Saturday, 20 August 2011

I love the sound of breaking glass: the riots and the aftermath

Don't tell David Starkey: Medieval 'chavs' rioting, even before the discovery of gangsta culture

The significance of the recent riots here in London are continuing to provoke some interesting debates in various media this weekend. This is hardly surprising, and a healthy sign, one would hope. Certainly Mrs Angry finds her own views on the issues continually evolving, as the discussions roll on, and a further perspective is reached from which to view the matter. Of course other people prefer to cling to the opinions they had before, during, and after the riots, for fear of losing the comfort of their closely guarded prejudices.

David Starkey, for example. After last week's extraordinarily offensive performance on Newsnight, where he informed us that the London riots were caused by white people behaving like black people, the old fool has tried to justify his remarks in an article published in yesterday's Telegraph, with this heading:

UK riots: It’s not about criminality and cuts, it’s about culture... and this is only the beginning

He tells us that all the fuss that followed his comments were largely because he was misunderstood, and misrepresented, and now he has tried to explain his viewpoint at some length, and to expand upon his ludicrous theories.

The headline, which I suppose is probably not his choosing, simply reiterates the central, most objectionable part of his argument: that the riots were due to an inherent cultural tendency of black people, all that gangsta stuff, the only form of cultural expression that black people have created, of course.

Starkey's view was that the awkward fact that so many of the rioters were actually white can be explained by their having been infected by the dreaded gangsta culture - in fact he uses the phrase 'the disease of gangsta culture' ... he explained to us that white chavs, another objectionable sub-class, in his view, and deserving of the same amount of contempt, but for different reasons, had adopted the 'Jamaican patois' of their black counterparts, or 'jafaican' as he now merrily informs us it might be referred to. Using the fake historical patois so beloved by right wing tv populist broadcasters and rentaquote academics, Starkey rambles on:

“So why,” some of my friends have asked, “didn’t you stop there?” “Why did you have to talk about David Lammy MP sounding 'white’? Or white chavs becoming 'black’?” The answer is that I thought my appearance on Newsnight was supposed to be part of a wide-ranging discussion about the state of the nation."

This is an interesting remark, for two reasons: one, it is rather surprising to hear that Starkey has any friends, and secondly, more importantly, that he claims his remarks on Newsnight were made in order to contribute to a reasoned debate, rather than inflame an already volatile situation, or for the purpose of self gratifying publicity. Really?

I'm not sure if Starkey actually understands what is meant by 'chav', or really cares. Perhaps he should have allowed Owen Jones, the guy on Newsnight who has written a book with the title 'Chavs, the demonisation of an underclass', to talk about the subject, as he had been invited to do, and perhaps thereby challenge some of his misconceptions.

There has always been, and always will be an underclass in any society: labelling elements of the white working class as chavs may or may not be fair, but apart from the idiocy of blaming the lawless behaviour of white rioters on 'black culture', it is a huge leap to assume that all the white rioters were chavs, or that their violence and looting had anything to do with any cause other than spontaneous - almost exclusively male - tribal criminality which erupts in certain circumstances. That those certain circumstances are more likely in times of recession and perceived social injustice is fairly predictable. It has nothing to do with race, or ethnicity, other than in economic terms, and Starkey knew perfectly well what he was doing by trying to connect the riots to a racial cause, and by invoking the totally irrelevant but deliberately provocative references to Enoch Powell and his 'Rivers of Blood ' speech.

I don't know how, judging from this apologia for his Newsnight rant, David Starkey has managed to sustain a career in academia, with such an eccentric approach to analysing information, and such a selective memory. He seems unable to produce a coherent argument in his own defence, making daft points about Ed Miliband, quoting Tony Parsons, and trying to drag some black or 'mixed race' educationalists onto his team, (presumably because like David Lammy, they sound white to Starkey, with his eyes closed).

He talks about the recent riots as if they were a unique phenomenon, unprecedented in 'white culture'. How does an 'eminent' historian so easily forget, for example, the long record of civil unrest in this country, usually in this city, always at times of economic hardship: take your pick from the disturbances of the Peasants' Revolt of the 1380s, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Gordon Riots of 1780, the Peterloo massacre, the Swing Riots of the 1830s, and so on, even before we reach the twentieth and twenty first century ... in fact, so prevalent was the potential for revolution, and class uprising, that the Riot Act of 1714 was, rather astonishingly, only repealed in 1973: can you believe that?

So who would we blame for this uprisings, Mr Starkey? Not really possible to blame them on gangsta culture, is it? The truth is that rioting and looting are a fairly predictable, if regrettable, eruption of discontent in hard times. It has everything to do with social exclusion, and a polarised society, and nothing to do with a particular form of 'culture' associated with people of a certain skin colour or common ancestry.

