Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter



Aug 10, 2011

Cheryl Kernot: the bleakness of contemporary Britain

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his ministers are keen to reduce this to “sheer criminality” and the actions most certainly are. But it’s a fair bet that such behaviour also has its roots in the failure of contemporary political systems, policy responses and other contemporary cultural values, writes Cheryl Kernot, who worked for a time at the UK School for Social Entrepreneurs.


I lived in the UK quite recently for almost six years, working a chunk of that time at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Bethnal Green close to Hackney and other East London suburbs featuring in the press coverage of the current riots.

Many of our adult students were drawn from the large ghettoised housing estates. They wanted to take responsibility for new solutions for their own communities; solutions to the lack of service provision in their local areas: more responsive community run pre-schools and play groups; more employment opportunities for offenders and disengaged young people; more integrated service delivery for unemployed African immigrants; services for children of parents with HIV/AIDS.

Huge pockets of unmet social need replicated in all the regional big cities of the UK.

But is this, one symptom of social exclusion, the driver of current events? Other commentators have said that there is no shared rationale, no clear political agenda and no common motivation such as racial incitement that have driven other recent riots or anarchic protests.

What the riots do seem to have had in common is violent destructive entry for the purpose of stealing; not just groceries and alcohol, but plasma TVs, trainers and the kind of “fashionable” clothing that signifies group inclusion. Does our understanding of social inclusion encompass access to a particular level of consumer goods?

What can possibly explain the emptying of a large department store in Clapham Junction where I lived; a suburb with both a high level of private home ownership and some housing estates; across the river in an area of completely different demographics from that of the east London and Croydon, areas of acknowledged social deprivation? What can explain the phenomenon of looters with the time to try goods on, reject the unsuitable and take the stolen away in the store’s carrier bags?

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his ministers are keen to reduce this to “sheer criminality” and the actions most certainly are. But it’s a fair bet such behaviour also has its roots in the failure of contemporary political systems, policy responses and other contemporary cultural values.

For years many have written about the dominance of consumerism and the application of its language to ordinary service transactions between citizens and governments where everyone’s a client or consumer.

But to be a participant in a consumer-based society requires money as the entry price. If you don’t have a job, or the level of education to get a job, if you are condemned to growing up in a housing estate where intergenerational unemployment is the norm and drug dealing the way out, then your chances of participating in the fantasy world of conspicuous (or even normal) consumption characterised in advertising and in popular television shows are pretty remote. Why should you have hope?

To its credit the previous UK Labour government gave a very high budgetary priority to social inclusion and in partnership with local councils achieved some success in reclaiming “no-go” public parks, reopening youth clubs and regenerating communities with new housing solutions.

But there are still millions of Britons living in desolate wastelands of dehumanising housing where fellow tenants urinate in lifts and discard all sorts of social detritus; where gangs rule and where often there is a perverse solidarity based on shared lack of respect. And victimhood. I feared for my life in one that I had to visit. Where there is an absence of hope in the many families who have been deserted by fathers leaving even hard-working mothers unable to provide the material goods’ entrée card for teenage children.

An absence of hope in the faces of teenage mums impregnated by teenage fathers also absent from their off-springs’ lives. Young mums whose common response is to listen to a headset rather than engage with their babies.

How can any government easily deal with these challenges, especially in a small country with extreme population pressures on the very basics of social infrastructure?

The Big Society agenda might seem hopeful, but not when accompanied by massive cuts to almost every level of service provision at a time of economic recession. And not when it allows the obscene level of bankers’ bonuses to continue and maintains the mantra of tax cuts and lower taxation of the very wealthy as the undisputed way forward in all circumstances.

JK Galbraith in his seminal Culture of Contentment made a powerful explanation for how the current focus of government economic policy on the short-term self-interest of the economically fortunate would have disastrous consequences for social harmony.

This is at play in much of the bleakness of contemporary Britain. A liberal and tolerant democracy with lessons for us all.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

47 thoughts on “Cheryl Kernot: the bleakness of contemporary Britain

  1. Pamela

    Much more thoughtful and incisive than the rubbish on rn last night blaming the WELFARE STATE for the riots.
    Will the US with its State protection of the wealthy and massive cuts to basics for the poor have similar troubles?
    Socialising the losses from the GFC may not be such a good idea in the long run.

  2. Peter Ormonde

    Good piece Cheryl,
    But I think you’re letter Blair’s cosmetics off far too lightly.

    That stuff from Brendan O’Neill last night was really quite nauseating wasn’t it?…
    And yet if you think about he he was giving a perfect illustration of what has sparked this viral rampage.
    That’s the second time I’ve heard O’Neill on the ABC in the last week. Why are they giving this appalling individual any oxygen here to spread his disgraceful hatred? Is this some crude effort at ABC “balance”?

  3. Peter Ormonde

    Sorry “letting” – accursed spell-checker!

  4. Michael Virant

    Thatcher’s Briton.

    “There’s no such thing as society,” British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once declared.

    And people still think she was the best thing to happen to that country. It is just as much those neo-cons’ responsibility as the excluded youth unable to express themselves in any other way. But don’t expect any softening of the heart – that’s pinko territory.

