Second time as farce? If only!

Listening to the police sirens screaming up and down Kingsland High Street towards Tottenham the last couple of nights and hearing the news on the radio I am irresistably reminded of the summer of 1981.
Then too we were two years into a Tory-led administration after years of – increasingly discredited – Labour government. Then too, the first impacts of the resulting savage spending cuts were starting to hit working class communities. Then too, a much-hyped Royal wedding had rubbed the faces of the poor in their class disadvantage the previous spring. And then too, in those endless tedious days of the school summer holidays, young people in the most deprived inner-city areas of Britain erupted into violence.
In August 1981 I was pregnant, in the midst of moving house from Leeds to London. Then too I first heard about the rioting on the radio. In fact it was only from the BBC coverage that I discovered that the part of Liverpool where my parents had lived for many years, which I thought was universally known as ‘Liverpool 8’, was in fact called ‘Toxteth’. It was only when they mentioned that Upper Parliament Street was the centre of the rioting that I twigged: my parents’ flat was in Huskisson Street, just round the corner, with back bedroom windows looking out onto the neglected Georgian terraces of Upper Parliament Street that had survived the World War 2 bombs. I had never heard of Toxteth! A day or so later, I drove around Leeds to say goodbye and saw the boarded up shops and burnt out cars in Chapeltown and then headed down the M1 to London, and my new home in Islington, to see similar scenes there.
Although the Guardian reports that there was rioting in Dalston last night, I have seen no evidence of it (admittedly I haven’t been out yet this morning); just the usual post-weekend clubbing debris of empty bottles and cans on the street. Turkish-run corner shops and pound shops do not offer much in the way of pickings for looters and, as far as I can tell, Hackney Council has been less brutal than Haringey in its slashing of public services. I saw at first hand the heartbreaking impact of the cuts Haringey had made to its social work and care services earlier this year when my dying friend Jane, who had the misfortune to live in that borough, was refused the most basic support in her last days and had to use the less than compassionate services of a private care firm. I gather from the news that Haringey, despite the troubled history of the Broadwater Farm riots and the difficult relationship between the police and young black people in the area, has recently closed down all its local youth services.
Perhaps one can take satisfaction from the fact that at least these young people from households that can’t afford even a weekend at the seaside have managed to interrupt the lavish foreign holidays of their political leaders. In jaded con-dem Britain we are not even surprised to learn that, in this week of financial crisis as well as serious social unrest, the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the chancellor of the exchequer and the mayor of London are ALL abroad sunning themselves. They may come back to forms of burning that sun-screen can’t protect them from.

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