Riots – What can we learn from history

Rebecca riots 1839

It was inevitable that public outrage would follow the terrible scenes of rioting in London, Manchester and other cities in England; and rightly so.  It is inexcusable for mobs to trash, loot and burn shops, houses and vehicles.  However, it is sad to see the outrage take on a knee-jerk reactionary guise, where people, who would normally be level headed harp on about how the police hold use lethal force, or even send in the army to deal with rioters.  Some also would suggest that the rioting thugs should be sent to Afghanistan to see what real men are like (although they don’t seem to explain how the already stretched forces there would cope with these idiots running around).

Of course, this is the usual fear-based right wing views you’d expect to see in between the squalid leaves of rags such as the Daily Mail; however it would seem its not enough to tout for the indiscriminate shooting of looting scum, but there seems to be an eagerness to attack anyone who suggests that there needs to be an attempt to understand the causes of these riots.  What these ‘hang ’em high’ types fail to realise is that riots do not happen for no reason, and unless the government gets to grips with the causes of rioters discontent then what is there to stop it happening again?  I agree that all rioters caught should feel the full force of the law come down on them, however I deplore any view that supports extra-legal punishment of rioters.

What, then, does history teach us about civil unrest and outright rioting.  Any school student of history will tell you that every event has a cause and a consequence.  From riots such as Merthyr in 1831, Rebecca riots 1839-42 to those in the late 20th century one thing is always clear about their causes, they always arise from socio-economic grievances.  When you have a group of people who have no stake in society, no hope of changing their circumstances, and nothing to lose then it only takes one spark to set to all off.

Rioters should be dealt with as harshly as the law prescribes, with no exception, after all wanton destruction and mindless vandalism must no be excused, but to get on a soap box and tout the merits of shooting rioters will not help the innocent people who have been affected by these terrible events.  It is only through identifying and getting to grips with the causes of the riots can we avoid similar incidents in the future.


4 thoughts on “Riots – What can we learn from history”

  1. Excellent article from someone with their finger on the pulse. Sadly “Sunreader Solutions” will spout forth from the hang em and flog em brigade. No one in their right mind would condone what happened in England over the last few nights but to caricature these incidents as just the acts of criminality is to seriously underestimate the problems that are endemic in British society. Why did these problems occur in this country? Is it at least in part because we have one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the whole of Europe? Why do the gutter press spend so much time and effort hounding benefit fraudsters that cost us about £1.5 Billion per annum, whilst allowing the rich Tax avoiders who cost us about £120 Billion per annum to get away with impunity?
    The stench of corruption and decay is beginning to coalesce around what is left of the UK. I think it is time for we in Wales to take more responsibility for the direction in which our society develops. More Scandinavian than Anglo Saxon is the direction we should be taking in my opinion.

  2. Some idiotic MP was interviewed on the Today programme earlier saying he thought that those caught rioting should lose their tenancies if they rent from the council. Great, let’s add to the social problems by chucking people onto the street.
    The only way we can begin to understand the causes of the rioting is to look at the individuals who took part rather than the mob. Then you start to see young people who frankly never stood a chance of growing into well-adjusted, caring, even mildly ambitious adults.
    Cai hits the nail on the head by talking about the unequal distribution of wealth, and it just may be the reason why we did not see any rioting in Wales or Scotland. In London in particular, but in many other English towns and cities too, the gulf between the haves and have-nots is vast, and the commercialisation of our culture means that people in their teens and twenties all want the latest Xbox, iPhone, Smartphone, Blackberry, etc. Without them, you are a nobody.
    In some Welsh and Scottish towns and cities the deprivation as every bit as bad, and often worse than anything you can see in parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. The difference in Wales is that the gulf between rich and poor is less apparent, and by and large we don’t have a two-tier society of private education and medicine for some and state schools and the NHS for the rest.
    The English political parties, including Labour, never even question the effects of a two-tier education system on society as a whole. Living standards are certainly much lower in Wales than in Scandinavia, but what we share with those countries is a much more classless and egalitarian culture than England will ever have. Time to draw the consequences.

  3. Society has made us greedy when I was young footballers wanted to play football for the love of the game, and because they wanted to play for a ‘team’ now we have footballers who are payed in millions and have transfers in the millions, and then our sports men and women who want to represent their countries in the Olympics, or other public arena rarely associated with violence get what? train where? at what cost?? Today’s young people who are good at sports ( just picking on one topic could be any worth while job like nurse, teacher carer etc) only want to be the best, don’t want to represent their country because they cant afford to its about time a decent living wage was imposed on all of us.. so that the potential for all will be the can be put into services jobs, and volunteering for people who want to work for their communities and in their communities..NOT earn hundreds and thousands and millions of pounds that they cannot possibly spend in a life time….. while others go on to earn NOTHING in their lifetimes. live in poverty and deprivation where they see no way out! now what was the question OH yes riots why??? hmmm i wonder

  4. There is a sense of entitlement in society, which is certainly more prevalent among younger generations, but by no means exclusive to them. This might go part way to explain why such unashamed looting was occurring. Many see getting what they want as a right rather than something that is hard won. however this by no means will explain why the rioting occurred this week as opposed to any other time. Time, I believe, will tell however.

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