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Archive for the ‘Riots’ Category

ChavsOwen Jones is about ten years younger than me, but we both grew up in Stockport, him in Edgeley, me in Hazel Grove. Economically, Stockport ranges from extremely poor to extremely rich and we both grew up with parents working in reasonably (but not excessively) well paid jobs in the public sector, and seem to have both grown up with an awareness of social class and inequality, probably because of where we grow up and an awareness of those around us who were not so privileged. I remember this sense of variety being less obvious at junior school than at high school, possibly because at junior school the catchment area seemed a lot smaller, but also because my high school seemed to take kids from all over Stockport, plus some bits of Derbyshire and kids who’d been uprooted and moved from bits of Manchester and Salford. At sixth form college the net was cast even wider and we had a significant Derbyshire contingent as well as a large group of kids from Parrs Wood.

All of this seems very healthy in retrospect but, at the time, it did mean our high school was a seething mass of snobbery, elitism, bullying and territorial behaviour, both as a result of class divisions but also geographical territories. I didn’t go to under 18’s club nights in Stockport town centre in the early to mid nineties, but a classmate who did talked of those from different high schools standing in different corners, glaring at each other mistrustfully. Regular end of term rucks with rival high schools on school turf were also a curious tradition at our high school which, given the irregular nature of the buses, showed a certain degree of dedication if nothing else.

Owen Jones was the only child from his primary school to go to university but, unlike Owen, I went to an ex Poly, not Oxbridge. My mum had been to university as a mature student to train as a social worker, she had been to a grammar school. My dad went to a secondary modern before doing an apprenticeship. Both of them were lucky in their career paths and, as such, could afford to pay for me and my sister to attend university at a time when grants were being scrapped and tuition fees were being introduced. Both of us now have jobs in what would loosely be described as “the service sector”, and we both earn less than £20,000 p.a. We are lucky in that we like our jobs and find them rewarding, something of a minority view these days.

When I was a teenager, the kids who bullied you at school wore spliffy jackets, Joe Bloggs coloured jeans and listened to rave. They were called townies, they weren’t necessarily distinctive of a particular class, they were defined by fashion, music taste, and a perceived aggressive narrow-mindedness towards other teenagers who weren’t like them. They were the natural progeny of casuals and skinheads.

After them came scallies, whose very particular dress code included Lacoste sportswear, the trousers of which were tucked into Reebok sports socks, and Nike trainers. The style was widely believed to have derived from scallies in Liverpool, who had started the sock and trouser thing. Stockport still has scallies, but we never had many chavs, at least, by the strict stylistic definition: We had a severe shortage of people wearing Burberry. Possibly because I don’t think many local shops sold it.

Owen Jones’ polemic, Chavs: The demonization of the working class suggests that the term ‘Chav’ has been used as a term of abuse to label and demonize the working classes, and that politicians and the media – two professions dominated by the upper and middle classes – have been particularly culpable in this. In the course of his book he systematically interrogates every single statistic, accusation, slogan and stereotype, revealing a very different picture of the British working class.

Points he make include: The figures for benefit fraud are eclipsed not only by white collar crime, but also by the amount of benefits that those on low incomes are eligible for but do not claim due to the bureaucracy involved and fear of later re-payment demands when the goal posts are moved by the Department of Health, HMRC etc.

That the racialisation of the working classes into “White working class” rather than taking the working class as a whole, across ethnic divides, has encouraged the BNP and UKIP and given them a platform in communities that have long been Labour strongholds but who have long since lost faith with a party they feel no longer represents them: If disenchanted Labour voters in the D/E social codes had voted instead of simply staying at home in 2010, Labour would have won the 2010 General Election.

Some of the books findings are less surprising than others: that the media and politicians believe the average persons income to be around the £50,000 mark, and ‘middle class’ people to be earning £50,000 at least is relatively well known, and it does seem to be an attitude shared by the BBC and the broadsheets also. Still, its good to know that Jones has noticed this in that, he effectively re-defines the modern working class, challenging stereotypes and speaking to those who are labelled as well as doing the labelling. He also finds allies in surprising places, for example Rachel Johnson, editor of The Lady and sister of Boris.

