Opinion: Let them wear Gucci

By Tasnim Morrison

The response of police and politicians alike to the spreading riots in the UK have been vacuous and condescending. Theresa May  praised police for risking their lives to protect Londoners and their property, a spokesman for David Cameron, who, from his holiday in Italy had clearly not seen fit to respond personally, said that those responsible, “will be made to face the consequences for their actions.” Nick Clegg described it as “needless, opportunistic theft which had nothing to do with the death of Mark Duggan.” In stark contrast to the politicians, eye witnesses and local residents attempted to make some sense of it all. They saw the events as the almost inevitable response to years of discontent and tension between police and local youths and a lack of dialogue between them and local people, and the fact that they feel that issues within their community have not been given an adequate response by police or government. Very good – but it doesn’t explain the looting spree.

While we wait for the corporate media to tell us what to think, let us consider that in other parts of the world we have seen ‘trigger’ events give rise to ‘colour revolutions’ and a so called ‘Arab Spring’. Why is it, according to our political leaders, that serious police related incidents in Tottenham have only triggered mindless and opportunistic, violence, looting and destruction? If the rioters in London and elsewhere in the country are not in need of freedom and democracy, unlike the people of Tunisia, Libya, Syria, etc – what are they in need of? People were raiding supermarkets, electrical goods and well known high street clothing stores were all subject to looting. People were running and even calmly walking down the streets ahead of police officers, with arms and trolleys full of consumer goods: clothes, trainers, televisions, laptops, food and even nappies. The fact is, these images could almost be amusing if they weren’t so damning.

This isn’t just unnecessary, violent behaviour, this is a sign of the times, a 21st century bread riot. It all boils down to a hunger for consumer goods; but this hunger is not real, how can it be in the midst of a national obesity epidemic? This hunger is programmed, and is driven by relentless advertising that requires us to spend and tempts us with so much choice that we will spend what we don’t have to fulfil the addictive desire to acquire the latest designer offerings and to be fully equipped with the newest hi-tech gear. We are convinced that this consumption of ‘stuff’ and never-ending choice is as necessary to our survival as food and water.

The kinds of places that were looted and the desperation with which people scrambled through the streets tells us more about the real state of our society than words ever could. They were not attacking people. In fact, one man commented that when people tried to enter his small shop he simply informed them that it belonged to him and they moved on. No, they were attacking the faceless, monopolising chain stores which thrive under banking capitalism by destroying independent small businesses and street markets, reducing the ‘lucky’ few to employee status and leaving the rest unemployed and ‘hungry’ for the goods they despair of ever being able to afford.

We are in a bubble where we have become accustomed to spending what we can, consuming what we have and coveting what we don’t have. However, there is now but a palpable sense of fear. People are threatened by a sense of impending economic collapse, knowing that the politicians will not, indeed, cannot protect them – on the contrary – they have already betrayed them time and again. It is fear that led to these riots, a fear that this bubble is about to burst. We are bombarded with news of terrorist attacks, natural disasters and gun-toting madmen, while our own government invades our privacy and deprives us of our civil liberties. Who really believes the politicians who reassure us that the economy is in recovery and that unemployment will not rise? The freedom to consume that has defined modern life is slipping from our grasp and it is inevitable that what follows is a sense of complete and utter panic and desperation because we have no idea what lies outside of our bubble – except a frightening image of poverty stricken, drought ridden hordes from the Global South clamouring at our borders for refuge.

What we are seeing is not a youth uprising or an anti-police action. We are seeing the growing cracks in a society floundering under the weight of debt, social injustice and self-destructive nihilism. What we are seeing is the future of banking capitalism.