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Reading The Riots, Phase One

Interviews with convicted rioters begin to answer questions about causes and response

Written by . Published on March 8th 2012.

Reading The Riots, Phase One

'IT's like kids are in the ultimate disco here. It's a massive distortion of what's normal into something utterly different.' This was ManCon’s live take on the Manchester edition of the August riots.

Following the widespread August mayhem, The Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics embarked on a collaborative research study 'Reading the Riots'. 

With phase one completed, it's now time to take the initial findings out to the areas affected. The Manchester edition of 'Community Conversations' took place on Wednesday at the Friends’ Meeting House, where a varied local panel led the discussion into causes and response.

Many accused Society, exemplified by bankers and politicians, of hypocrisy. Many felt they had no hope for the future, and no voice. A number mentioned the police shooting of Mark Duggan as a factor, even in Manchester.

The initial research, as we heard from Manchester researcher, Mags Casey, involved interviews with rioters, conducted at some distance from events. 

Distinct threads emerge: rioters came disproportionately from disadvantaged communities, those suffering high unemployment, low income levels and poor educational attainment.

Many accused Society, exemplified by bankers and politicians, of hypocrisy. Many felt they had no hope for the future, and no voice. A number mentioned the police shooting of Mark Duggan as a factor, even in Manchester.

Farida Anderson, CEO of Partners of Prisoners, and Ruth Ibegbuna, from local charity RECLAIM, know those communities and are fearful of riots returning, and wants policy changes to make a difference.

Councillor Pat Karney spoke of what ordinary Mancunians experienced, shoppers terrified inside the locked doors of Marks and Spencers or commuters locked in a marooned tram as they watched the riots begin, and saw the rioters filming their fear, not knowing whether they themselves were to be targets.

Representing the police view, Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson, quoted the force’s own statistics, making clear the scale of the demands placed on the service and the evidence that a large percentage of those prosecuted had previous convictions.  

Different interpretations can be put on the same evidence. Many rioters voiced a hatred of the police. Is this because of overbearing police behaviour or is it, as Russ Jackson implied, really because they’re criminals, a group of people who automatically dislike the police as part of their career plan?


Fairly and firmly chaired by Amnina Lone, co-director of SARF (Social Action & Research Foundation), the organisers of the evening, the public response was varied. Certainly some came with a pre-determined agenda and pre-determined views, but a wider constituency was present to listen and reflect.

Universal agreement was reached that for many young people it was all very exciting.

They saw it on the TV and knew they 'had to be there': it was an unmissable event. It was fun.  

A comment on irony of selling 'I love MCR' hoodies drew laughter.

There was uncertainty about how accurately the views expressed during researchers interviews reflected participants’ motivations at the time of the riots.

Surely, one questioner asked, it was highly likely that participants had rationalised their behaviour after the event, coming up with reasons they could attempt to explain to others and almost searching for justification.

The interviews have been recorded and subjected to a rigorous analysis. Though 270 rioters agreed to be interviewed, I wonder how many declined.  

I know it’s at least three times as many. Do those who declined have different views? Are those interviewed more convinced than the others that they could justify their behaviour? And what of those who did not riot, those thousands of young people who feel they have little hope who just stayed at home?

SARF, who organised the Manchester conversation, is to interview them. Good. Their voices will be heard.

Cllr Karney represents Harpurhey, often identified as an area with high scores on indices of deprivation. He spoke of the juxtaposition of connectivity and disconnection; the young rioters connected to the world via their smart phones, filming the fear of their own communities from whom they are apparently debarred. 

This research sprang from the refusal of the government to establish a public inquiry into the riots.

David Cameron put them down to “criminality, pure and simple”. London School of Economics whose motto, 'rerum cognoscere causas', means to know the causes of things, decided to find out if this were true.

Phase one of the research has reached a maturity stage and the research will move on to look at policing and sentencing before studying the communities affected.


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27 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PaulMarch 8th 2012.

