I am a born and bred Londoner. Apart from three years at university and a move across the Pond last year, I’ve spent my whole life living, working and loving in the City. It will always be my home – it contains the vast majority of my family and friends. Many of the latter live in the areas affected by the riots we’ve seen over the past few days.
What has happened? Less than four months ago #proudtobeBritish was trending on Twitter. Londoners were looking at each other after the Royal Wedding thinking, we had a million people on the Mall, peacefully – we might just pull off the Olympics. But over the past few days, social networking has been used to anti-social ends. The trending topic #prayforLondon appeared as London burned.
These riots are not us Brits as a whole. Overnight, another trending topic appeared, #riotcleanup. Here are a few of the Tweets I’ve read over the past 24 hours from Londoners:
“The Middle East youth rise up for basic human freedoms. The youth of London rise up for trainers and flat screens. Disgusted.”
“16000 police on the streets. These thugs are a minority. There are far more law-abiding citizens. Maybe we need to all stand together…”
“Let’s get one thing straight: these people aren’t ‘protesting’, they are thieving and destroying.”
“How Twitter is helping clean up the aftermath of the London riot [link].
Some politicians have been quick to point the blame for the unrest at the cuts that were put in place by the Coalition since they took office in May 2010. The policy of deficit reduction that has meant that the UK retained the “Triple A” rating, which the USA has just lost from one ratings agency, S&P. I’ve spent the past few days commentating on America’s reaction to this dent in its pride and its portfolios. “Will this cause a double dip?” is now one of the many questions on peoples’ lips. Multiple criticisms within the US have been made of S&P, while other Americans have tried to take an approach more akin to the Benjamin Franklin maxim: “Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults”
Churchill once said: “The British nation is unique in this respect: they are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst”. We then face the issue and deal with it. We did with our finances. We must with the unrest that we have seen. It may be mindless and criminal but there are absolutely endemic, systemic problems in sections of British society. They did not spring up overnight – or in little over a year. Discussions along the lines of Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s thoughts in today’s Independent [link] need to occur. Communities rebuilt, lessons learned – and money found if needed in a balanced, responsible way. Another tweet: “If society turns a blind eye to the creation of a generation of young with nothing to lose, it risks losing everything.”
London is resilient. London will rebuild. It has burned before and come back stronger and greater than ever. From the anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780, where more than 280 died as half the City was set ablaze in four days of violence, to the unrest of the 1980s.
We will move forward and I look forward to a glorious Olympics next year. (And I’m sure Team USA will dominate, never fear America… I’d take you over the Eurozone. But that’s another story.)