Mayor of London

The rein of the tyrant King Lol Bojo is coming to an end. There was abuse hurled at taxi drivers. There was millions wasted on the dangleway. There was an endorsement for Gordon Gekko. There was a plan to immortalise him with his own airport on and island and. Next year it all comes to an end, which means we have to choose a new mayor.

This leads me to ask: what do we want from a Mayor of London? We want someone who will focus on the issues that are specific to London. Someone who will keep alive that magic, which makes it special, and not package it up and selling it off to Qatari princes. Someone who will look after ordinary Londoners and protect them from the demands that the central government places on the capital, from supporting the Olympics to being the national cash cow.

It will surprise no one that I think that having a Labour Mayor is in the best interests of the people of London. Yet, what should the Mayor actually do, from a left-wing point of view? I can sum it up four key policy areas. Tackle the housing crisis by bring down house prices for ordinary people. Prevent the exploitation of huge numbers private renters. Tackle the rising problem of homelessness, up 37% in the last year. Improve the capital's council housing stock. Fortunately Labour has six candidates putting themselves forward for job and took the opportunity to evaluate their ideas against these four policy areas.

The main issues in London is lack of affordable housing and all six Labour candidates are infavour of more affordable housing, but how is it best to go about getting more affordable housing? Many developers use the viability studies, engaged in before a site is developed, to avoid their legal rights to build affordable homes. Sadiq Khan and Christian Wolmar are in favour of tightening the rules around viability studies to do achieve this. Diane Abbot has raised the issue of what does affordable actually means, £250,000 for a one bedroom flat maybe affordable by London's standards but it is still out of the reach of most ordinary people.

David Lammy has advocated building homes on the green belt, pointing out that 1 million homes could be build on 3.6% of the green belt. He claims that there is not enough space to build decent homes on brownfield sites (unless we build a lot of high rises) and that we need industrial land for business to prosper. The other candidates oppose building on the green belt and Khan was the most vocal in his regard, calling them the "lungs of London".

In my opinion we do need to build on the green belt if we are build the houses that London needs in the volume it needs and at a reasonable size. Tackling the way developers use viability studies to get around their obligation to building affordable homes is essential but we need genuinely affordable homes and not relatively affordable homes. We also need to build a lot more council homes, as well as affordable homes, to relieve the pressure of the private rental market.

The private rental marketing in London is dangerously inflated. Rents are astronomical and people are forced to live in tiny squalid homes not fit for animals. Abbot and Tessa Jowell advocate the establishment of a London wide landlord enforcement team to tackle landlords who are exploitative. Lammy went a step further to argue for expanding the landlord licensing scheme that, currently operates in, Newham across the rest of the capital.

Introducing a rent control scheme, similar to those in Paris, New York and Berlin was endorses by Abbot and Wolmar would help stop the inflation of the private rental market. Wolmar also favours greater stability in private tenure and more protection for private renting tenants. Khan endorses the idea of a London living rent, pegging rents to a third of the London mean salary.

I believe that the landlord enforcement team is a good idea and more rights are needed for private renting tenants. Rent controls are also a very good idea for stopping the run away growth in rents.

The candidates agreed that the main issue facing the homeless was the criminalisation of rough sleeping in some London boroughs. They also agreed that Tory cuts to homeless shelters and housing services was partly to blame. However no candidate identified the key issue that one of the fastest rising cause of homelessness is eviction from a private renting property. The issue of homelessness is linked to the issue of housing, namely that high house prices and the depletion of the council housing stock has placed too much pressure on the private renting sector.

The lack of social housing in London is a key issue affecting the least fortunate. Too many vulnerable people are being pushed into a private renting sector that cannot accommodate their needs. We need more social housing, which all the candidates are committed to. However what we do with the existing stock of social housing is key, particular the buildings that are deliberated. Jowell is invafour of regenerating estates and letting the original tenants move back into them. Lammy was concerned that estate generation is often a cover for social cleansing as poor people are driven out of valuable property areas so that rents can be raised. Garth Thomas has argued that any estate regeneration should be consented to by the current tenants.

