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End clustering of betting shops on our high streets

First published on The Independent Blogs, Tuesday 28 February

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street?

The high streets of the UK have been hit extremely hard from all sides lately. If competing with out of town shopping centres and the boom in internet shopping wasn’t enough, the 5,200 shops that closed last year because of the recession is another example of the old saying that bad news comes in threes.

It has become all too common in the UK to find clusters of similar shops in certain areas. All too often there is a string of bookmakers, kebab houses, tanning salons, with little diversity in between. Very few would argue that streets filled with similar shops make the area appealing to potential buyers.

A ComRes survey found that over half of participants in England and Wales felt that clusters of sex and betting shops had a negative impact on high streets. A further 36 per cent said the same of tanning salons and fast food outlets.

Last week Southwark Borough Councillor Rowenna Davis sent an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, highlighting that there are 77 bookmakers in her constituency.

“What’s happening is they are clustering in particularly poor areas,” she explains, “so we are pushing for the government to respond to Mary Portas’s high street review by giving more powers back to councils.”

Davis is not the only person to speak up for our town centres. MP David Lammy has expressed concerned that in his constituency of Tottenham there are 39 bookies and not a single bookshop. And even Boris Johnson has written to Mr Pickles to demand more powers for councils to counter clustering.

Chairman of the LGA, Sir Merrick Cockell explains, “Currently councils are powerless to prevent betting shops setting up.”

Clusters spring-up because of planning laws allow stores with the same ‘use’ license  to replace each. This means that when an independent café, shop or bank closes down, there is nothing the council can do about a new one opening, no matter how many shops of that kind there are already.

The principle is the same for betting shops. Currently they fall into the same category as banks, which are financial services. It means banks can be changed into betting shops without local authorities having any say in it.

The LGA is campaigning for a new ‘use’ class, or ‘super’ planning class as Sir Merrick describes it, for premises of potential future concern to local authorities. Each council would be able to add to this new class premises which their residents believe have a negative impact to their high streets.

This call seems to be widely echoed by the public, 63 per cent said they would be in favour of the government giving more power to councils to tackle clustering. But nearly three quarters of respondents were in favour of giving more powers to councils to help shape the high street based on communities’ wishes.

The public also has some strong opinions about what they would like on their high streets too. Nearly 80 per cent felt local producers would be important to the future success of their high street, followed by over 70 per cent feeling retail stores and local amenities would too.

Last year Mary Portas recommended the government to address the restrictive ‘use class’ system to make changing property uses easier, and suggested that betting shops have a ‘use class’ of their own. The rationale behind this was that many vacant lots were not being filled because changing the use required planning permission. By separating betting from the financial service class this would mean that every betting shop would have to apply for planning permission if they were changing the use of premises.

With the Department for Communities and Local Government building up to launch its response to Portas’s recommendations, a spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing ‘change of use’ and are considering views expressed on this, including betting shops.”

It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets

Is sacrificing democracy for the markets worth the cost?

November 17, 2011 1 comment

We were told the other day at work that it is against health and safety to bring a cup of tea upstairs from the kitchen to the call centre. This is because we could spill it on the stairs (or ourselves), and cause someone to slip. Fair enough, I’m not here to argue against that, but would it be an arrestable offence to take a cup of tea upstairs?

I somehow doubt it.

So I was a little shocked with how innocuous the news was that the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York had been evicted. When peaceful protests are being clamped down on by governments I’d think it would get more coverage.

In less than three hours the camp had been dismantled and cleaned and over 200 people arrested. It was explained that the plans had been drawn up a few weeks ago, but it was only yesterday that Mayor, Michael Bloomberg decided that the presence of the protesters was offensive enough for him to give the go-ahead for their removal.

It seems like Bloomberg has cited public health and safety concerns as the reason that people were evicted, but is it now an arrestable offence to breach health and safety?

Democratic protests are demolished by an integrated ruling elite

As OLSX is threatened eviction, the bankers they campaign against are put in charge in Europe

Like my cup of tea at work, which I continue to take upstairs because I feel that not having a cup of tea at my desk breaches my natural rights, it seems like the rights of protesters are being trampled as equally in the West as they were before the Arab Spring in the East.

Is it behind a wall of health and safety procedures that democracy dies? Is the right to peaceful protest is only available when it’s convenient or if it doesn’t go on too long?

And yesterday the City of London Corporation has re-launched its bid to remove the protesters from outside St Paul’s. Now the protesters are determined to have another go, but with the camps being raided and dismantled across the globe by somewhat surly councillors and politicians, I have my doubts about their likelihood to succeed in achieving anything.

The message from the top, or The US Supreme Court at least, is that our inalienable right to peaceful protest only goes so far as our leaders are willing to let it. This defeats the purpose if our leaders are the ones being complained about. We can protest the war in Iraq, the cuts to tuition fees, anything we like, as long as we are prepared to be clamped down on by the police, or watch our next generation be kettled, or move when the police tell us to.

Last week, the students held another demo against fees, and from the pictures it basically looked like a giant police training exercise in kettling people. The crowd was surrounded by officers, and not allowed to deviate from the path. Any attempt to meet up with other blocks of resistance was nipped in the bud.

Am I the only one who is scared?

And not just because the ruling elite are showing that their silk gloves are actually steel gauntlets, but because the gradual integration of our ruling elite, the media, and the financial sector.

We now have bankers in charge of Italy and Greece, in the shape of Messrs Monti and Papademos. Surely the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 showed the inability of the financial sector to look out for any interests other than their own? If not, then maybe the outrage at stricter ring-fencing, or just generally their refusal to make any changes to the system that has made a few billions.

The only thing which used to allow me to sleep easy at night is the distinction between the groups that control our world – the financial sector, the politicians, the media, and religion.

Many could claim that the influence of religion is negligible, but what religion and the media both do is perpetuate the myths our society lives by. Our politicians control the legislation our lives are limited by, and the financial sector moves the money our lives rely on. Separate and monitored, we have nothing to fear, but nowadays politicians are unafraid to be religious, or in bed with the media, the protests are being condemned by priests, and financial leaders are now being begged by the markets they control to take charge of governments.

It should worry everyone that market driven leaders are ending up on our political shelves. We have the right to vote our leaders in – even if as pointed out by Archie Bland in the I Paper: “There is nothing to stop total idiots trying to be leader of the free world.” We did not vote for technocrats, and neither did the Italians and Greeks. Although they say it is in everyone’s best interests, it is in the interests of the markets first and foremost that they have taken charge, and these are what they will protect.

I can only see it as a conflict of interests if in any democratic country the needs of the few are subservient to the needs of the many. But this is what is happening. Our Government is determined to keep the markets happy and Europe is begging technocrats to take charge, effectively breaking the democratic process. It may not be the end of the world now, but it sets a scary precedent. And, even if they sort it out, how do we know that power will filter back down?

We should all be afraid, not just youths, students, trade unionists, protesters, communists and anarchists. As I wrote a few weeks ago, it is the quiet acquiescence of the many that allows a minority of partisans, with sycophantic or selfish interests, to take control. We all have our heads so buried in the sand that we can’t see that the foundations of democracy, our most sacred ideology, are being undermined for the needs of capitalism. Surely it should be the other way round.

 

 

People Power only begins with peaceful protests

Occupy the London Stock Exchange is the most recent of many peaceful protests
Lord Kitchener asked the British public to unite, so now do OLSX

 I raise money for a homeless charity at the minute. It’s not glamorous, but I’d say that I am proud of the fact that for now, the fruits of my labour don’t line some fat cats wallet. So, instead of camping outside St Paul’s, I can go to work, knowing in my heart of hearts that I am helping some of the 99 per cent.

Unfortunately, the other reason I’m not down on the picket lines is that it is unlikely to ever influence the government to change anything. It seems like even the most famous peaceful protesters, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr, were assassinated before any kind of long-lasting change was implemented.

An assassination can be a rallying cry to the half-hearted, the meek, and the ignorant. When a death is witnessed and felt by enough people, the shared grief and the anger boil over. It can be a call to arms or simply the straw that broke the poor camel’s back.

It can also be a call for unity like the day Diana died, or 9/11. The world in their shared grief and fear forget their woes and sat glued to the TV watching the news as it came in. The old and young, the rich and poor, the one per cent and the 99 per cent, people of all races, were brought together into a united whole, together in their grief. When a whole people, a whole country, or even the whole world comes together under emotions so strong it boggles the mind the sheer power that collective could have.

It was Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles, who said it best:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?”

And who are we not to be so? We have groups of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange in cities throughout our country. The National Association of Head Teachers has for the first time in over 100 years voted to strike, the other unions are rallying as well. The students have twice been out in force and even the uneducated have tried to make their voices heard in this Summer’s riots.

But, it is not enough. Because there are still so many out there who feel inadequate, who are too scared to be powerful beyond imagination.

It is easy to get scared, the world can be terrifying. But in the end it is unsatisfying and hollow, and results in a gradual degradation of the soul. The democratic capitalism we live under, is run by politicians, the markets, civil servants, and diffused through to us by the media, advertising and marketing. It is the people at the top of these trades that want us to feel awful, ugly, untalented and squalid, because they want us to feel brilliant, beautiful, talented and fabulous on their terms, using their products and in a way that perpetuates all the power in their hands. It is about control, and it is so easy to buy into it that we can all be forgiven for doing so.

Their path to beauty, talent, splendour and brilliance is easy to follow. You jump on a career ladder and get a salary. You start to forget how you could be brilliant et al without these things. Suddenly you have a mortgage and a family, a financial and social debt that will never be lifted. By this time you are quite old, and set in your ways, and to imagine the world any differently is scary indeed.

This is why it is only the young, the students, and the unions, as well as a limited number of idealists are the only ones who still believe that a world without the one versus the 99 per cent is less scary than this one. A small group that feel that they have so little to lose that anything will be better than what we have already.

But this leaves a majority who cling on to what they have, proud that they have touched brilliance and talent et al through following the crowd. They have buried their heads in the sand because a change in the fundamental order of things is too scary to behold. ‘Imagine all the things we could lose,’ they think, and to protect what they hold dear, they condemn those who fight for change.

This has turned illiterate children into vandals and thugs, students into anarchists, and unionists into communists. It helps protect the illusory world, because even though it isn’t perfect, it is safe and secure. We have worked so hard to reach the levels of achievement that our leaders and idols have told us to emulate that to try and find those things within ourselves is too hard 

But, with the financial crisis this could change. Maybe it will be the spark that wakes up a nation. When people see their children being kettled by police, or their savings disappear, or their pensions taken, maybe they will realise, like the young and the idealistic, that things aren’t, and never have been, as good as our politicians and co. have painted them.

If we are going to find our light, and our brilliance, we must shrug off the conceptions of these ideas that are forced on us, and accept the ideas of these things we have of our own. Only then will we be able to stand together, humble and proud, yet united. Our media fed ideas of beauty and talent have done nothing to nurture either of these things, but only to make us arrogant, divided and suspicious of each other. So we must shrug off the yoke of the one per cent, and the cronies and sycophants who are their priests, and create something better or at least fairer.

This would, unfortunately, require a lot more than a student protest or a union strike. It would require the biggest mass walkout ever seen, across not just the public, but the private sector too.

It isn’t just for us, for we are too far gone to touch it, only to create it. It is for the future, and the children who will remember us not as the people who accepted greed, hoping we could one day be greedy, but renounced it, so that they could enjoy equality.

British expats vow to stay abroad despite squeeze on incomes

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s another article I did for Thisismoney.co.uk during my time with them. It was a really interesting piece, even though it came from a press release because I had no idea the squeeze on incomes was so tight on our expats. As you ca nsee from the comments links at the botton, it cause a wee bit of a debate, or at least more of a debate than anything I’ve written before has. Made me think about escaping the UK myself.

Thanks to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me reprint it.

British expats are feeling the financial squeeze

Worth it: More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey by Moneycorp

More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey.

The study, by currency dealer Moneycorp, shows that over 50 per cent of expats say that while they moved abroad for a better standard of living, their incomes have actually plummeted since the economic downturn.

Despite these factors, nine out of ten expats said that they would continue to live abroad, with 25 per cent saying that they would rather move to another country before considering moving back to the UK.

The fall in incomes could be attributed to two factors: the decline of the British pound against other currencies; or the fact that many expats living off state pensions find their income is not index-linked.

 In 2007 an expat could expect to move to Europe with an annual income of £10,000 and see a return of £16,500, whereas in the current economic climate, the same amount would return just £11,000.

As reported earlier this year, in non-EU countries, like relocation hotspots USA and Australia, British citizens’ pensions are frozen as soon as they retire.

This means that a 65-year-old who retired in Australia today on a pension of £102.15 would still be receiving £102.15 in 2028. If inflation in these countries remains constant, then, according to online currency broker Currencies.co.uk, the value of these pensions could drop by half in just 17 years.

John Lawson, of Standard Life, says: ‘Retiring abroad is a dream for many people, but does require careful planning and advice.  Many people think living abroad is cheaper than living in the UK, but this isn’t always the case.’

The Moneycorp survey shows that many British expats are willing to shoulder the burden of lower incomes to retain their lifestyle while 80 per cent said they believed their children’s lives had improved.

David Kerns, Private Client Dealing Manager at Moneycorp said that although many Britons are happy overseas and enjoying a better quality of life, they are suffering from a rise in living costs and wanted to know more about transfer fees when moving funds abroad.

He advised expats:  ‘Speak to currency specialists to guard against adverse fluctuations. By locking into favourable exchange rates for up to two years, expats can protect themselves against the pound losing further value, as well as avoiding potentially costly transfer fees.’

He added: ‘Over a series of payments, these savings can run into the thousands of pounds.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2037381/British-expats-vow-stay-abroad-despite-squeeze-incomes.html#ixzz1YgqBgUnb

The State of the Union – Scotland and England Divided

The argument for Scottish independence heats up on both sides.

A sign of unity or division?

The Scots remember every victory and defeat against the English. We mark them on the bed-posts, with the score filled out in brackets. Our cousins south of the border do no such thing. While the Scots count small victories and nurse a grudging resentment to the Auld Enemy, the English actually take very little interest in Scotland, until recently. I think in essence this highlights a very great difference between the two factions debating over independence at the present.

And this is why I was deeply concerned to read all the Scotland bashing in the news yesterday. The Daily Mail front page headline: A Kingdom Deeply Divided, brought home the growing resentment for Scotland simmering south of the border. Because the formula used to divide tax between the home nations is over 30 years old, each individual in Scotland gets just over £10,000 spent on them in tax-payers funding, compared to about £8,500 in England, a difference highlighted many times as 15 per cent.

Ross Clark in particular alleges that Alex Salmond, in accepting of these extra funds and charging English students more than Scottish students, is subtly attempting to make England grant Scotland their independence and do his dirty work for him. The Scots are widely dubious about a referendum and rightly so.

We are currently still in a recession, and every second day one newspaper or another has some economist saying we could be heading for a double-dip. If this is the case then this might be the worst time to secede from the Union. Even Salmond, in his heart of hearts, knows this. But to accuse him of stirring up trouble seems a bit unfair. If the Barnett Formula, drawn up in 1978 gives Scotland ten per cent of the nation’s tax based on the fact that we had ten per cent of the population back then and this deficit is because we now have only eight per cent of the population then who wouldn’t take advantage of it? Are you telling me Mr Clark, in your infinite wisdom that if the tables were turned and since 1978 Scotland had grown to encompass 12 per cent of the UK’s population so that everyone in England got more tax money spent on them you wouldn’t take it? That Mr Cameron wouldn’t use that to make university cheaper for the English? Don’t make me laugh.

Of course it’s an unfair situation, and it needs rectified. But for my knowledge Joel Barnett was English. This is not a case of the Scots stealing money from the English, it is a case of an antiquated law not being over-turned sooner.

But here’s the nub of the matter for me. While I grew up in Scotland and was vaguely aware of the news and current affairs and occasionally read a newspaper, I was bombarded with figures indicating the Scots have the highest levels of obesity, binge drinking and teenage pregnancy in the UK.

Scotland is a small country with a whole load of social problems, and over and above the one’s mentioned we can add sectarianism and domestic abuse to the list (I think I recall hearing Glasgow had not only the worst numbers of domestic abuse by men against woman, but also of woman against men too). And what is tax funding funding meant to do except help those in need? The rich give more because they have it to help those in need, and in Scotland we have the figures to justifiably say: “We are in desperate need!”

Labour peer, Ruth Lister, wrote a fantastic piece in Monday’s Guardian about how the connotation of welfare denotes a “narrow, rather miserable, form of social assistance for people in poverty.” She argues that the old term, social security, (which was replaced with ‘welfare’ by New Labour), “represents an end to which society aspires. It expresses the desire to ensure genuine security for all through social means.” And by using ‘welfare’ rather than ‘social security’ we have got to the point where anyone on benefits is seen as a scrounger and a lay-about. And it seems many in England are seeing Scotland in this way.

Social security would instead provide us with a language of understanding, where we realise that although we are being taxed, this because, even if we don’t earn a lot, we are secure, and what we give is used to provide security for others.

I believe that Scotland needs a lot of social security and this is why we must remain part of the Union. I don’t deny that the English do too, but I must add that bashing Scotland for using money that we were given by Westminster to support our people is redundant and unfair and all you English out there who complain the most would be the first to use that money for your own people. I call for the Barnett Formula to be recalculated, but I also call for a degree of understanding between our two nations.

Scotland has great assets. We have great sportsmen in tennis, golf, curling, but also football and rugby. We have a long list of inventors, poets, writers and academics. We have North Sea Oil, which although undoubtedly still rising in profitability by 3.7 per cent to £15.9bn over the year 2009/10, wont last forever. But at present I believe that it still contributes a nice lump sum to Westminster every year.

But we also have, like the rest of the UK, a deep divide between rich and poor, and social problems, which although can’t totally be solved by funding, can at least be alleviated to some extent.

And, I say to all the English all over the country, who continuous quote that London pays two-thirds of the UK’s tax and so basically pays for Scotland, it doesn’t matter, because unless you live in London on a six or seven figure salary (in which case say it to your hearts content), London is paying your taxes too. London is like California, which is one of top ten largest economies in the world on it’s own. If both declared independence on there own it would destroy the Unions on both sides of the pond.

I freely admit that the Scots need the English, but maybe it would be more true to say the Scots need London. But don’t call the kettle black, because the rest of England and Wales needs London too. The rest of our taxes compared to the high-flyers in London are but a drop in the ocean.

We are a Union, and as such we rise and fall together. If we are sectarian and petty with each other we will fall. If we argue and bicker like little children we will fall out. If we actually talk like adults we stand a chance of creating a Great Britain which actually lives up to it’s name.

A World Gone Mad: Riots Without Reason? Riots Have Causes And We Must Address These To Avert Future Damage.

August 12, 2011 4 comments
Riots in Bristol as blazes appear across the city

A burning bin in Stokes Croft, Bristol, set alight by rioters on Monday night.

Is the age of peaceful protest dead? I am of the opinion that it probably is. Hundreds of thousands marched to protest Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003; over 50,000 students, lecturers and university staff marched last November in London to protest the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA); on the 30th June this year, the Unions, including the NUT, UHC, UNISON, and RMT all marched in cities throughout the UK to peacefully protest about the cuts being made in their sectors. And what was the outcome of all these marches? No change in policy.

I am not one to condone violence of any kind, nor arson, nor brutality, but maybe these youngsters, branded as ‘dissidents’, ‘rioters’, ‘hoodlums’ or (in the Sun, ‘morons‘), have a point? If peaceful protests haven’t change the mind of our Government, then what form of protest is left to the public?

I reiterate that I do not condone the actions of the minority of vandals throughout our country that have destroyed the property, lives and cities of people for the last four days. But, when you realise that the kids who’s face’s have graced the Red Tops over the last few days have no union, no MP, no voice, it makes me wonder how else could they get their voices heard?

It all reminds sinisterly reminds of a poem, you’ll all know it:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

It’s by Martin Niemöller and is meant to define the sentiments of the intellectuals in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. In the present context, I feel it could more correctly by read as:

First they came for the students,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a student..

Then they came for the pensioners,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a pensioner.

Then they came for the unemployed,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t unemployed.

Then they came for the youth,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t young.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What we have seen is the systematic breaking down of our society by a Government that clearly has no idea of what is going on on streets all over the UK. First education, then Healthcare, then care workers, now the youth who are being demonified by our Government in what can only be seen as an attempt to ignore the mood of the people and plough on with there policies regardless of who is being affected. Our youth are fighting back, like students, like the unions, but instead of support, they are being condemned.

It was exactly the same with poor Charlie Gilmour and Edward Woollard, two young protesters who got carried away. Both have received custodial sentences, Gilmour 16 months and Woollard 32 months and it is apparent that in both cases the sentencing was pushed through by judges trying to appear strong in the face of a media and political storm of outrage demanding harsh punishment for the perpetrators of violence. But in this storm, one thing was forgotten, what it was that had pushed two middle class boys to commit acts of recklessness during peaceful protests. The answer is somewhere in the political mood of this country, and as pointed out by Matthew Norman in the Independent i Paper, it isn’t “criminality pure and simple” as Cameron claims. It is the complex mixture of a disenfranchised youth, a public sucked into the dream of consumerism based on adverts and political ideology, and a Government which is out of touch. As Norman observed, “The PM looks like a patrician one-nation Tory who has slipped through a tear in space-time, and emerged blinking and bamboozled from his comfy berth in the Fifties.’”

Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Leader, has highlighted some the problems. The trebling of tuition fees, the cutting of the EMA, the rising of youth unemployment and closing of the Job Centres will all have contributed to a a feeling of social alienation, unhappiness and finally towards the riots. In her debate on Newsnight with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Harman stated:

“There is a sense that young people think they’re not being listened to. That is not to justify violence, but when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, when you’ve got the EMA taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and you’re shutting the job centre, you should think again about that.”

Police Riot Squads are deployed to control the looting and violence.

Riot squads are deployed by police to control looting and vandalism in Bristol.

The psychology of the riots is summed up very nicely by Ian Leslie, author of ‘Born Liars’ in his blog. Noting that rioting is “imitative behaviour compressed and sped up,” Leslie believes that social media and 24 hour news allows the “madness of a febrile crowd to spread faster and further and with more fluidity than ever before.” So we have a generation of kids, with broken links to their local community, but strong links with like-minded individuals through Twitter, Facebook and other media, who can swap information almost instantly. This means, that when one or two started rioting and news spread through this online community, the rest would have felt justified to imitate the behaviour of their peers.

This is a generation with little to no respect for police, teachers and our Government, but it is a disrespect they all share, and could, theoretically, be said to be a reason to respect each other. Shared opinions can very easily lead to shared action. Hence riots have spread from the Borourghs of London to cities throughout the UK.

To say the riots were started by social media is probably incorrect. They were organised through social media, they were started through mutual disrespect and social injustice. What emphasises their lack of unity and political polarity is the fact that they attacks lack any focus, only a need to lash out.

To fight the Government or police can inspire sympathy in those who have been on the wrong end of their policies or activities, to attack a corporation shows they have a common goal, consumer capitalism. To take out your anger on everyday people and their livelihoods inspires outrage, and hence the current backlash again ‘scum’, ‘dissidents’ and ‘terrorists’.

There is the additional fact, that these are kids, which over the last few years have seen the moral breakdown of our media, banks and politicians. First we had the expenses scandal, with MPs taking advantage of the public purse for their own ends. Then the banking crisis, which would have been generally accepted as a mistake, if the top bankers weren’t still taking six-figure bonuses at a time when austerity sweeps the nation. And most recently there has been the phone-hacking expose. What this highlighted was that while everyday people’s phones were being hacked for snippets of information, the top journos, politicos and celebrities were sitting comfortably at a party in Chipping Norton deciding where to invest their capital.

And, what has been made clear by the media coverage, is that they all felt totally justified doing what they were doing, like it was owed to them – so why shouldn’t a generation of kids who have watched these kinds of crimes not feel justified to take their slice of pie, however violent it is? If the bankers can find a way to take their tax back, why shouldn’t (in their opinion) should these looters? I am not justifying them, but can no one see how they felt justified?

We need to think about this outrage before it gets out of hand. Zoe Williams in the Guardian today suggests that the impetus behind the riots could come from a social class or group that lives in the consumer capitalist world of adverts celebrity gossip and glorified lifestyles, which, hint clever advertisements, everyone must have, and, hints our Government and businesses and banks, everyone can have.

Hoody sets fire to a bin during riots in Bristol

A hoody begins a blaze in a wheely bin during riots on Monday night in Bristol

But can we all have it all? The answer to that is probably not. Especially, as Harman emphasises, with tripled tuition fees, no EMA and no jobs for young people. This, then will lead to a disenfranchised group of youngsters who feel they have no hope of getting either a degree, or a job, and therefore no hope in hell of reaching the heights of comfortable living that adverts and society accepts as the norm. Therefore, when they see our ruling elite taking what they want, they attack back in retribution. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but I don’t think any of us can, deep down, say it’s unexpected.

Everyone likes to live in a cosy bubble and indulge the myth: If I work hard, get my degree, get a job, I can buy my house, raise a family, have regular holidays, and put away a pension. But in living that myth, and striking out at anyone who harms the myth, we end up with a disillusioned minority who are under-represented. Like Woollard, or Gilmour, the public outrage from the myth-buyers will put these people in jail and allow us to go back to the bubble. But it doesn’t address why these people aren’t either in the bubble or accept the bubble themselves. We could just bang all the arrested rioters in jail and carry on with our lives, but does this change anything? Will this stop more future riots? I think the answer is no.

Our Government loves the myth. It means when people with actual grievances against their policies stand up to be counted they can shrug them off as a minority, while the rest of us bury our heads in the sand and it isn’t our job that is lost, or our pensions which disappear. But one day it will be. This is why the teachers are marching, the students are marching, the Unions are marching. But unless we left our heads up and accept that everyone deserves a place in this country there will always be inequality, always be injustice, and always be riots because the quite majority, pursuing it’s own agenda, will leave a trail of mess that someone has to pick up. It might not be our jobs now, or our pensions, but it is our country. We are all going to suffer at the hands of these austerity cuts, politicians and bankers excepted, but why can’t we stand with the protesters? If we all stood together, youths, students, unions and everyone else, then no one would have to riot. But the majority of people in this country want to lie back and take the cuts and hope it won’t affect them. This is why when people complain there is such outrage – not because anyone disagrees with them – but because they worry the protests will make their lives worse.

So instead of condemning the young for feeling unrepresented and alienated, lets sort out our system. Yes, lets punish the perpetrators of injustice, but lets not get back in the bubble, but address what has caused these riots. Let us build something better and use this as an opportunity for Britain to say no the destruction of our education system, our health service, our unemployment services. Let us say no to a country where we are all so scared for our jobs that we don’t give the young any hope of getting a job themselves. Let us say ‘no,’ to social inequalities and ‘yes,’ to putting this country back together.

Harmann calls on the Government to “be on the side of opportunities for young people, and jobs for young people.” Let’s all be on the side of young people. Let’s punish the perpetrators of these riots, but not without forethought, and never forgetting that there are complex reasons for these kind of outbreaks that a quick prosecution can’t brush under the dirty carpet.

I would like to thank Doulas Hook for his wonderful images taken from Monday nights riots and for giving me permission to use them in this piece. More of Douglas’ work can be found on his blog at: http://hookphoto.blogspot.com/