Thatcher and Blair Caused the Riots 86

There is a shameless article by Blair in the Observer in which he says the riots were the fault of a very specific group of families, not of society in general. Society in general is jolly good, thanks to one T Blair. In fact, what could possibly be wrong with a society in which Blair has amassed £28 million to date? I love the bit where he says:

I agree totally with the criticisms of excess in pay and bonuses.

This from the man who gets payoffs from corporate America in $100,000 fees for a one hour lecture, then charges corporate executives $400 a pop to be photographed shaking hands with him. Blair agrees so much with criticism of excess pay and bonuses that he did absolutely nothing about it in three terms of office, and presided over the widest ever and still widening gap between rich and poor in this country.

I agree with Blair that we should not excuse individual responsibility for looting and should acknowledge exactly how undesirable and anti-social is the milieu of the rioters, and seek to eliminate that sub-culture. But we have also to understand what generated it, and eliminate those causes.

What caused it was not just poverty. There are plenty of decent poor people. A factor is indeed the deliberate destruction of UK manufacturing capacity on ideological grounds by Thatcher, an ideology carried through by Blair. But it was still more directly the deliberate destruction of social capital by Thatcherism and Blairism, its antipathy to any manifestation or instrument of horizontal social solidarity, and its manifest anti-intellectualism.

Through Thatcher and Blair, education, knowledge and intellectual analysis became valued only if they tended to economic productivity, not as goods in themselves. This attitude still permeates every ministerial statement on education.

The all-pervasive idea that economic productivity was the only good and material consumption the only purpose, relentlessly promoted in media and advertising, left no place for those who could not find a job to produce or funds to consume.

But what these alienated classes could pick up in full from Thatcherism and Blairism was the anti-intellectualism and the desire to consume. Thatcherism and Blairism inevitably produced an entire callous, desocialised and proto-criminal class. It was their inevitable consequence.

These are Thatcher’s and Blair’s riots.

A week ago I published this start on the process of designing a remedy to the social ills that Thatcherism and Blairism have brought:

There is an excellent article by Simon Hughes on response to the looting. He has in many ways the same position as me in seeking radical solutions to the malaise of our hugely unequal society, while in no way sympathising with criminal looters.

The direction of all of Hughes’ proposals is correct, but his proposed action does not go far enough and is not specific enough. In both public and private organisations, the earnings differential between the highest and lowest paid should be limited by law to a factor of four, including the effect of all non-salary perks and benefits. Hughes does not give specifics on his desire to limit this gap, but Will Hutton has been promoting a factor of ten in the public sector – that is far too wide an equality gap.

Similarly Hughes’ pious wish to promote worker partnership and cooperatives needs to be given concrete form by legislation forcing all companies to give truly significant – I am thinking around forty per cent – shareholdings to employees.

If Simon really wants to roll back the excesses of the last thirty years, then natural monopolies like the utilities companies and the railways need to be returned fully to public ownership. PFI should be discontinued and all PFI assets nationalised without compensation.

Housing Association properties should be taken over by local authorities as traditional council housing, and massive new public funded mixed home building programmes should be begun that include the demolition of the ghastly huge sink estates of sub-standard housing. That would help boost the economy out of recession.

Hughes’ diagnosis is correct. But the reversal of the incredible and dangerous expansion of the gulf between rich and poor requires truly radical use of the power of the state with measures along the lines of those above. Anything else is just tinkering.

There is of course much else, of which limiting banking transactions to the actual funding of purchase of property, goods and services, rather than gambling on future values of those things, is perhaps the most important.

But we must repudiate Blair’s assertion that there is little wrong with our society. One very good start would be to send Blair for war crimes trial at The Hague, to demonstrate to all that crime does not pay.

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86 thoughts on “Thatcher and Blair Caused the Riots

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  • John Goss

    Paul Johnston, I came across the Plug Riots today doing a search, but did not know about them before. It’s really the Tamworth riots, if they took place, which I’m interested in. I’ve set one scholar to work on it. It hardly seems feasible: prime minister’s house destroyed!

  • John Goss

    I read Engels’ “Conditions of the working Class in 1841” when I was at university, so your quote must be from a later publication. Is that right?

  • sjb

    Charles Crawford wrote: “What is happening to motivate Poles to travel from Katowice to work in Fleet Street, while some young people from Tottenham can’t be bothered to do the same?”