For me the key issue is quality of social housing. Social housing has to be a vial option for people who need it. That means it must exist in sufficient quality and quantity. A lot of the estates that are pulled down as part of regeneration programs are better quality and have larger homes than what is being put up to replace them. A lot these builds need care and repair instead of being demolished. A lot of it does not meet current tastes in ascetics but that does not prevent them being quality social housing - or indeed beautiful in their individual way.

Other issues, outside these four I have discussed are important. Transport is a key issue and Thomas has suggested flattening fairs for the outer London transport zones is a good way to tackle the problem of rising transport fees. He also wants devolution to London. Although I am sure all the candidates would like the Mayor to have more powers, I feel that Thomas's plan is not achievable. Regional devolution is a great idea, not just for London, but the Mayoral debate needs to be on the issues the Mayor can affect.

London primarily voted Labour in general election and we now have an excellent opportunity to take back city hall from the Tories. The journey that led the Tories to a majority government started when Bojo became Mayor of London. What is important that Labour chooses the right candidate, who has ideas that can help improve lives once he or she is Mayor. After looking at their ideas I feel that the right man for the job is Christian Wolmar. However we will have to wait and see who the party chooses.

Could Boris Johnson be Prime Minister?

“LOL Boris for PM!!!1!” tweeted one articulate person during the London Mayor's speech after the Olympic Games. The famously mop-headed Tory politician had declared a parade in honor of Team GB's medalists, and closed this event with a speech which many believe was setting him up for a bid for the Conservative Party leadership and ultimately Number 10. Pundits claim that he took credit for the games and that the success of the London 2012 Olympics reflects well on Boris Johnson. His visibility during the games and his savvy courting of the international media has propelled him to a new level of recognition which can only work in his favor should he decided to make a play for power. The idea of Boris as Prime Minister might not be a joke for too much longer - not the least because he out-danced Cameron's awkward shuffle during the game's closing ceremony.

Boris Johnson, or B-Jo to some, has always managed to use his status as Britain's most high profile joke to forward his career. His popularity lies in his appeal to people who are either not interested in politics or who believe all politicians to be grey suits, only marginally more interesting than accountants. He clearly believes himself to be the second most powerful person in the country, with eyes to take his unique brand of self-publicity to greater heights. The above quoted tweet is indicative of the fact that he appeals to people outside the main political debate.

I am yet to meet anyone who admits to voting for Boris for any position of power simply because he is funny, but the nagging suspicion that such a person is out there somewhere will not go away. Boris is the classic Cameron model of Tory, clearly a Conservative of the left of the party, a self-styled progressive and not a darling of the right-wing. His appeal to those who could make him leader is his ability to attract support from those who are unlikely to vote for traditional Tory candidates, primarily young people who the Conservatives have had little success in wooing. Rising youth unemployment under the Cameron government makes it unlikely that they will have much success among the under 25s in the 2015 election, but Boris Johnson as leader might make that more likely.

Let me lay out the case for Boris as party leader: the current economic stagnation is doing the Conservatives no favours electorally, and Cameron has a growing problem with the right of his party. He is seen as appeasing the Lib Dems too much and flip-flopping on key issues of immigration, welfare reform and – crucially – EU membership. All this could be brushed off, but Cameron cannot escape the growing feeling amongst Conservatives that the government is not right-wing enough and that this could cause the traditional Troy vote to stay home in 2015 or switch to a new party, such as UKIP. Tory strategists are concerned about the current leadership's effectiveness to mount a successful campaign for the next election, and Boris could make all the difference. He is internationally-known, watchable on TV and an effective user of modern political tools such as social-media. He appeals to the young, the politically central and the so-called “chattering classes”, what I will call the LOL B-Jo crowd. His connection with the Olympics brings positive thoughts to people's mind when musing on Boris Johnson. By contrast, David Cameron reminds everyone of government cut-backs and our own squeezed wallets. Boris also has experience of high office, and being Mayor of a city as diverse as London requires a special type of politician who appeals to different sections of society and fosters consensus. He is also of good Tory stock, Eton and Oxbridge educated, clearly a friend to wealthy and privileged, whose support the Tory party depends upon. Even his frequent gaffes come across as lovable buffoonery: Boris has turned his biggest weakness into his greatest strength.