  5. Sean Bullock

    How can I take an observation of British society seriously written by someone who lived there for six years and doesn’t even know which side of the thames Croydon is on. This makes me question any accuracy of the details contained in this opinion piece.

  6. Perry Gretton

    @Sean Bullock: “who lived there for six years and doesn’t even know which side of the thames Croydon is on”.

    If that’s all you have by way of argument in refuting Cheryl’s observations, then you have nothing useful to add.

  7. Frank Campbell

    Income inequality has sharply increased in the UK (since Thatcher), as it has here and the US.

    But this is rarely mentioned- since the Left was coopted by corporate capitalism.

    Gillard, intuitively right-wing, unintellectual and indescribably banal, is the logical conclusion of this process.

    On your marx!

  8. michael r james

    It is nothing new. I first lived there in the first half of the 80s and saw the awful effects of Thatcherism. (and the slightly later effects such as allowing State schools to sell off their “excess” property–which most did, forever depriving many British state schools of playing fields and space; this was criminal; of course it was only the poor ones that were forced into the sell off thus widening the gap between the better-off and the lower-economic classes).

    Then I lived there again in the second half of the 90s. It was even worse. I voted LibDem in the election that gave government to Blair and couldn’t understand the adulation of this jumped-up school prefect. I last visited a few years ago and was appalled, all over again. I vowed to never visit again if I could humanly avoid it–telling my few friends there that, in the future, they would have to meet me in Paris or somewhere.

    It is the leadership class. Even if middle-class types like Blair can reach the very top, they do not believe in a true meritocracy, or in fact exploit from the heights of a self-justified brahmin class. This is the case with the laughably self-proclaimed “leftist” Brendan O’Neil. The reality is he is an economic rationalist who believes in laissez faire Darwinian struggle so those with “exceptional” talent (like he imagines himself) will rise to the top (and dominate everyone else).

    But anyway this part of the cycle they are right back to the old system: an Old Etonian (David Cameron) who never has needed to work in his life to his buddy and Deputy PM Nick Clegg (Westminster School then Cambridge). Even if Thatcher was famously a grocer’s daughter she too, like Blair, went to Oxford (Somerville College). These places reinforce the superiority complex in upwardly mobile Brits and so it becomes self-perpetuating class warfare. It is why I still remain a supporter of Gordon Brown, a scot (PhD U. Edinburgh). The Scottish have a more robust egalitarianism and generally better schooling than the Sassenachs.

  9. Sean Bullock

    @ Perry Gretton

    It indicates the writer lived in a cocoon without really knowing the city or it’s people. The whole argument is based on academic theory and discussion rather than experience.

  10. Peter Ormonde


    Spot on.

    I’ve been puzzling for a few days about why these outbreaks haven’t spread into Scotland and Wales … but you’re right I think: far more open and egalitarian cultures.

    It’s not about hardship and economic austerity. At least not directly. It doesn’t get harder than Glasgow. It’s about exclusion and privilege amongst the English ruling elites.

    Interesting isn’t it?

  11. michael r james

    @Peter O.

    Interesting but also horrifying. And sad. I can still feel some pride in the British Empire and that part of my heritage but today it is nothing but awfulness and I hate to see how half of Australia’s own ruling elite tend to blindly follow the British example (unfortunately the other half blindly follow American neo-con practice; we get the worst of both worlds!).
    I should have pointed out my viewpoint was influenced by spending 6 years in the belly of the beast–Oxford. Though as a complete outsider–a research scientist. (Thatcher graduated as a chemist but she quickly found the real route to power and went back to get a law degree. Most pollies from Oxford have done PPE, eg. Cameron.)

    The power of these elite institutions to perpetuate the ruling class is fascinating. I found a slightly peculiar attitude amongst my own students. They were in awe of Oxford and that they were so privileged to be there. Instead I said that Oxford was privileged (in a different fashion) to get first dibs on the best students in the country; and it was them who made Oxford great not the other way around. (Of course I am not denying that having Oxford on your cv does not make career success a little easier.)

    Eventually it even reclaims the rebels, most notably Christopher Hitchens who has become a shockingly one-eyed right-winger (sheesh, he is a fellow at the Hoover Institute!). In the case of Australians I remain wary of those who had their spells in Oxford. It can go either way. The privileged like Fraser have their belief in the natural order confirmed–or Murdoch who learnt to hate the English upper classes with a passion (I will always award the old satan a few brownie points for this). Or those who got there on merit such as Rhodies (though usually they have come from better schools who are the ones who promote their best students to try for it; I reckon I might have had a shot but at my modest public school it was never mentioned as an option). From Hawk to Turnbull whom I retain some misgivings. I think we even see it in some ways with Obama. A high-achieving Harvard grad black guy has got to have some entitlement mentality. I am glad Australia has a much flatter higher-ed structure though I suppose the G8 are very slowly mimicking the Ivy league phenomenon.

  12. Peter Ormonde


    Yes my memories of Oxford in the early 80s were of a deep incomprehensible gulf between the townies and gownies… with quite a bit of street aggro about the place. Met some absolute caricatures of the english upper crust preparing to take over from father and who are now probably running the place. “Preparation” largely consisted of drinking copiously and molesting any woman in arm’s reach.