    Because the Poles may be used to living in “ghastly cramped conditions” (Soviet period flats) so living in similar accommodation is not a detriment for them. Furthermore, after a few years they have enough funds to return home and buy property, which is considerably less than £200k for a one bed flat.

    In the late 1970s, Brit computer workers used to live in compounds in Saudi because in two years they could earn (tax-free) enough to buy a detached property when they returned to Blighty.

  • craig Post author


    I have the same problem with you that I have with Jonah Green, much higher up in the comments, only he argues from the opposite side. I believe that the urban sub-culture which has emerged from Thatcherite and Blairite policy is despicable. I do not believe that people can escape culpability from criminal acts by citing social determinism. But nor do I believe that believing criminals should individually be punished is incompatible with seeking to remove social causes that increase criminality.

  • Anon

    “Nobody ever, ever, ever wins a war.”
    John Goss, you are wrong!, a few VERY rich people always end up a lot richer, they will end up with total control of the oil reserves of Libya, an enhanced geopolitical position to spread even more mayhem and control over more of the planets resources (well whats left of them). Why do you think we have wars!!!. As someone once said “There has never been a war fought that was not for the enrichment of the few”.

  • John Goss

    Anon, I understand what you write, but I am not wrong. Nobody ever wins a war. In human terms all are losers. You are judging it from a financial perspective. That is wrong.

  • Anon

    “You are judging it from a financial perspective. That is wrong.”
    I am not judging it from a “financial perspective”, I am stating it from a factual perspective.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Ruth,

    I do not see a rosy path ahead for Libya. You asked me:-

    I believe in the case of Libya that the agreement between the TNC and the UK is that the new government will pay for the cost of the war.”

    1. NATO is fundamentally out for oil, gold and water resources. Indeed the occupying forces will not only be stealing Libyan resources – but like Iraq – the pattern will be to set out to divert national funds as payment to the TNC ( I predict the will be at each others throats to steal as much as they can from sovereign Libyan resources – no honourable persons and true nationalists in that bunch).

    2. With the removal of Gadaffi – the problem will only just begin. If you want a template – have a look at Afghanistan and Iraq. A rag-tag Taliban has kept the greatest military forces in a losing situation for a decade. In Iraq – the country is destroyed; orphans in great numbers; depleted uranium and deformities as the legacy of the US invasion.

    Whatever pans out in Libya – I expect the following:-

    A. The US/NATO will double-cross the rebels ( I take this as a given) – and there will be on-going strife and a power struggle in that camp.

    B. The US/NATO are themselves not the brightest bulbs on the shelf. They are creating a power vacuum and don’t have any clear idea of any effective faction which will be able to govern post-Gadaffi. But, be very clear – “democracy” and “freedom” are just fig-leaves for the real goal of US/NATO theft of the money ( already well advanced with the seizure of sovereign Libyan funds); a grab for the gold bullion; a further criminal control over the water resources.

    C. You can accept that the CIA is very active. It is using the ones within the rebel factions that are being led to believe that they will be the post-Gadaffi leaders. Once the CIA double-cross starts to dawn on the ones in the factions craving power – the internal strife begins – while at the same time I expect a prolonged armed resistance from the Libyan people. One has to be clear that there are some Taliban fundamentalist types within this so-called rebel grouping. This, ironically are precisely the types of person who would not want women educated and advancing in society ( the converse of what Gadaffi has achieved in his regime).
    In this whole operation – being myself from the Caribbean – I see NATO and the US no more or less than bandits and pirates true to form – in the tradition of one of the most celebrated thieves in all of Caribbean and pirate history. Captain Henry Morgan, himself would be proud of the actions of the US and NATO in destroying and plundering Libya!
    But let us not ourselves resort to invective or inflammatory commentary – because as we all know – the US and NATO are advancing this “humanitarian bombing mission” in Libya for reasons of the love of the Libyan people; a true love of democracy; and a great desire for the liberation of liberation of Libya and the African continent ( read – re-colonising for plunder of resources).
    Aluta continua!

  • Jaded.

    Lamby – ‘Heh – anybody upset that Nato and the rebels are WINNING and that the Libyan people finally have a chance at freedom?’
    You really are a sick fook aren’t you? How many perished today then Lamby? The more the better for your sort i’ll warrant. Are the CIA/Mossad going to be doing any ‘suicide bombings’ in the aftermath or is Libya just going to click into place? It did make me laugh watching one of the biggest tyrants the world has ever seen, Obama (front man sure, but he took the job), waxing lyrical about Gaddafi’s tyranny. Gaddafi was indeed a tryant, but the Libyans were way better off with him until they could figure a better way forward. No chance of that now!