However, there are reasons against making Boris party leader. He is clearly no more right-wing than Cameron, and thus unlikely to attract back the euro-sceptic support lost since Cameron became party leader. British politics are also very different from American politics and, although Boris considers himself to be Governor of the London (in more ways than one), being Mayor is an unlikely stepping stone to party leadership. Cameron's successor is more likely to come from a cabinet colleague, probably Osborne who occupies the traditional king-in-waiting role of Chancellor and is firmly to Cameron's right. However, the main reason against Boris becoming party leader is actually his clownish appearance. Britain longs to be taken seriously as a world power and everything about the London 2012 Games is a testament to this, but choosing a tousle-haired dandy as our leader does not project seriousness. The thought of a leader who might drop his trousers at a meeting of NATO has little appeal outside the LOL B-Jo crowd. Memories of how all of Italy was mocked for Silvio Berlusconi's gaffes are still fresh in people's mind.

The LOL B-Jo crowd may have their day: remember that in the early 1970s, the idea of Margret Thatcher as Prime Minister was laughable (remember Life on Mars?). However, Boris Johnson is clearly setting the agenda right now, with his appearance on David Letterman's The Late Show in America prompting Cameron to be a guest on the same late-night talk show. Recently, Douglas Alexander has written in the New Statesman that Labourshould take the idea of Boris as party leader seriously. B-Jo maybe the nation's favourite joke for now, but he is no fool. Boris Johnson's political foes (both inside and outside his party) would do well to take seriously the way he uses his public image to promote himself, and his appeal to people alienated by politics. No other politician better sums up the way Twitter has changed politics. It would not come as a shock to me if I were to read a tweet saying “LOL just voted for B-Jo for PM” in 2015.

Occupy the Economy

Much has been written recently about the rise of a new protest movement. A movement that occupies commercial space to protest against the global capitalist system which they believe to be steeped in inequality. They claim to represent the 99% of society that have suffered from the credit crunch, high unemployment, low growth rate and the government's austerity program. In New York this has taken the form of Occupy Wall Street where a camp of protesters has taken up residence in Liberty Plaza. Occupy Wall Street itself takes its inspiration from the Egyptian protesters whose occupation Tahir Square in Cairo was instrumental in the downfall of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. In London a similar demonstration was planned to occupy Paternoster Square outside the London Stock Exchange. Upon finding that this square had been closed by the police, they instead have set up camp in the adjacent area outside St Paul's Cathedral.

These occupy movements are different from previous anti-capitalist protests in that they lack a central leadership, a core demographic of members and clear stated goals or grievances. They use a consensus decision making model to plan action across the myriad of different groups which have joined the protest. In many ways the Occupy Movement is The Culture of Resistance, although they do not represent all of the Culture which is an even more diverse anti-establishment group. But the Occupy Movement represents a subset of the Culture of Resistance that has mobiliaed to take direct action. The Occupy Movement is an expression of dissatisfaction with the current capitalist hegemony. It is not exactly a defined political movement in itself as it lacks set goals and memberships, which is also one of the defining features of the Culture of Resistance.

Technology has allowed these decentralised protests to take place. Social networks such as Twitter and instant messaging programs such as BBM have allowed the disaffected to communicate with each other and organise a protest without the need for a central authority. The new technology has allowed those looking to start a protest to connect with those who are feeling alienated by the current political and economic system.

