Has Cameron’s line on August’s riots finally been trashed for good?

Posted on December 7, 2011


The results of the London School of Economics (LSE) and Guardian survey into August’s civil disturbances – Reading the Riots – were aired last night on BBC’s Newsnight. It was one of this week’s most important contributions to the UK news agenda.

And why? Because the survey represents the second comprehensive dismissal of the government line – that August’s riots were caused by gang culture, “mindless” violence and opportunistic “criminality” – after statistical profiling of arrested rioters in Home Office and Ministry of Justice reports earlier this year.

Photo credit: bisgovuk

Last week the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel issued its interim report5 Days in August – which refers to everything from unemployment, the police’s handling of (and involvement in) Mark Duggan’s death as well as policing in general, and opportunism, crime, etc.

The LSE/Guardian report, consisting of interviews with 270 rioters, states that 86% of rioters cited poverty as the main cause, 79% said unemployment.

85% also claimed “policing” was an “important” or “very important” factor, with 70% of those interviewed claiming they had been stopped and searched by police in the past year.

The previous Home Office/Ministry of Justice research stated that 17% of arrested rioters were gang members, hardly a vindication of David Cameron’s view that the riots were gang-related when he rattled: “We will fight back against gangs, crime and the thugs who make people’s lives hell and we will fight back hard.”

This was all bread-and-butter for the Conservative Party, Middle England and the knee-jerk right-wing press, excellent stuff about bobbies on the beat, a decline in traditional values, all that guff. But it had little connection with social reality.

London map linking August's disturbances with Multiple Deprivation Index. Photo credit: James Cridland

As a result of the government response, perhaps, or a reflection of the entrenchment of societal injustice – 4 of 5 rioters believed that riots will happen again. Some even looked forward to the day.

If anything, LSE/Guardian interviews suggested gang culture had been put off for the day, that old rivalries and feuds were forgotten to unite against a common enemy – the police.

And while there is an element of justification by the rioters interviewed here – talking up the looting, vandalism, arson and injury they caused back in August – it seems difficult to deny the few home truths the BBC interviews demonstrated; the alienation, barely suppressed fury with society and – most of all – the police, the absence of real prospects at the bottom of a society toppling top-heavy with wealth and hypocritical immorality.

And yet, during the programme, LBC host Ian Dale quickly retweeted some classic common sense conservatism – expressed by the editor of Conservative Home website, Tim Montgomerie: “#newsnight broadcasts research that criminals don’t like police. Tmrw they’ll break news of tensions between Tom & Jerry [sic].” Fellow arch-contrarian, journalist David Aaronovitch, added: “Getting their own back for the police “being rude” and EMA cuts? I am having trouble with this. #newsnight”

These responses to the contrary almost seemed deliberately simplistic, an ideological filter through which right-wingers could compute the facts in front of them.

So now, rather than leftist commentators reading too much into the riots – as was originally claimed – the new research that backs their original views is now not accurate and penetrative enough? The revisionism has begun.

Posted in: Politics