    It’s why I actually like that insane and surreal Midsomer Murders show … to catch a glimpse of the cotswolds and thatchies and watch all those psychopathic horrid ruling class twits… it’s actually very funny…. deeply subversive satire if viewed in the right light. They recently sacked the long-term director (Brian True-May) because of his insistence on having no persons of a darkish swarthy persuasion appear anywhere in sight. Time stands still in Midsomer’s green fields.

    For my sins I have been consulting The Times online (to “balance” the Guardian and the Independent’s slavering socialism). Interestingly they have an interactive graphic of “How the violence spread across the UK” (except of course that it didn’t – just merrie olde englande so far – a subtlety lost on the Times apparently). They also chose today of all days to publish the Times Rich List for 2011.

    Gotta admire the pom’s total immunity to irony doncha?

    Stiff upper lip and all that. Pip Pip!

  13. AR

    MRJames – a Pedant writes, in sorrow not anger, in full agreement with your points – it was them who made Oxford great would be they and
    better schools who are the ones who promote would be which and that.
    I enjoyed a decade & half plus in the UK, 60-80s, and watched the sad and then accelerating decline of a civilisation, first the “I’m-orright-Jack” ignorance of the Wislon-Sunny Jim 70s then the utterly vicious “f*k you, I got mine, (akshally yours and the bloke’s down the street)” of the 80s (I will not write that creature’s name…).
    A recent visit was just too depressing and I spent most of my time trying to convince friends, or at least their off-spring, to immigrate to OZ.
    Vale, Albion.

  14. CML

    Cheryl has basically got it right. To add to this article, everyone should listen to the interview with Wil Hutton on PM this evening – no holds barred. He says all the things I have been thinking since this whole business began.
    And for those who haven’t heard – the riots have now spread to Cardiff. With all my husband’s family living in Scotland (near Glasgow), we have more than a little interest in the spread of these riots. I do hope you are correct about “the robust egalitarianism”, MRJ.
    And I agree with the above comments about Brendan O’Neill – if he is a leftie, I’d hate to think about those who make up the extreme-right in Britain. He was also on Q&A a week or so ago – knows everything about everything! Must be a pack of lunatics running the asylum which is the ABC at present.

  15. Peter Ormonde


    Don’t panic…. the Beeb reports tonight that there were only isolated incidents in Cardiff
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-14472218… a sports shop window broken and a couple of small fires in disused buildings that were apparently easily extinguished.
    Which is all just as well since a substantial number of local Welsh coppers have been sent off to London to look after the “proper people” and their property.
    I also read today that under the Riot Act of 1890 (I think it was) the Police Force is liable for damages caused when that damage occurs as a result of riot and affray. I wonder how that works.

  16. Roberto Tedesco

    Sorry you all had such a torrid time in blighty.

    The good news for Sydney is that no one from the wastes of the western suburbs can get to a shopping centre without catching several buses, and most of the malls are all locked up after 6.30. So, all you get to do is stone a few buses and the whole community goes without a service for several weeks until it all dies down. Australian egalitarianism in action.

    On Engl-kingdom: it’s perhaps not odd that a government that has used taxpayers’ money to bolster the casino-banks, and has massively cut services to pay for this, reaps the backlash of a pissed off, disaffected, possessions-hungry youth. With bricks, stones and mollies you can have some fun and get those new trainers and that mobile phone.

    I understand that in a last ditch attempt to subvert the rioters the UK government has instructed the Socialist Workers Party to infiltrate the various blackberry messaging groups with propaganda for the next “Marxism” conference. Might just work.

  17. Peter Ormonde


    Torrid? Hardly. Tepid at best. Enjoyed Glasgow and Wales much more for reasons discussed above I suspect in hindsight.

    As to the SWP ruse, that’s really clever… I can feel myself falling asleep already.

    Sadly I’d imagine that the Trots of various shades would be thinking this is some sort of incipient revolution… Tahrir Square comes to Eildon sort of thing. Which of course it isn’t. It’s sadder and more serious than that. Pointless. But not meaningless.

    As for the poms they’ll be thinking – most of them anyway I’d reckon – is that this raging is about discipline, about proper respect and bad parenting. And it can be fixed by more police, a round of thrashings and compulsory cricket practice twice a week. Oh dear.

  18. michael r james

    Guilty as charged gov. You’re one of them Oxonian pedants, ain’t ya?

    @Peter O.
    Well, it is not quite that caricature anymore. You get plenty of regional and foreign accents mixed in with what I call “Oxford f-wit” (you know, strangulated vowels, rham instead of room etc). The meritocracy applied to its student intake means that its quality has certainly improved in the modern era–but of course to the detriment of the redbrick universities.