Expressions of alienation and dissatisfaction via online social-networks have culminated to create an Ecosystem of Discontent within the social network. Heightened chatter in the Ecosystem of Discontent creates the feeling that the physical space is safe for direct action. In other words the more people discuss the Occupy Movement on a social network, and how alienated people are by mainstream politics, the more appealing the occupation itself becomes to members of the Culture of Resistance. The ecosystem just needs a single event focused around a specific action or group to begin the chatter. Unlike in the past, the vanguard that begin the chatter and created (sometimes without intention) the ecosystem are not necessarily the ones who shape its development into direct action. Any node in the ecosystem can influence its development and those involved in its creation frequently have nothing to do with the point when the ecosystem achieves the critical mass required to spill into a real world protest. It is the Ecosystem of Discontent and the connections to strangers possible through social networking that allow the idea of the protest to spread beyond the group who initially conceived it to encompass the huge variety of seemingly unconnected people found in the Occupy Movement.

The existence of the Occupy Movement is evidence of the growing mobilisation of the Culture of Resistance and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Unemployment, poverty and poor growth is drawing more people into the Culture of Resistance and technology is allowing them to become involved with ecosystems facilitating direct action.

The next question is, what can economists do about the situation to improve people's material circumstances and halt the growing tide of alienation. The answer is not the obvious one of getting the economy growing again as fast as possible, as the dissatisfaction currently felt has its roots in the recent decades of economic prosperity.

What economists can do to help is reexamine their thinking. The Occupy Movement is further evidence that current neo-liberal consensus is not working. Previously we believed that the best course of action was to grow the economy as a whole, and through the infamous Trickle Down Effect all sections of society will benefit from increased wealth. Although during the boom all sections of society where wealthier than they had been the past this did not make everyone content. Inequality between the rich and the poor has grown during the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown years. The divide between the rich and poor is greater now than it was in the late 1970s. Class mobility has decreased over the same period. If you are born poor now you are more likely to die poor than if you were born in the years following the Second World War. This situation has been created by our neo-liberal economic policy and huge sections of society are clearly not happy about this.

Many people in the Occupy Movement are middle class. The people who stand to benefit from the neo-liberal agenda but have grave concerns about the kind of society that we are becoming by following this agenda. To continue down the route we have been following is for the gap between the rich and poor to grow wider and wealth to remain trapped amongst a privileged few.

We need a new way of thinking about our economy which must involve a revival of the economics of equality and full employment. We need to do away with the attitude that by making it easier for private business we are benefiting all of society. Other new as yet unknown ways of thinking about economics will also be needed but I feel that certainly a good place to start is look at a commitment to greater wealth equality. The outdated neo-liberal view of economics is not working and people know it. Inequality will not stand and the best thing we as economists can do is find a way to more evenly allocate society’s scares resources.

Retrospective on the Riots

Since the London riots began in Tottenham on Saturday the 6th a clear distinction has emerged between a legitimate protest – a common expression of anger at poverty and political alienation – and the actions of a criminal element who took advantage of the chaos to enrichment themselves. I am concerned that amongst all the head shaking and tut-tutting that has been going on in the media a series of changes are being suggested that would not only make our society more restrictive but also risk making any future riots much worse.

The nation is collectively asking its police force and elected officials “what went wrong and what can we learn to prevent this from happening again?” Some feel that it is simply a lack of visible policing brought about by government cuts or an overreliance on CCTV; ten thousand extra police officers where on the streets of London on night of Tuesday the 9th and their presence was easily noticed. This might have been the main factor in putting an end to the escalation of the violence, but if it was, these numbers are clearly unsustainable and place huge demands on police forces outside London. There is a concern that changes to police practice are necessary to prevent rioting flaring up again. From what I have read in the news and on twitter and garnered from public opinion through conversations with friends and colleagues, I believe there are serious flaws in the changes the public is demanding and the logic that has been used to arrive at these conclusions.