  • ingo

    The spectre of Al Quaeda in Libya is already being raised as the power brokers are starting to work on Libya’s future Government.
    So what will yugo and his ilk do with Blair’s lateste pal Ghaddaffi and his sons and his assets, confiscate all and throw them into jail?
    He was/is a tyrant and just because Europe’s interests go against that of oil addicts and pushers, just because Europe wants to include the Mahrgeb countries into a European energy network and invest 400 billion Euro’s into alternatives to oil,
    these NATO schmucks and Bibi backscratchers have been enticing Libyans to kill their fellow brothers.

    All you can do about is it froth at the mouth and wind up everyone.

    ‘Chance at freedom’ what? with your ilks interference and NATO bombs against one’s brothers and sisters? sick fcuking fruit indeed!

  • Robert Corfield

    What evidence is there that the actions of Blair and Thatcher caused the existence of this alienated underclass thus contributing to the riots?

  • Paul Johnston

    @John Goss
    No it is “The Conditions of the Working Class in England”
    In the section entitled “The Great Towns” just before it starts to describe Manchester in greater detail. I have a Panther Granada paperback edition from 1979 (Cost £1.25) and it is page 77.

  • eddie

    Craig I don’t think you have a problem with me, the problem is with yourself and the fact that you have played fast and loose on this topic. Jonah is correct – you have contradicted yourself. A week ago you said the riots were the product of a criminal underclass that you despise and there are no excuses etc etc. then Blair comes along and makes some eminently sensible comments and you decide that this criminal underclass is his creation. Anything to pin on him eh?. All of which ignores the tremendous progress that has been made in education, community relations and police/community relations over the past twenty years. l don’t think anyone would disagree with your last two paragraphs. But they are mere platitudes, not analysis.

  • Jon

    @Eddie: a number of commentators, including me, have recently disagreed with Craig regarding the kind of language he was using regarding the rioters. Some writing sounded rather reactionary – particularly “Policing Criminality” – which is of course not what (I think) this blog stands for. But if you look further back, say to “The Tottenham Dynamic”, you’ll find this:
    > On the other hand, it is impossible not to note that some of the key looting targets …
    > are themselves emblematic of our deep, dark social divide. That the looters come from a
    > deeply ignorant, viciously materialistic, educationless sub-culture that ought to be
    > despised, does not mean that the individuals themselves could never have been different,
    > given opportunities they did not have. It is not to sympathise with the actions of the
    > vicious, to ask how we created them in such numbers.
    So your view that Craig isn’t interested in root social causes is demonstrably wrong, right from the start of the riots. Most readers I suspect would not be here if Craig had metamorphosed into Charles Crawford! 😉
    But I wonder that, if the charge that Blair gets blamed for everything by anti-war liberals should be taken seriously, then so should the suggestion that Blair’s supporters will defend him at any cost. We could, I suppose, say “Anything to avoid holding him responsible for his wrongdoing, eh?” and call it sensible debate, for all it achieves!
    But the charge that Blair oversaw a large increase in income equality is perfectly true – not seriously disputed as far as I am aware – and it does need to be addressed. It is a legitimate political position to be comfortable with a growing income gap, but if that applies to you then you should say so, and perhaps say why too. Me, I subscribe to the thesis of The Spirit Level – that there is statistical evidence to show that extremes of wealth in a single society is psychologically harmful and fosters discontent. I contend that Blair did nothing about it because he was an intellectual disciple of Thatcher who approved of minimal society and maximum corporate freedom. Or perhaps he was too in awe of Murdoch to build a policy platform that would have been genuinely in the interests of the labour class. In the same vein, he may have concentrated on the media definition of “being electable” that he threw out most of what the Labour party ought to have stood for.
    So, yes, Blair is responsible. But not solely – he stands in the tradition of neoconservatives like Thatcher and Reagan who precipitated the unchecked race to the bottom (for ordinary people) and the concentration of wealth at the top (R. Murdoch, T. Blair, P. Mandelson etc.). How New Labour can have generated a super-wealthy class of ex-cabinet bods and still have supporters who’ve not torn up their membership cards quite eludes me, it really does.