    But Oxford/Cowley (one town now) has always been a place to be careful in, especially at night, and very especially on Friday and Saturday night. The pubs are effectively segregated though in the modern era the tough types from Cowley (former English Motown; lots of things named Nuffield, from Lord Nuffield’s bequests; Nuffield Hospital, College, Institute etc; he was the former William Morris of Morris Motors) liked to do pub crawls that, early in the evening, took in the more respectable pubs where they would be fake friendly in that menacing way (they would move on when they heard your Australian accent, no sport in that. I think they were looking for English ponces to provoke. Yes, straight out of Clockwork Orange.).

    Once all the cars (about 50 cars) parked in the street outside my institute had their windows smashed in full daylight. The bloke was arrested but was later released with a wrist slap (under age I think), and there was no point in suing since he/his family was poor and uninsured. In fact it was claimed Oxford was car crime capital of the UK (not much garaging so you were very vulnerable) and it was a warning in the orientation package they gave newbies. There was a very thuggish vandalism of locked bicycles too. And those fortress walls surrounding all the colleges are there for a reason.

    This is all over the UK. A lot of it is pointless–ie. without invoking social angst etc. Just saw Boris Johnson (mayor of London) claim that his city is one of the most peaceful and safe cities in the world. Nonsense. This is where Australia’s binge drinking pub violence comes from and it is considerably worse there. Anyone who has lived in the UK in the past 4 decades cannot be the least surprised by this latest manifestation of this deep malaise.

  19. Peter Ormonde


    Yes there were swarthy foreigners and scions of colonial outposts who’d actually earned a place back then as well…scholarships, that sort of welfare state madness… but I don’t think that after graduation they’d be allowed near anything important as far as the actual running of England was concerned… and I’m pretty sure they counted the silverware after High Tea.

    Appalled that they’ve allowed creeping meritocracy to let in some of the regional rustics though … what next “East End barrow boys”? Shocking! Political correctness gone mad!

    I’m sure that such “welfare cases” go on to become great intellectuals and win Nobel Prizes and so forth … but the real prize – the power and the glory – that can only be conferred by birth and entrenched privilege.

    Always was. Always will be.

    Except in the Royal Navy where position was actually determined by skill and ability. And these capable commoners ended up ruling the waves and running an empire. But that won’t happen again … not if Boris Johnson and his chums have got anything to do with it. Boris is actually connected to the Tsar from memory.

    Sorry, I’ve been listening to the Clash and Johnny Rotten all day and it makes one a little nostalgically bolshie… 30 years ago … and a new generation has London burning again.

    PS It was the Riot (Damages) Act of 1886 that makes the Police Fund liable to compensate for riot damage. I wonder who was burning things down back then.

  20. AR

    MRJ – Oxonian? Hardly. I left school at 15 in 1963, when it was normal to teach grammar.

  21. AR

    Inner city Sydney, Enmore High.

  22. michael r james

    I guess I am an Oxonian:
    [An Oxonian is a member (or former member) of the University of Oxford, England. The term is derived from Oxonia, the Latin form of Oxenford or Oxford. The term can also refer to an inhabitant of the city of Oxford, but is less used in this context.]

    @Peter O.

    I remember it being quite a heated public policy issue whether it was fair that Oxford (and Cambridge) grabbed so many of the smartest students, especially when these universities receive so much public funding these days. And of course it is self-pepetuating, winner takes all. And in some subjects it is arguable whether Oxford is any better than many other good universities. Obviously you cannot settle that question by simple output of top students since these two universities get the cream. The argument is that having more top students in the redbricks would benefit those universities more than it benefits Oxford. I agree with this concept (possibly because in my first sojourn in the UK I got my PhD at a classic redbrick, U. Sussex) though it is very difficult to devise a scheme to achieve the desired end.

  23. Thursday

    I’m unsure about being too swift to blame it all on one thing or another. I work in a Youth Offending Service here in inner London, alongside police officers, probation officers, social workers and a whole range of those working with the very people who have been involved over the last few days. Most are reporting that their young people that have been involved (and we currently have 25 in the cells in Brighton as there were no places left for them in the borough) and are KEEN to be involved. There are some simple factors at work here – it’s the school holidays for a start. The parents of these young people (and most are between 12 and 18) have little to no control, and often don’t particularly care what their children are doing in the evening – it’s summer and the sun’s going down at around 9.30.

    This is a very small segment of the young people as a whole, but those involved are from varying backgrounds – they’re not just black and in social housing. The problem for me and those I work with, is that this event has been very exciting. The young people want to get involved, they don’t understand the concept of working for a living, (and often neither do their parents) and it’s a simple matter of those that are involved don’t have parents or carers with the skills, desire or ability to control their children. As for the funding cuts – yes there have been many (I myself a victim, redundant end of August) however there is still a LOT of money spent every day on young people and inclusion initiatives. A LOT.

    If I myself were to pick an single issue, it would be social housing – it’s too easy, both to obtain and to stay in long term. If these families were struggling to to make a living in order to live off the streets, they’d have little indulgence for their children’s desire to run amuck. I realise that’s too simplified, but we all have our little quibbles.

  24. AR

    If Thursday is not simply a lying tory astroturfer – I work in a Youth Offending Service here in inner London, alongside police officers, probation… blah, blah.., then his ‘clients’ must think him a right plonker, trousering 2-3 times the salary (roll on “..end of August” reality crunch, back to your trust fund and/or country seat) they, or their parents if identifiable, could hope for.
    As PO et al have suggested severally above, bring back the lash, more cricket, tug the forelock, that’ll learn ’em.