A recent You Gov poll revealed some frightening statistics about the public’s support for change to police procedure. 90% of those polled supported the use of water cannons against rioters, 84% thought the use of mounted police would be appropriate, 82% thought a curfews should be imposed, 78% thought tear gas should be used, 77% approved of the army being sent in, 72% thought the police should be armed with tasers and 65% supported the use of plastic bullets. The most frightening statistics was the revelation that 33% of those polled support use of live ammunition against rioters. This means that one third of the public support the execution of at least some of those involved in the disturbance, as in such a situation deaths would be inevitable. As if another Bloody Sunday is what is needed to enforce the law, completely ignoring the fact that violent military state repression usually leads to extreme disenchanment with the government and increasingly violent uprisings.

Many feel that the lack of consequences for the initial acts of rioting and looting is what caused it to spread. I have heard a lot of endorsements for giving police license to ‘crack some heads’, and all that was needed to restore order was for the authorities to turn a blind eye to police brutality. At the root of this is the simplistic belief of a dividing line between right and wrong and that if you receive a beating from a police officer you must have done something to deserve it. The same applies to those who support the use of water cannons. There is a black and white view that if someone is hurt by a water cannon (even a bystander) that they must be a dangerous criminal. Aside from the implications for innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time, beating down the angry, alienated and disaffected members of society will only foster greater resentment, perpetuate marginalisation and encourage those effected to rise up stronger and with more violence.

I take serious issue with the belief that the problem with the police in this country is that they are not violent enough. The notion that a system of fear, beatings, and aggressive repression is the best way to keep the populace in line is backed up by the immortal phrase ‘if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear,’ which only translates to ‘if you are white and middle class you have nothing to fear’. This view goes hand-in-hand with the wide spread but unspoken opinion that our society is not cruel enough to the poor, and that if we were stricter and more repressive then rioting would be less likely. The logic behind this is clearly flawed.

Last year’s G20 protests are frequently brought up this context, where a man died through police action at a legitimate protest – a man who was not even part of the protest but a passer-by. Apologists for police brutality seem to claim that it was wrong and detrimental to public order to investigate the cause of this death. Another pillar to this argument is the view that society has given too many rights to criminals, which has crippled police action. In the context of recent events, where the police shot and killed a man who it has emerged did not fire at them, this seems unlikely. Also if it is true that we are too liberal in giving away rights then this casts serious ideological doubt on the variety of western democracy we are attempting to export to authoritarian countries like China and North Korea. Proponents of heavy handed policing inadvertently relay express praise for the way the Chinese security services dealt with the Tiananmen Square Massacre. I personally have taken immense pride that our police force exercises much more restraint than police forces in authoritarian countries, and indeed those in other western countries like Greece or America where violent uprisings are much more common.

We need to learn important lessons from this but we must not lose what make us one of the freest and most peaceful societies on earth, with a police force respected throughout the world for their calm and restraint. It is these characteristics which have kept our cities relatively disturbance-free until recently and have prevented greater loss of life. In closing I would like to add a quick note to those who deny that there are larger forces at work in this issue and believe there is nothing more to this than opportunistic criminality. To suggest that there is not a socio-economic root to the riots is to suggest something very dark about the nature of humanity and to imply that for a few days we were suffering from a mass outbreak of sociopathy. This is also is a spurious claim.

Culture of Resistance

There is a long-standing trend across society of people feeling alienated from the political establishment. This is not a movement with ideology or leaders behind it but more a broad feeling of disaffection felt by many. Individuals have sought to express this through music, film and political action drawing many who feel the same towards them but without forming a tangible movement. In recent months in the UK this has grown more apparent as opposition to the Tory government and their program of austerity has grown. I suggest the coining of a new phrase to describe this movement of the dissatisfied and how the feeling is expressed as the culture of resistance.