This article echoes my own thoughts on the situation... this wasn't about social injustice.... pure hooliganism, and they all thought it was a laugh.... pied piper, or shepherd and it's flock.... there were people who orchestrated this... they are the real ones who should be brought to book over what happened.

1 Response: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 8th 2012.

Er... I don't think it does reflect you opinions, actually! Try re-reading it.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2012.

Without sounding like an opinion piece in The Daily Mail (God Forbid) There is absolutely no difference between the obscene criminal activities of the bankers, politicans and rioters. Sure the vile acts of the rioters smashing up the shops of their own cities was more visceral and immediate - it was witnessed by us all as we walked the streets on which we live and then in our homes on endless rolling news channels. But a little perspective please. The rioters are the inarticulate voice of disillusionment, rage and militant consumerism: they smashed, burnt and stole and everybody should be rightly shocked and disgusted, but this really pales in comparison in the behaviour of the 'ruling elite'. The bankers have through their hidden, white collar criminality brought the country to near fiancial collapse; and their political establishment old school friend expense fiddling partners rather than address the problem of the unregulated 'city' and actually start criminal proceedings against the banks have implemented savage cuts, started the privatisation of our National Health Service and imprisoned and condemened the youth who stole a pair trainers or a cigarette lighter. If you are working class you may burn in hell, but born into our 'establishment' do what you want and you will probably get away with it.
The culture of instant gratification, of self-entitlement holds no barriers or bounds, and certainly don't look towards the ruling elilte for enlightenment.
We are all going to hell in our stolen hand-cart.

Calum McGMarch 9th 2012.

So it sounds like you're justfying the looters.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2012.

Er no...I am saying they are just as loathsome as the bankers and politicans.
The point I am trying to make is deplorable as it is, clearly is stealing a pair of Nike trainers is hardly on a scale of bankers bringing the country to the point of near collapse. (remember certain banks were just a few hours from crashing)
I am saying they all exist in a moral vaccum.
Trying to understand someone is not the same as justfying their actions.

Duke FameMarch 9th 2012.

Anonymous, you are being ridiculous. The 'ruling elite' that brought the country to near fiancial collapse have thankfully been voted out and we are now seeing problems addressed.

I think you are making excuses for the rioters, they started in Tottenham, Tottenham is an area that has more opportunities within a 5 mile radius that perhaps anywhere else in Europe.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2012.

Are you seriously saying the current government cabinet of Oxbridge/Eaton millionaires are not the 'ruling elite'?

How are the problems being addressed - by brutal cuts to ordinary people.
Have you ever actually been to Tottenham? Its as close to opportunties as the current cabinet are to ordinary life.
I know maybe we could get the long term unemployed to work for free in Tesco's...oh we already are....such wonderful opportunities.
Have you seen current the unemployment rates?

Duke FameMarch 9th 2012.

I was thinking more about the old Labour government who managed to destroy the economy.

I've been to Tottenham many a time, 10 mins from the city where there are many opportunies. 15 mins from the olympics construction site - this is not an area without opportunity.

The cuts are sensible, there was a huge waste of public money on useless services. In Manchester, we still have a role for a nuclear-free secretariat with a salary equivilant of 50 househole's council tax contribution - there is a long way yo go before cuts actually have an adverse effect on real lives.

Your reference ot Tescos is workfare? Why not, some people need a kick into the world of work and remember, we are paying benefits, that is not exactly 'free'

AnonymousMarch 9th 2012.

I am certainly not a Labour supporter, but the myth/lie being peddled around by the current administration that the previous government were somehow responsible is absurd. It was a global fiancial crisis. The unregulated city was a notion first dreamt up in the Reagan/Thatcher years, and through years of boom and bust we have travelled. We are living through the slow decline of the west, governments straddled with huge debt and no real growth, as the east continues to rise.

As for working for free in Tescos would you do it? Really be honest, no. I certainly would not. I have worked everyday since I left school and if I was made redundant the notion that I should work to get benefits is obscene.
I have paid my national insurance every month in those twenty years since school and am entitled to recieve those benefits until I found a decent job.

The emphasis that rioters and benefit scroungers receive compared to the gangsters at the top in politics, media and banking is laughable.