  • John Goss

    @Paul Johnston. I read the Conditions of the Working Class in England at university. I considered it a very-well written account of how poverty had been created by greed and capitalism. I recall a large pool of unemployed men, one of whom was sat at home darning his socks when visited by a friend. He began weeping because he thought it was a shameful thing for a man to have to do. But the most striking revelation was that of women at the looms whose pinafores were wet with milk, while their babies were fed laudanum at home to stop them crying for the milk they should have been getting. It was capitalism at its worst.

  • Jon

    On a wider point – and not particularly about Blair – a demonstration that crime does not pay would be excellent, and one I am sure you Eddie would agree with.
    A recovery from the banks of the costs of the economic damage they have wrought would be excellent; it could fund some hugely improved public services that would reduce the conditions that foment unrest and dissatisfaction. Similarly, widespread tax avoidance in Britain – with the assistance of some parts of the Inland Revenue – should be reversed. Vodaphone should be made to pay every penny they owe – the scroungers! – and the success of bringing them to book should be widely publicised.

  • Jan Wikund

    It is apparently very hard for some guys to keep two thoughts in their heads simultaneously – that we are responsible for our own actions, and that there are social laws determining averages. It is still harder for them to let in a third – that social laws are tinkerable. And some of these guys are educated people, not half-illiterate drop-outs like the rioters!

  • Roderick Russell

    @ Guest – Indeed they have had a lot of help. The problem is that, as Burke pointed out, a functioning society is dependent on the quality of its institutions; in recent decades our institutions seem to have lost their integrity and their professionalism to the extent that propaganda/spin has replaced truth. This is the comment I was trying to make on this thread on August 21 above.
    Take the City. – They have shown a remarkable capability for passing risk onto the taxpayer while keeping profits for themselves. As Wall Street Guru, Mr. John C. Bogle, put it in his recent book “Enough” with reference to Wall Street – “The clients of banking firms have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in the risky debt obligations that the banks created … yet most investment banking executives continue to be paid at astonishingly high levels”. And he goes on to question the costs of raising money saying this – “The financial industry is not only the largest sector of our economy; it is also the only industry in which customers don’t come anywhere near getting what they pay for”. Fortune Magazine named Mr. Bogle as one of the 4 investment giants of the 20th century – so he knows what he is talking about.
    And then there are questions about the real independence of the mainstream media; an institution absolutely essential for a democracy to function. It’s clear that the MSM is sometimes manipulated so that it can be difficult to separate propaganda from the truth. Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency has a specialized unit “I/OPS” just for this purpose. Intelligence agencies should have no business interfering with the MSM in a democracy. Indeed Mr. David Leigh of the Guardian wrote, “Journalists are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies”. The well-known London-publicist Max Clifford was quoted in another Guardian article as saying – “I censor things as well … for every story I break I stop a dozen”.
    It is not unreasonable to conclude that something has gone wrong professionally with large chunks of the financial services sector and of the MSM. And indeed as my own story demonstrates, something has also gone wrong with the very institutions responsible for our law and security that should be protecting us.

  • Guest

    Roderick Russell, that is the most worrying aspect of it, so MANY people in positions of power are flaunting their criminality, as if it were to be the norm, to be expected, people who are honest and truthful are considered the losers in life. A sorry state to be brought into, we will all end up the losers in the end.

  • Slave

    Hold on.

    Which violent , criminal , murdering looters are you talking about here ?

    The corporate banks , who took trillions of my money and yours ?

    The oil corps who are stealing everybody elses oil ?

    The ‘brotherhood’ who are raping and pillaging the whole planet ?

    The corporate , masonic whores who are our unelected , unrepresentive ‘government ?

    NATO fascists who have paid a bunch of terrorist , extremist mercenaries to slaughter Libyans ?

    Banki da Mooney and the UN that rubber-stamps crimes against humanity and lends them the air of respectability and moral justification ?

    In actual fact , all of the above are directly controled by that certain , secret cult which is synonymous with satanism and pedophilia/ritual child murder.

    But of course , thats just a “conspiracy theory” and I am sure you wouldn’t want to publish such nonsense.

    PS. How do you stop fascists such as these ?

    I think we all know the answer to that. But none would dare say it aloud.

    Hope you read this , even if you dont publish.

  • Jon

    @Eddie, I should love to read a response. Of late I have been making considered (and sometimes lengthy) replies, only to find it is then left dangling in the wind. I sometimes think my genius is wasted 😉

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