The culture of resistance is a general anti-establishment view point. Best described by a friend of mine as the 'fuck the police' mentality. It incorporates those against the established ideology of neoliberal free market capitalism but, in its actuality, is a broader dissatisfaction with the status quo and the dominant political philosophy. It covers a spectrum of people from those who wear Che Guevara hoodies to squat dwelling anarchists. It can be manifested in those who subscribe to specific anti-establishment ideologies such as socialism and those who take direct action against the establishment in the form of protests. However, it can also be seen in those who feel alienated from the main political discourse and social norms. The culture of resistance is not specifically opposed to or against anything that can be easily defined. That is a characteristic of a more defined movement with influential figures and a more defined ideology. The culture of resistance is more of general expression of dissatisfaction felt by many who do not fit within the establishment and are disenfranchised by this.

In one aspect it can be summed up in the general anti-establishment vibes given off by bands like Kasabian but it encompasses such diverse songs as the anger of Anti-Flag’s Die For the Government to Tracy Chapman’s more subtle Talking About a Revolution. It encompasses a range of films, from James Dean's non-specific rebellion in Rebel Without A Cause to the anti-big business rhetoric of Michael Moore’s documentaries. From the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to Iain Bank’s Complicity. It covers those who feel disenfranchised from the political and social establishment by their gender, sexuality, race, poverty or sub-culture.

For those of us on the left to be a more effective political force we need find a commonality in these disaffected individuals covered by the broad term of the culture of resistance. We need to seek out the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection and mobilise people against their oppressors. I am fully aware of many on the left who feel alienated and disaffected by lack of a strong left-wing voice in mainstream politics calling for progressive change. Many also feel dissatisfied that Labour frequently fails to be this progressive voice. Individuals form isolated causes or individuals take direct action as they feel disconnected from a larger political movement. This in essence is the culture of resistance.

It is job of those on the left to form alliances between dispirited groups and people who fall under the culture of resistance. Many of the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection are conflicting problems. Power structures within the culture of resistance make this difficult, as is forming connections within such a diverse group of people. However, forming alliances between dispirited groups has always been one of the great strengths of the right. Consider the many differences between neoliberal, free-market corporate conservatives and the faith, family and flag social conservatives who sit together (not always happily) on the benches of Republican Party. In the British Tory party we see a similar uneasy alliance between the anti-immigration lobby and supporters of the interests of large companies who exploit the cheap labour migration brings. The right counts forming political alliances as one of its strength and so too should we on the left.

There are recent examples of direct action taken by large groups of members of the culture of resistance against their political oppressors. The main instance of this is students demonstrating against tuition fee rises. A diverse group students of different ideologies and different social backgrounds united by their opposition to a single issue and their general disenfranchisement with the political establishment.

The student tuition fees protests are a clear example of the increasing degree to which young people are disillusioned with political establishment. The protests of thousands of young members of the culture of resistance in the lead up to the Iraqi war were largely ignored by mainstream politicians and thus alienation of those outside the main political discourse is continued. In recent student protests the culture of resistance were driven to property damage and occupation in response to the feeling that the voices had been ignored or silenced before. Through the media branding them as violent trouble makers, the alienation and disaffection of the culture of resistance is perpetuated.

In the Arab world we have seen a string of uprising by the political oppressed. Again a broad cross section of society has been united in a common movement of the politically alienated and the socially disaffected against their oppressors. In Egypt, a country fraught with religion divisions, Christians and Muslims were brought together against the dictatorial establishment. This should be an example to those who wish to effect social change that through a common culture of resistance very divergent groups can be brought together and ultimately topple their common oppressors.

Very recently in Tottenham, north east London the poor and disaffected lashed out at an establishment which they felt was repressing the community. This is an example of an entire community and culture falling under the label of the culture of resistance due to the disenfranchisement of poverty, the alienation of the lack of having adequate political influence to effect necessary local development and perceived over policing. The culture of resistance does not only cover isolated individuals but can incorporate entire social groups or movements.

The culture of resistance has only grown larger and more pronounced as time has gone by and more people felt alienated from mainstream politics by the dominant ideology. We have seen that there is a great power in this disenfranchisement once mobilised. Those of us on the left need to work on building bridges that unite the disaffected in a common movement if we are to effect serious and lasting social change.