After pouring petrol on the 'lambent flames' of an already inflammatory situation, Starkey ends his piece with a rather sad plea:

"The riots are the symptom of a profound rupture in our body politic and sense of national identity. If the rupture is not healed and a sense of common purpose recovered, they will recur – bigger, nastier and more frequently. Can we stop bickering and address this task of recovery and reconstruction – all together?"

Sounds to Mrs Angry as if someone now realises that he is unlikely to be asked to front yet another series on 'Enery the Eighth, I am, I am, anytime soon, and is trying to backtrack, rather urgently.

Moving on, then: yesterday morning Mrs Angry happened to hear a debate on Radio 4's 'Beyond Parliament', on the subject of the riots: a selection of MPs and an academic expert were asked their opinions about the punishment of the rioters now being taken to court.

The reasoned, sensible opinions expressed by one Labour MP: Chuka Umunna - was a useful contrast to the enthusiasm for merciless, vengeful punishment of looters and rioters which has overtaken the majority of so many Tory politicians. Umunna also pointed out that the moral high ground being taken by MPs has been 'compromised by history'.

The panel members were asked if in their view, there was any moral distinction between someone looting a flat screen tv from a high street shop, or an MP claiming for one on his parliamentary expenses. Were either of these offences on a different moral plane? The consensus was yes: but because the offence by the MP was far worse, as someone in a priviliged postition might be expected to set a better example.

Chuka Umunna called for a reverse in the cuts for police funding, and LibDem MP Tom Brake emphasised the importance of safer neighbourhood teams, for the preventative measures they undertake, including vital work with local youths, a point reiterated here in Barnet this week, by GLA Labour candidate Andrew Dismore, in a letter to the local press - in stark contrast to our current Tory assembly member, Brian Coleman, who maintains a stony silence on the subject.

Finally: also yesterday, Mrs Angry read with exasperation a post on 'Conservative Home' by local Hertsmere Tory MP James Clappison.

Under the heading ' The withdrawal of benefits may help deter future rioters', Mr Clappison wonders:

"Should convicted rioters face other sanctions? One of the heartening reactions to the riots has been that of the public in seeking to convey their disgust and disapproval of the rioters, and the media has helped in this. The idea of shame seems to be undergoing rehabilitation."

Good, thinks Mrs Angry. Heartening, as he says, that the idea of shame is back in fashion.

Hmm. Amusing that this sanctimonious twit sees no irony inherent in such condemnation coming from someone in his position. He appears to have forgotten his own moment in the spotlight during the MPs expenses scandal, not so long ago, as reported gleefully in the Daily Mail, and widely elsewhere:

Millionaire Tory MP who owns 24 homes claimed £100,000 in expenses... even though he doesn't have a mortgage

"A millionaire Tory MP who owns 24 homes claimed more than £100,000 in expenses even though he does not have a mortgage.

Taxpayers' cash was mainly used for gardening and redecoration.

James Clappison, a work and pensions spokesman, bought petunias, geraniums and busy lizzies with public funds for his £375,000 semi in St Albans.

The MP for Hertsmere rents out 22 properties in North Humberside where he also owns a cricket pitch and 27 acres of land inherited from his father.

Since 2001, Mr Clappison has claimed a total of £102,241 in second homes allowances, including claims for maintenance, groceries, utility bills, a cleaner and a TV licence.

Between 2004 and 2005 he claimed £628 for gardening. He also claimed £20 for a kitchen blender in July 2004.

From 2005 to 2006 he claimed £578 for a washing machine and £719 for a new bed.

Between 2006 and 2007, he he claimed £892 on renovations and window cleaning. The work included a new lavatory seat and £297 for a video recorder.

The following year, he claimed £3,541 for roof repairs and £1,990 for redecoration. He also claimed £686 for gardening and £298 for television and DVD player.

Mr Clappison told the Daily Telegraph that all his claims were in order except for £38.50 for bedding plants which was immediately repaid.

'This was an honest mistake on my part,' he said."

Read more:

Clappison maintained that apart from his 'honest mistake' over some petunias, geraniums and busy lizzies, his expenses were all claimed within the rules of parliament. Fair enough. Rather sadly, however, some of his own 'benefits' as an MP have now been withdrawn in the partial reform of the expenses system.

The justification of acting within the rules was used by almost every MP who was criticised for their expenses claims, of course. The opportunity was there, and they took advantage of it.

You might like to compare and contrast this excuse to the attitude of a member of the feckless underclasses the Tories so despise, who happens by a broken window and helps himself to a pair of trainers.

Then explain the difference to me.

1 comment:

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

I always thought that one of the primary functions of a historian was to interpret past events not just report on them. And maybe use that interpretation to help explain current events.

If I'm right then Starkey has demonstrated himself to be a spectacular failure in his main profession.

As you point out, riots and rebellion have occurred throughout history and for a historian to ignore that completely in favour of the racist's rallying cry the 'Rivers of Blood' speech beggars belief.