  25. Peter Ormonde


    Took the words right out of my mouth …

    Yes of course it’s the welfare state … too easy to get somewhere to live and to stay there too long … they’ve been spoilt … they’re bored … they’re only a minority … the undeserving poor eh? Bad parenting… not enough respect… no gratitude… just don’t want to work… bad attitudes

    Of course they’re keen – they’re giving the coppers a walloping and smashing stuff up – not their cops, not their stuff … they hate the place… the place hates them.

    Don’t say anything more please Thursday. I am actually starting to agree with Cameron’s cuts to the “services” you provide for these kids and their families. What is it some sort of child-minding operation?

    It’s a riot. It’s not nice, not polite, not even political. It’s uncontrolled directionless violence. You English do it regular. Every generation. And you still don’t know why or what to do about it..even the people paid to “help”… what a country. Wish I could throw a rock that far.

  26. Peter Ormonde

    For a somewhat more sensible and considered analysis of the underlying causes of these particular riots than the attitudes presented by Thursday, this is worth a listen…


    Not that it explains why England keeps doing this every few years – and has done so for hundreds of years. I suspect the rounded vowels of Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh might give some clues as to why this is beyond her ken.

  27. Policeman MacCruiskeen

    PO, your comments entirely @ 7:56 entirely accurate regarding the English perceptions that the issue is discipline. From today’s Graud a large, black yoof worker says “Bad behaviour and criminality has been glamorised on the streets. Teachers are scared to punish children. The modern child isn’t frightened of their parents. They don’t care if the police lock them up.”

    There’s the problem right there; the modern child isn’t frightened of their parents any more. They need fear, lots of it. And teachers are scared to punish children. More punishment, early on, amd much more fear in general. This is what happens where a classed education system deprives these kids of the sort of bullying and sexual assault that the privileged ruling classes get in their private schools. That’s the stuff on which The Empire was founded. Get ’em into the Navy, in the barrel, and teach them some manners. Or get ’em at the end of a bayonet, old school, civilizing the natives somewhere or other then we’ll see some respect.

  28. Stiofan

    Isn’t it funny that anyone with lived experience of chav or bogan culture is dismissed by keyboard warriors like AR and Ormonde?
    Those of us who share your type of experience know that you’re simply speaking the truth.

  29. Policeman MacCruiskeen

    So where’s the Royal Family when the nation needs them to lead with honour and dignity in this darkest hour. Oh, that’s right, secure behind the walls of Buckingham Palace which is the very model of a gated community.

  30. Peter Ormonde


    Bogan culture …. bogans don’t do this stuff…. I grew up with them… not that I’d ever call them insulting words like bogans. They’re my mates. Don’t make assumptions about my “lived experience”.

    Your slur is also not true …listen to the RN interview I posted earlier … she makes sense, and she lives it.

    The discomforting fact remains that outbreaks of mass rioting and street violence are a constant theme through English history … from the Luddites, the suffragettes, through to football hooligans. Sometimes it is a symptom of political frustration and intransigence. But the violence on English streets is most often – most constantly – pointless, blind and angry.

    The Times and the Beeb are chockers with breathless shocking updates on the wave of violence sweeping the UK. But it’s not.
    The Scottish and Welsh constabulary are actually providing wallopers to help their English colleagues restore order. This is an outbreak of an old English disease.
    This difference is becoming even more pronounced as Scotland and Wales develop greater autonomy in the absence of a class-based system of privilege and re-establish a more inclusive and accepting culture. Ask the Irish about English culture.
    It’s why Mahatma Gandhi when asked what he thought of English civilisation, said he thought it would be a good idea.
    And the typical English reaction – as always – is to blame the parents, the welfare state, the lack of respect and gratitude, the lack of interest in cricket, the lack of police on the beat, weakness of judges, the outlawing of the birch, the loss of hanging and transportation to the colonies, the absence of hulks in the Thames… anything but the class based exclusive nature of English society.
    It’s not in the politics – it’s not even about the creaking groaning welfare state and similar palliatives – it is in the culture.
    A culture which – like Midsomer Murders – is frozen in time. Always was. Always will be.
    Perversely it is why English law is so brilliant – the laws are necessary to stop barbaric behaviour. It is why England has more CCTV’s than the rest of Europe combined. Truly civilised societies don’t need Riot Acts and the like.
    Don’t worry Stiofan, it’ll all go away with another royal wedding and the passing of summer. It always does.

  31. Son of foro

    I certainly understand the idea of tugging at my forelock. God knows I spent enough time in the late 90s staring at the dog shit encrusted pavements of West Green Road avoiding eye contact, dodging glasses at the Black Boy, and wondering if I’d managed to get off the 67 bus alive before being hacked to death by a 12 year old maniac Kansas Fried Chicken addict and left to rot on Tottenham High Road.

