point or a stick with which to beat , any more than our deskilled, demotivated, under-educated non-workforce is simply a blot on the national balance sheet. Watch the juvenile wrecking crews on the city streets and weep for all our futures. The “lost generation” is mustering for war.
This is not a cri de coeur for the failed and failing. Nor is it a lament for the impoverished. Mob violence, despicable and inexcusable, must always be condemned. But those terrorising and trashing London are also a symptom of a wider malaise. In uneasy societies, people power – whether offered or stolen – can be toxic. Most of the 53 per cent of e‑democrats calling to have the death penalty reinstated (of whom 8 per cent would opt for firing squad or gas chamber) would never dream of torching a police car, but their impulses hardly cohere either with ’s utopian ambitions.
What price for the Big Society as Tottenham, the most solid of communities, lies in ruins? The notion that small-state Britain can be run along the lines of Ambridge parish council by good-hearted, if under-funded, volunteers has never seemed more doubtful. Nor can take much credit for his unvaried focus on the “squeezed middle”, rather than on a vote-losing underclass that politicians ignore at their peril, and at ours.
London’s riots are not the Tupperware troubles of Greece or Spain, where the middle classes lash out against their day of reckoning. They are the proof that a section of young Britain – the stabbers, shooters, looters, chancers and their frightened acolytes – has fallen off the cliff-edge of a crumbling nation.
The failure of the markets goes hand in hand with human blight. Meanwhile, the view is gaining ground that social democracy, with its safety nets, its costly education and health care for all, is unsustainable in the bleak times ahead. The reality is that it is the only solution. After the Great Crash, Britain recalibrated, for a time. Income differentials fell, the welfare state was born and skills and growth increased.
That exact model is not replicable, but nor, as Adam Smith recognised, can a well-ordered society ever develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable and, as a consequence, dangerous. This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste.
One of the most tragic aspects of London’s meltdowns is that we need this ruined generation if Britain is ever to feel prosperous and safe again. If there are no jobs for today’s malcontents and no means to exploit their skills, then the UK is in graver trouble than it thinks. Mr Osborne may congratulate himself on his prudence, but retrenchment also bears a social cost. We are seeing just how steep that price may be.
Financial crashes and human catastrophes are cyclical. Each reoccurrence threatens to be graver than the last. As Galbraith wrote, “memory is far better than the law” in protecting against financial illusion and insanity. In an age of austerity, there are diverse luxuries that Britain can no longer afford. Amnesia stands high on that long list.