Blogging while London burns

As I write this Londoners are knuckling under for a third night of rioting and looting. The full details of the weekend's disturbances are already plastered across the news and I won’t waste time repeating them here. I will add that as a resident of Tottenham living a few hundred yards from where a police car was burnt and a supporter of recent student demonstrations, rioting against the oppressive establishment is a lot less romantic when it is going on in your postcode.

To be frank it was a frightening experience. I spent the majority of Saturday night endlessly refreshing the #tottenham hash tag on twitter to see how close the violence was to my house. Police helicopters circled the neighbourhood constantly and I become convinced that every creak in the house was the beginning of a home invasion.

Now with a little perspective and calm I can see that there were two main issues at play on Saturday night in northeast London; a legitimate protest on the part of an angry community who felt downtrodden and persecuted, and the beginning of a citywide crime wave that the police failed to deter, contain or even hamper.

The moment Saturday's events boiled over is alleged to have been when a sixteen year old girl, at a protest outside Tottenham High Road police station, was hit by a police officer. This spilled over into the destruction of property and widespread looting. The scale and ferocity of the events hint at the deep social tension associated with the high level of poverty in the area. The residents of Tottenham, particular the Afro-Caribbean community feel disenfranchised by society, their political voice muzzled and victimised by the police, especially through Operation Trident's attempts to tackle gun crime in the area. Many residents, particularly the young and unemployed, feel alienated from society and that the police have used stop and search powers excessively against them.

People in neighbouring communities (particularly the more affluent Crouch End, Islington, and Enfield areas) are concerned by how the police allowed a peaceful protest to get so dramatically out of hand. They are also concerned as to how so many police resources where consumed in a single area that looting went on unchecked half a mile away in the Tottenham Hale retail park. Undeniable the police handed the situation badly but I do have to add on a personal level that I am extremely grateful the riot and especially the burning of buildings was kept away from my street. I am grateful that the police kept me safe but also angry that so much damage to property and persons took place. Clearly mistakes where made.

The looting that has taken place is more than the “opportunistic criminality” that police authorities have dubbed it. Looting is an expression of anger at poverty. Personally I would love a new Mac Book but comfortable in my middle-class status, I would not steal one regardless of how easily I thought it was to get away with. I cannot understand what is like to spend your life seeing others with games consoles, computers and new trainers yet never being able to afford them myself. In the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn “can a man who is warm understand one who is freezing?”

Those who have cannot understand the desires of those who have not; it is quit simply not a problem I have ever had to deal with. Also of note is the fact that no bookshops were targeted. This is not a comment on the intelligence of the people of Tottenham but more a reflection of the desires of the people who live there to possess the same consumer goods as their neighbours in Highgate and Crouch End. It must be very difficult for the poor in London to be pressed up against their rich neighbours who have so much and be constantly reminded of what they lack. Consumer status symbols are an inherent part of our lives and lacking these symbols places you at great social disadvantage. I can understand why people would take advantage of the general lawlessness to attain what they cannot through conventional means.

Personally I cannot support rioting and looting as a form of protest, mainly because the general public (rightly or wrongly) will see injured police officers and burnt out buildings and these powerful images will overshadow any points about over policing and poverty in the area. David Cameron and Boris Johnson would do well to spend what available money they have tackling the massive inequalities that exist between neighbouring areas in London. Tottenham is badly in need of some urban development.

What is also needed is a discussion of the role the police had to play in the riots. Many questions will be asked about how the police allowed a legitimate peaceful protest to go so horribly awry. Should there be a review of the police’s use of deadly force? Are current police tactics too heavy handed? Should the police be given discretionary powers to prematurely arrest rioters? These are questions for when the riots have died down. One thing is for certain, these riots are not over yet and that real social change is necessary to deal with the deep problems caused by such poverty adjacent to such wealth.