Duke FameMarch 9th 2012.

I don't doubt that the banking crisis would have happened under any UK government, it would have taken some guts to shoot the golden goose of the banking tax raising machine.
Where Labour were culpable is the profligate spending on public services that weren’t needed and provided such diminishing returns. When the buggle burst (as it was always going to), the UK simply had already spent it’s cash, gold and pretty much all reserves. Gordon Brown goes down as the first chancellor in history that actually spent his way out of a boom, some feat!
For that reason, I hope it’s a long time before their ilk get their hands on the county’s finances again.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 9th 2012.

Your implication that Labour's spending caused the banking crisis and subsequent recession is pathetic.

Duke FameMarch 9th 2012.

Perhaps I should have said something like "I don't doubt that the banking would have happened under any government" the issue was that Gordon Brown spent all the money when there was a boom. Instead of building up reserves to then spend in a slump, he wasted it by trying to achieve full employment. Well, we all know what the one eyed Scotch fella did and thankfully that hideous government will not see power for a decade.

gimboidMarch 10th 2012.

I wouldn't underestimate the Conservatives ability to piss off enough people to prompt a resurgence towards Labour from middle-ground voters, especially ones that didn't vote either way in 2010. People have short memories.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2012.

I agree Gimboid, it is ludicrous to suggest that Labour's spending caused the current crisis. Are you truly suggesting Duke Fame that the current Condem administration would have hoarded a load of loot in preparation of the inevitable bust?
I doubt that very much.
You make a valid point about Brown and selling of our gold cheap and being generally reckless, but please don't for one second think that the bloody Tories are the solution. They are the very creators of the unregulated free market capitalism that got us into this mess. That of high/false house prices, endless consumer credit, consumerism as a lifestyle, the privatisation of everything etc. Just building endless sandcastles by the tide...The NHS is next.
"They know the price of everything and value of nothing"
Oscar Wilde.

Duke FameMarch 9th 2012.

Anonymous, it wasn't the selling the gold cheap that was a crime. It was the fact he had to do it in a boom.

he created 800k public sector jobs in an attempt to reach full employment. He claimed some sort of victory in that he inherited 1.6m unemployed, created 800k public sector jobs and got unemployment down to 1m. If he did the maths, he'd realise that he was 200k worse off!!

To pay for all this, he borrowed and sold the family silver. If he carried on Ken Clarke's policies, he'd have had 1m unemployed but saves the 800k imaginary new jobs.
he left the country with a huge liability providing services which frankly were a complete waste of money. The current government have a far better approach in that they are spending money on the infrastructure that will give business a benefit in the future.

The NHS improvements are also a step in the right direction, personally, I think if we got the coalition in power in about 2005, we'd have avoided a lot of the hurt we have now.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 10th 2012.

Which hugely unnecessary services are you talking about? I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I'd like to see some actual examples of this for a change.

Duke FameMarch 13th 2012.

The council tax of 60 householeds are currently collected used to provide the services of a Nuclear-free secretariat. I've got a feeling that this is something that is unnecessary.

AnonymousMarch 10th 2012.

These Tories are as previously stated the architects of the of the unregulated city of London. You seem to be concentrating your attention on the bloated public sector rather than the network of politician/banker criminality that got us into this mess.
I don't use the word criminality lightly. I recommend you watch the award winning documentary 'Inside Job.'
It will show these individuals were often no more than institutionalised gangsters.
Never forget that to bail out the banking system the British government spent 1 trillion pounds - the biggest outlay ever on anything in the history of this fine country.
And yet the city of London carries on its merry dance and banks now state owned give out obscene bonuses, and everything carries on as usual, expect now the Tories have a feeble excuse to do what they always wanted - primarily the dismantling of the welfare state.

Duke FameMarch 10th 2012.

Anonymous, I'd have preferred the govt to let the failing banks fail in the way the govt allowed BCCI & Barings die in the 80's. Sadly we need banks and to a certain extent, I can understand why they were bailed out.