    Yet for some reason amongst all the violence, drug abuse, lost lives and broken families I witnessed, one of the strangest things I ever saw was the front gates of the local school being stolen. This was in the middle of a debt-fuelled economic boom when it was easier to get paid 30K for doing nowt than it was to breathe. Most drug dealers branched out into useful careers that society valued, like building buy-to-let slum empires on 110% mortgages.

    What I’ve only just come to realise is that they’re not political creatures; they’re blank consumers. They’re not trying to be understood by us or get our pity, they simply don’t give a fuck. “Nihilists, dude. Say what you like about the tenents of National Socialism …”

    At times it seemed like the only ambition of every young person in the UK was to be filmed having sex on Big Brother. As someone said above, it’s pointless but it has meaning. Fucked if I know what it is, though.

  32. AR

    Stiffone – I’ve worked hard manual yakka since leaving school at 15 so don’t try your alleged street cred crap on me.

  33. Julie

    Dear Cheryl,
    I left Birmingham age 14years, emigrating to Melbourne in 1978 – finally with some hope for the future for a working-class girl like me. My husband had left Leeds in 1964 age 14yrs with the same fear turned to hope of going to the promised land!

    Before we even met we had thought we would go back and fight for a revolution for the poor buggers caught in a historical trap of class-ridden, lack of opportunity.

    On news of the riots, I asked Roy if he was going back to fight the revolution – “I’m an Australian citizen now, 61 and too old and arthritic!”

    I’ve discovered I’ve got some Westminster DNA going back to the Tailor workshops and adult mortality of 58yrs. The Kensington folk looked good in their quality clothing made by the tailor’s living in 2 room dwellings surrounded by palaces of power.
    Some things change but a lot doesn’t. The Blair government policies of social inclusion did proven good work in inner-cities, and now the one thing which will create stability and individual transformation is being cut, cut, cut.

  34. Peter Ormonde

    Gee you’ve gotta laugh…

    Just listening to Mr Cameron – outraged by the disruption to his hols … announce that he will not allow a “culture of fear to be present on the streets… that he will not be put off by human rights concerns … etc etc etc.
    Obviously Mr Cameron grew up on the nice pleasant streets of something like Midsomer. There has been a “culture of fear” operating on the streets of England’s cities for a very long time… fear of gangs, fear of drunken packs of “rowdy lads”, fear of coppers, fear a failed future… Yes a different sort of England indeed. Streets where you wouldn’t have James park the Rolls at all.
    Meanwhile, I was listening to a young aboriginal kid from out the back of woop woop telling a national radio audience that he would like to be Australia’s first black PM. For a kid (black or white) on the streets of London – in very the shadow of Buck House and Whitehall – that notion would be laughable. Any ambition at all is probably laughable.
    Even, until recently, the ambition to own a plasma or a pair of adidas trainers.
    Give me a country where an outback black kid can dream of being PM anyday.

  35. Johnfromplanetearth

    The people you see looting shops and starting fires are kids, the majority aged between 10 and 18 years of age.
    These kids have no fear of authority and why should they when they are well aware the justice system in the UK is broken. (It doesn’t fare that well here in Australia either)
    It’s easy to cry, lock them up and throw away the keys, however society will not allow this, from the ages 10 or less robbing, stealing, drugs, drinking alcohol, fighting, sex and socially unacceptable behaviour is their life be it boys or girls.
    Is it going to change? No, not until true justice fits the crime, these kids will continue looking for that opportunity to take what they don’t own at all costs.
    They live in a scaled society in the UK, at one end you have kids rioting for materialistic goods, at the other end you have big corporations who own banks, gold, oil etc robbing them all blind on a daily basis. There is no future in England’s dreaming. It could happen here in Australia and don’t think it can’t, religious and cultural differences are just as widespread here in Australia and what does our Government propose to do? Labor is so ignorant and so inept that they are intent on taxing us all pretty much for exhaling air! Never mind what big corporations are already doing to us, the gulf is widening and making things harder and harder for Australian families for a nil affect and that is looking for trouble. We have disaffected youth here too. Is there any future in Australia’s dreaming? England has been a basket case since the late 50’s, it was only a matter of time before it boiled over, it is a country gone politically correct mad and has been oblivious to it’s problems for decades. It could be too late for England, i hope Australia wakes up from it’s dream very quickly.
    The youth of England are still marching along to this song:

    Oh We’re so pretty
    Oh so pretty
    We’re vacant
    And we don’t…care

  36. Frank Campbell

    Peter Ormonde: Well said.

    As a Brit, I’ve seen it all before.

    And it’s not so long since upper class ferals rolled the elderly down Hampstead Heath in barrels…

    These riots are advanced retail therapy. A form of art…

    No doubt some fulminated about bankers’ bonuses as they tried on trainers…

    The manager of Harrods (Mr Acton) was right in this case, absolute shopping corrupts absolutely.

  37. Julie Mills

    Like you, I lived for 5 years in London recently.

    But it was in a different London world to yours. We were wealthy expats – part of a wide circle of expats , few of them Australian in the booming ‘noughties’ in London.