Social commentaries, social histories and sociology from the late 1960s through to the mid 1980s were all full of discussions of the working classes but, as the 80’s ground on, class, also notions such as society and community, were subsumed by individualism and naked greed as the economy improved and council housing was sold off under ‘Right to Buy’.

Britain has yet to fully address the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s, politicians in particular seem incapable of taking the long view of anything: They will not look to the past and learn from it, and they fear the future and, as such, no government for the past twenty years or more has thought beyond eighteen months into the future. This is a legacy we will have to deal with one day, sooner, rather than later.

Feral underclass against the Tories

A good banner is always worth a replay

Had Jones’ book been published in 2012 rather than 2011, he would undoubtably have discussed the 2011 riots and, perhaps, the Olympics. So far as the riots in Salford and Manchester were concerned, TV footage showed white children and teens in hoodies and sportswear smashing and looting, or riding aimlessly on bikes. When the Manchester Evening News published mugshots of those arrested and whipped at lightning speed through the courts, the picture was decidedly more complex. True, about 90% of those arrested were white, but a surprisingly small group were under 18. The localities of those named and shamed in the mugshots also revealed that those taking parts in the Manchester rioting and looting were from all over Greater Manchester not just areas close to the city centre, or previous crime spots. This suggested all sorts of interesting possible reaons as to why people were in Salford and Manchester at the time, whether they had come in especially, or were simply around and got caught up in events: A significant number of those arrested were middle aged men in their forties or fifties, a number of whom were listed as having ‘no fixed abode’, whereas another participant was a university student from Marple. In the first instance, this suggests homeless people may have been involved in the rioting, in the second instance, a radical leftist student faction inspired post Millbank. Also mentioned was the amount of alchohol some of the participants had consumed (including the student from Marple) further muddying the waters. What Owen would have made of it all, I can only guess.

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I was speaking to a colleague at work today, who I didn’t see much of last week, and she said that she saw lots of people running down her street in Hulme last Tuesday night, pausing for breath, then running off again, hotly pursued by the police. Apparently the police were chasing rioters and looters from Deansgate and Piccadilly into Hulme… ‘Ooh,’ I said, ‘That’ll be why they were evacuating Oxford Road then…’

The name and shame pictures that have come out in the local press so far would seem to support the general theory that it was a fairly mixed bunch of age ranges and ethnicities who were rioting and looting in Manchester and Salford. Not many people look 10 in their pictures… despite the press reports.

As to the whys and wherefores… will we ever really know? I think we all have our own personal theories, but perhaps we shouldn’t necessarily share them all.

That said, Afflecks appears to be open again (I haven’t actually been into town yet to check, but their site suggests so) despite sustaining damage, which is good news. They are planning a spot of civic pride for the 26th August if anyone fancies getting involved…

http://www.afflecks.com/2011/08/12/afflecks-loves-mcr-show-that-you-do-too/

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Last night David and I went to the Cornerhouse to watch ‘Break My Fall’. The film started at 6:20pm, and it would have been about halfway through the film when the lights were suddenly switched on and a member of Cornerhouse staff informed us that we were going to have to leave: There was rioting in Piccadilly and it had spread to Deansgate. Given Oxford Road’s proximity to Deansgate Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council were strongly advising the Cornerhouse to close for the night.

There had been storm warnings all day, with rumours circulating by word of mouth and on twitter and facebook. Trouble kicked off first in Salford Precinct in the afternoon. There was a scuffle, but it was contained and dispersed. In hindesight it seems very probable that a lot of the people who were dispersed either moved on to Piccadilly, or else onto the the estate in Pendleton. Another thing we realised later on, and especially today, was how unreliable the info on the GMP twitter feed had been.

The atmosphere on Oxford Road as we left the Cornerhouse was odd rather than frightening. We had been advised by the Cornerhouse staff to head for the Aquatics Centre if we were trying to get to South Manchester, so we started to walk in that direction. It would have been about 7:45pm by this time. As we walked we saw lots of buses, many parked at stops on both sides of the road, and a small but visible number of TFGM (Transport For Greater Manchester, the new name for GMPTE) staff near the stops, directing people. Whilst I know it was the standard large incident procedure, it did bring back memories of being in London on July 7th 2005, so I think my adreniline levels kicked themselves up a gear then.