Having done so, the most stupid thing would be to force them out of business so as the UK has invested, it needs the banks to recover. To continue blaming the banks may win a point in an online argument but it is not going to help the country.

I blame the Scottish PM for having no money left to try and re-ignite the economy. He was supposed to be a Keynesian economist but he didn't actually understand Keynes' point. Because he's done his money in the good times, he didn't have a card to play in the bad times.

All we can do now is trim all waste and get the conditions right to allow business to flourish in the UK. The current coalition are doing that, they are spending on infrastructure which is good and getting rid of some waste in the public sector.

All this should be supported.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 10th 2012.

The reason the government didn't and couldn't let the large banks fail is because they are too large and systemically important to fail. A by-product of this oligopoly is that they can borrow money from the wholesale markets cheaper than if they had to bear the risk by themselves. They therefore not only have the British tax payer over a barrel in terms of this implicit (and since the bail out, painfully explicit) subsidy; but like much of corporate Britain are engaged in far too much short term, exploitative, unproductive, socially useless activity that creates vast short term profits but little long term value or common wealth. They get away with it because of chronic and pervasive market failures. And the end result is one of the most unequal societies in the western world.

In is entirely correct to highlight the links between the behaviour in the City, corporate boardrooms and other elements of this 'feral elite' and the rioters because the two are intimately connected.

AnonymousMarch 10th 2012.

Waste in the public sector? If you hold this view you must surely believe that government should equally go after waste and exploitation in the private sector. The recent row about train operating companies is a case in point where profits are completely disproportional to risk or service quality.

There is no such thing as perfect competition, there is no such thing as a perfectly competitive market therefore there is no such thing as a perfectly efficient private company. In fact most companies are engaged in activities, in sectors of the economy and locations where there really isn't much competition at all. And the result? Massive and thoroughly undeserved boardroom pay for the minority, exploited and underpaid (and in fact state subsidised) ordinary employees; lavish and inappropriate expense accounts, corporate functions and head office premises; IT systems that are unfit for purpose, contribute to poor service but remain unchanged; excessive impacts on society like pollution, services that are inaccessible to all but the most affluent....

AnonymousMarch 10th 2012.

...; sub standard products and services which we then struggle to export; overpriced goods and services; massively over inflated costs to build even the most basic forms of infrastructure.... And so it goes on.

All these depressingly familiar themes are the result of private sector greed, exploitation and short termism.

Duke FameMarch 13th 2012.

Anonymous, I don't think we suffer quite so much from sub standard products and services which we then struggle to export, we've turned a corner to an extent there. Our lack of quality and effeciency was really in hte 70's and early 80's when strong unions allowed too much protection to an incompetent and lazy workforce in coal, steel, textiles, cars etc. Thanksfully, the union problem was addressed (albeit creeping back)

I don't think this was a trait of the private sector though, costs in this country have always been created by state involvement.

AnonymousMarch 14th 2012.

Costs are created by vested interests public or private, or even 3rd sector.

There's little doubt that our economy has been far too oriented around speculation, ostensibly to service the vested interests of finance. And the appalling results are to be seen throughout society in increasing costs of living and terrible inequalities. Yes, certain industries might have 'turned the corner' since the 70s but too many have dropped off the radar, fallen victim to venture capitalists, asset strippers or plain bad management practices. As a result, we're still exporting too little to pay our way in the world.

DavidMarch 10th 2012.

Labour was in power for over a decade.It had plenty of time,to do something for northern cities,like Manchester.Instead it spent even more money on London,and the likes of Kaufman,Blears and Stringer let their voters lose out in this way.They don't care,as have jobs for life under current electoral system.

What Manchester needs is something else apart from both Tories and Labour.They are all southern based parties.We nead to assert our political independence,as the SNP has done in Scotland.We need to demand a fair share of resources,with elected politicians who serve Manchester FIrst and not their masters in London.

1 Response: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 13th 2012.

Yeah, Manchester really turned to shit since 1997. Hmm.

AnonymousMarch 15th 2012.

...money for nothing and the kicks for free...

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