    In equal measures I was fascinated and fearful of the fact that any small postcode could include 3millpd homes alongside housing estates with drug dealer dogs and resentful broody youth roaming. That was the London I lived in, and while it is acknowledged as a very affluent area, suburbs of such affluence in Australia do not include such housing estates.. Our suburbs are much more segregated based on affluence.

    My teenage children learnt to travel with money tucked in their shoes,and never carried expensive electronics. They had considerable more freedom than they do in Sydney but it comes with risk. Polite respectful teenagers trained to respect their elders and with no experience of knives, violence or housing estates are ‘fair game’ as they travel by tube in London. They effectively wear a bulls eye on their foreheads to the less privileged resentful youth who roam in packs in London. At my children’s schools they are instructed to hand over whatever they have to such children without a fight. I know no affluent teenagers in London who have not been crowded robbed and mugged by others often their own age.

    This edginess is part of what makes London so fascinating. But the scales have tipped from peaceful coexistence to outright resentment and now violence. In these riots, the broody resentful youth who watches with contempt the yummy mummy with her expensive pram has been given license for the resentment to boil over in an extraordinary manifestation, indications of which we apparent in the noughties.

    However the sad reality is that those who have suffered most this time are not the wealthy class – bankers and property developers have no shopfront representation to deface and take revenge on,( though it is this class most resented most by these youth). It is the South Asian and Middle Eastern convenience stores, themselves usually not wealthy, who are suffering now. Ironically these very people and their stores provide the most visible ‘safe houses’ on dark fearful streets . In many areas of London these shops provide a beacon of ‘community’ and ‘safety’.

    London is a city with such stark contrasts of wealth and poverty and saturation point imagery of wealth. Cities like Manila, Bogota and Mexico recognize this tension and its wealthy travel by armored car and live in fortresses and in fortress communities. Londoners do not. As the city has grown and its communities grown ever more diverse, the same basic structure has remained. The riots are not happening out in the homogeneous well heeled home counties, but in the diverse and crowded cities of the UK.

    To my mind this outbreak is about both the development of extremes of wealth and poverty in a crowded city, but also about consumerism and how it attenuates the ‘haves and have not’s’. – You’ve got it, I haven’t and I see you every day.

  38. Peter Ormonde


    “Absolute shopping corrupts absolutely”… just lovely … a slogan for the era. Where can I buy a T shirt with that on it… designer label of course?


    Yes it’s a scary scared town…. not just London either. But I don’t think its just economic inequality… it’s about exclusion… an inequality of hope.

    You and I can pop off to England for a holiday and we’ll fit right in… made feel right at home… far more at home than those kids will ever feel… even if they’re affluent, even if their families have lived there for 50 or 100 years. Wrong colour, wrong slum accent, wrong birf innit? Like jews.

    So I reckon the have and have-not is part of it – obviously – but underneath that is the half-baked half-formed democracy that the English have settled on, where there’s still an aristocracy, still entrenched privilege, where one’s chances in life are limited by birth. Black englishman? Can’t happen. Not ever.

    New Labor sounds like the provisional wing of the born to rule aristos … same schools, same accents, same lifestyles. Just a bit more social conscience and humanity. But nothing serious… not if it actually rattles the foundations.

    Underneath it all I don’t think its about being working class, being the lumpen proletariat, or even being poor. It’s about being “second class” – for life – no matter what you do, how hard you work or study.

    Hence the coppers, the CCTVs… it all rests on control, obedience and respect for one’s betters. Has done for centuries.

    And now they’re evicting them from “social” housing … that’ll learn ’em … homeless people would never riot, would they? Ingrates.

    Back to the cricket.

  39. Frank Campbell

    J. Mills:

    Good to read a post based on actual experience. Rare on Crikey.

    London in the 70s was nothing like the noughties. Little sense of threat, on the street or otherwise. Ample hardship and poverty. The rich rarely seen. None of the fat new City class of corporates. Not a wealthy expat in sight. Highly politicised, unlike now. In spite of stagnation, most people still believed in the Labour Party.

    Glamorgan (for example) in the late 80s degenerated rapidly from civil if pinched circumstances to a filthy, littered mess. Hopeless, jobless, resentful. Thatcher declared war on the provincial industrial working class and won.

    London by 2000 was a nasty, dirty city- class hatreds well-developed, especially between the poor and immigrant shopkeepers. The boom magnified everything, pushing the boundaries of gentrification far into east and south London. The property boom screwed the lower middle class. The Millenium Dome neatly summed up the hubris of the age.

    Catastrophic political and ideological failure: Thatcherism, a new virile, vicious Toryism- adopted by Labour in the form of Blair. How the ex-Trots of the 70s loved him: in 1996/7 they couldn’t believe that anyone could revile him. Too late now.

    Cameron’s question time this week revealed the old savagery behind the solar-panel, Boris-bike, post-modern PC Tory. WE will get YOU, he repeated throughout.

    The ridiculous Olympics are now a symbol- billions spent in the heart of deprivation. If the resistance was political instead of merely criminal, the Olympics wouldn’t happen without the military.

  40. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    An excellent article Cheryl Kernot and I was impressed listening to you on Geraldine’s Saturday Extra this morning.
    Your very significant reminder of JK Galbrait reminding us of what to expect deserves more than inconvenience merited neglect.

