Hands up, I’ve no idea what caused the English riots of a few weeks ago. Partly because I was in North Wales, intentionally as far from t’Internet as I could bearably go. But also, there was nothing evidently causal you could point to, as you could in the early eighties, when union versus government ideology was to the fore.
I hesitate to make the comparison, or to give any false impression that I know more than I do about any of the individual cases concerned, but it strikes me there is a limited parallel with the Arab Spring uprisings. There was no ideological cause for the riots because, in the digital age, peoples’ collective capacity to think and act outpaces the capacity of organisations, including that of insurgent political agencies, to anticipate and respond to an entirely new scale of disruption.
Much of the reaction to the riots have been hysterical and driven by ideological predilections. But as Bagehot notes (who, I think was also absent to the events themselves), Britain has been here before.
One of Northern Ireland’s most acute observers, Brian Feeney noted from across the Irish Sea that muc of the early reactions are knee jerk:
…several of the proposals require legislation which would change the law and affect the whole of the UK thereby lay open the majority of people to dire consequences as a result of criminal actions of a tiny minority of a population of 60 million. It’s populist rhetoric. It’s for the optics.
The real threat is long term. The sort of internal inquiry into government policies and agencies Cameron announced on Monday is his opportunity to bring in legislation to change fundamentally the role of the state in soceity.
Violence often has unintended consequences.
Quite so. Though Mr C is displaying some worryingly Bertie-ist qualities… It is not clear to me that there is any clear plan for the longer term…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty