A Scottish expat living in Canada asked me about the UK riots the other day, when I was playing an online game of draughts or checkers (the name varies according to which side of the Atlantic you hail from). They dropped the subject when they found out that I was living in Florida nowadays. The joke is that I know as much about the riots now, as a British expat, as I probably would have done living in Britain. Because of the internet, my news sources regarding the riots in the UK are exactly the same here in the USA as they were in the UK, mainly the BBC and The Guardian online (although I can also get pretty much get any US or UK tv channel or newspaper over the internet).
I have lived in numerous places in the UK, but spent much of my adult years in the Leeds area, which strangely enough, was largely unaffected by the UK riots. I say strangely because Leeds is a big city with some very rough areas and bleak housing estates. The Chapeltown area, which I know well, rioted back in the 1980s riots, but there was relatively little trouble there this time around. I have lived, or spent quite a bit of time in some of the English inner city areas that were affected, however, including Dalston in London, Manchester in the North, and Leicester in the Midlands.
I must admit that I wasn’t surprised that there was rioting in the UK. The sudden drop in living standards caused by the recession was likely to spark trouble at some point. Plus, for some reason, there often tends to be more disorder when the Conservatives are in power (although that may well be because they are usually voted into power at times of economic struggle). But like most people, I was shocked by the form that the riots took, with mobs of amoral underclass youths looting at will. It seemed almost medieval in character. I’ve heard the UK riots described as ‘shopping with violence’, and it seems difficult to disagree with that assessment.
Everybody looks into the smouldering ashes of the burnt out shops and cars and sees what they want to see at the end of the day and I am probably no different, but here is my take: In recent times, the UK seems to have lurched from crisis to crisis: the MPs’ expenses scandal, the police getting bribes from the News of the World, bankers awarding themselves massive bonuses despite being kept afloat by huge public bailouts, and now the inner city riots... I am on the centre left politically, but strangely enough I found myself agreeing with an article in the (conservative) Daily Telegraph, namely that:
“The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.”
Over here in the US, the problems are no better, but they take a different form, with political polarization virtually paralyzing the government and all the cross party consensus of previous years seeming to evaporate in the new, vitriolic atmosphere.
The world is not in a good place at the moment.
An American expat in the UK talks about her experience of living in the capital during the London riots in the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/8697385/Expat-in-London-my-fear-during-the-riots-gave-way-to-pride.html