As we walked, I observed a small but noticeable number of people heading down Oxford Road towards Piccadilly. Contrary to press reports, these people were not children and teenagers: They were adults. There were probably more people, like us, heading away from the area, but it was interesting to watch those going the other way. Those of us heading away from Piccadilly appeared either outwardly calm or slightly apprehensive, whereas those heading towards Piccadilly were visibly excited: Some of them looked as though Christmas had arrived early, wrapped up in New Years Eve.

Eventually we both got buses, and parted on the agreement that we would text each other once we were home. David got home first, and I got his text whilst I was on Plymouth Grove. The bus took a very long time to get down Oxford Road, mainly I suspect because they had been told to do long stops to pick up people who were basically being evacuated from Oxford Road.

We picked up the speed a bit on Plymouth Grove, where we passed two slightly self conscious seeming police people, and as we moved along Plymouth Grove talk moved from the riots, and from the scatter bullet phrase ‘Set on fire’, which I had been hearing repeated again and again up until that point, to more mundane matters.

I was on the 197 as this had been my plan all along: As soon as the rumours of a riot started to circulate at work and online, I knew that I would need a new way home: If I’m going out, I have to walk to Piccadilly and get the 192 home as the 191 stops running at 23 minutes past six. All the rumours pointed to riots happening in Piccadilly, so as the day wore on the 192 became an increasingly unviable option. This meant that I could get the 197 or the 42 from Oxford Road, and walk part of the way home, or I could walk all the way home. We’d paid for our cinema tickets in advance, and there was only one showing of ‘Break My Fall’, so cancelling would have been a wrench.

The 197 follows the 191 route until you get to Levenshulme, then it turns off down Albert Road and goes through Burnage and Heaton Moor to Stockport. This meant I had the option of hopping off in Longsight and walking it, or hopping off in Heaton Moor and walking it. Because Longsight has a history of rioting and Heaton Moor doesn’t, and because it’s less of a walk from Heaton Moor, I hopped off at the top of Heaton Moor Road.

It was a bit of a trek home, but all was calm in the twilight. There were plenty of Ladies Who Lunch, or their northern variant: Ladies Wot Lunch, plus their male equivalents outside the usual cafés and wine bars, roaring at each other, eating and drinking… not a care in the world. Fiddling while Rome burned…

Today, things seem to be back to normal. The clean up operation, which was organised on twitter, started this morning. There was still a latent tension in the air and a sense of wariness on peoples faces though.

At work, we all had our ‘How did you get home last night?’ conversations, and judging from the problems other people had I feel I got off very lightly indeed. One colleague had a very near miss with the mob on Market Street whilst trying to get to the Manchester/Salford border, another colleague had a long walk across the other side of town, dodging would be rioters en route to Piccadily, to a bus stop where she merely hoped there would be a bus.

The rumours were, of course, flying today as to who was responsible for the rioting, and why it had happened. I heard my first rumour on the bus on the way into work this morning when I overheard a pissed off business man loudly telling someone on his phone that he’d been in Piccadilly the night before, and that it had been the EDL (English Defence League) orchestrating things. This came to sound increasingly unlikely as the day progressed however, and the following rumours began instead:

  • The riots were orchestrated by gangsters (Graham Stringer M.P)
  • The riot in Salford was orchestrated by gangsters as payback for previous police actions (local media, and possibly local gangsters)

It has rained heavily and consistently today, and this undoubtably helped tonight in that there appeared to be no trouble and no buses appear to have been re-routed. Yesterday we relied on the GMP twitter feed for updates, and we were badly let down by it, so today we switched to the Stagecoach website, BBC Manchester, and the Manchester Evening News. The MEN had the most thorough coverage, both online and in the paper, though I’ve been told Manchester Confidential is also good.

I basically gave up on national papers and radio stations yesterday for coverage as they were all focusing on London, so it was almost impossible to build up any kind of idea of what was going on in Manchester from them, and that’s remained the case today really.

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