    @MICHAEL R JAMES — Posted Wednesday, 10 August 2011 at 4:23 pm
    Impressive and fascinating, lots to think about, thanks.

  41. phone4093@gmail.com

    The British Left (social and trade union) knew it had to fight Thatcherism in the 1980’s and made a valient effort – but failed due to the strength of contending forces.

    The UK now lives with the outcome, 30 years of capitalist decay.

    Riots solve nothing – but they demonstrate a lot.

  42. Julie

    @Julie Mills – My Brummy accent is still strong after 33yrs in Australia so when I had developed a friendship with an English woman who had lived in our town for a year and she said, quite sincerely
    “Oh it’s so nice to know you Julie. I would never have met ANYBODY like you back home”
    well, I was puzzled.
    When I asked what she meant, she said she lived in stockbroker/bankers area of London and she doubted that our paths would ever have crossed!!!

    My Dad has a chip on his shoulder – he might be well-off from working as a builder, but he doesn’t feel an equal human being with the generational middle-class. The poor education and teaching didn’t really improve until my turn in the 196o’s.
    I can’t fathom the neglect of these current kids that lead them to such nihilism, at a parental(even if it is drug addled) and government level. Everything has cause and consequence.
    My trip to England last year was a revelation; on the BBC local news an ancient Church had it’s lead removed off the roof, and other metal bits that could be thieved. Desperate for some.

  43. Johnfromplanetearth

    London in the 1970’s was one of the most traumatic decades in English history. Docks and factories closed and inner city London developed a landscape of dereliction and decay, nobody picked up the rubbish for years, the city stank, you had IRA bombings, fear in the streets and Notting Hill was the scene of race riots in 1976. London was indeed dying, “London’s burning dial 999″~ The Clash
    By the end of the decade manufacturing had fallen from 32% to 19.5% and unemployment rose from 196,000 3.6% of the workforce in 1971 to 400,000 7.2% of the workforce in 1976. Then came punk! London youth was sick of the post war blues! The message of punk remained subversive, counter cultural, rebellious and politically outspoken. Punk dealt with problems of society and oppression of the lower classes. All this before Thatcher became PM!

    This is England
    This knife of Sheffield steel
    This is England
    This is how we feel

    Out came the batons
    and the British warned themselves
    ~ The Clash

    The youths who ran amok last week were just feral opportunists looking to take what did not belong to them and destroy what they could not build themselves.
    There is no similarity to the disaffected youth of the past, these ferals are brought up in a culture of violence, drug taking, drinking, robbing, stealing and destroying anything in their path. England is still dreaming and David Starkey gets shot down in flames for telling the truth, England has gone so politically correct mad it now no longer recognises itself. There is no future in England’s dreamland!
    Is Australia next?

  44. Peter Ormonde


    “There is no similarity to the disaffected youth of the past, these ferals are brought up in a culture of violence, drug taking, drinking, robbing, stealing and destroying anything in their path.”

    Yes there is John … there are similarities but they are not the same. The big difference of course is that you now have a mortgage.

    The similarities arise from alienation, disaffection and even hatred of everything that is around them. The difference is that there are no slogans, no chants that make sense, have relevance or are believable.

    As Maggie put it: “There is no society…. There is no alternative.” These kids are taking her at her word. New Labor is no alternative.

    To that extent, politics has failed these kids. And that is a serious problem for anyone with a mortgage.

    But it won’t happen here…

    Here, nihilistic hopelessness turns up in petrol sniffing and teenage alcoholics staggering around far from the cameras and our property, it happens with feral raggedy kids running about all night pinching anything that isn’t nailed down and smashing what is.

    It happens on Palm Island, in derelict mission towns, on outstations and on the Block. No it won’t happen here at all, John. Not at all. Not for us.

  45. Pamela

    Gee whiz- for nihilism -the middle aged, middle class here take the cake. you make me want to put my head in a gas oven.
    Except that I know hundreds of beautiful unselfish young people giving voluntary time and energy to improving the lives of others. It happens her and in the UK.
    There are thousands of young folks helping out every where everyday.

    The real reasons behind these riots will take time to understand. And they are probably many.

    Snap judgements about the young are too easy to make and often wrong.

  46. Policeman MacCruiskeen

    Pamela, there is nothing ‘snap’ about PO’s analysis. If there is a problem anywhere it is that you are hanging around with the wrong sort of young people. I’m not sure that your depressive response is due to PO’s comments so much as being exposed to all that futile hope that characterizes the young. I know, I was young once too and I had some young people as well…they’re around here somewhere…now, let’s see where did they go…

  47. Johnfromplanetearth

    You’re looking for something
    But what could it be?
    You look for a hero
    Well don’t look at me
    You look for solutions
    But there’s none you can find
    You believe in something
    That’s only in your mind
    You’re looking around you
    But hate has made you blind
    And you’ve spent the last
    Ten years of your life
    In this emergency

    I hope it doesn’t happen here Peter, i really do!

Leave a comment


https://www.crikey.com.au/2011/08/10/kernot-the-bleakness-of-contemporary-britain/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.