It is the thirtieth anniversary of the Toxteth riots in what was better known then as the Liverpool 8 district. I remember the shocking scenes, as a corner of that city burned and policemen defended themselves with truncheons and dustbin lids. Thirty years ago, these riots and those that followed were relatively concentrated geographically and came in the wake of a huge rise unemployment and the end of the post War consensus around the Welfare State.
As we survey the burning ruins across many English cities, it would be hugely tempting to point out that inner city riots tend to take place when the Conservative Party is in power. But that would be a cheap shot. The reality is that the British political establishment have presided over more than a quarter century of social breakdown and the development of a poorly educated underclass with little or no hope. There was some respite during the years of ‘boom’ in the form of what the establishment used to like to call ‘trickle down’, but essentially the rich got even richer and the poor relatively poorer. At the bottom of the heap, the British underclass expanded as this country came closer to mirroring America.
It is possible that the appalling scenes witnessed across cities last night, as anarchy reigned unchallenged in parts, may not be repeated on such a scale tonight. Even still, a new boundary has been crossed, and it is quite possible that there could be night curfews and troops held in reserve if the failing blue line of police does buckle. There haven’t been curfews in this country to my knowledge since Peterloo, nor have there been troops on the streets since the General Strike in 1926. Back then, Churchill sent armed soldiers into the South Wales coalfields.
We are today witnessing the return of the mob, last seen on London’s streets in the 1700s. No one can say they weren’t warned. But the question is how will the effete Westminster class of politicians respond? That there is something deeply rotten in British society, there can be no doubt.
Clearly the public will demand that these scenes are not allowed to be repeated, and will expect a tough response to out of control, feral youth. But beyond this, what sort of society do we want in the 21st century? Something that resembles the 1700s or something that we had in the latter half of the last century?