NYT's London Reporter Suggests 'Cuts in Spending and Services' by Conservatives Led to Riots
Ravi Somaiya, reporter for the New York Times London bureau, suggested 'deep cuts in social services' on the part of the Conservative-led coalition government and "social deprivation" (whatever that means) may bear some blame for the riots and looting that wrecked neighborhoods in London.
Shops and flats were stormed and burned in the wake of a police shooting of a gang suspect in the London neighborhood of Tottentham. An online headline over his August 8 story found a familiar left-wing villain: 'Budget Cuts and Scorn for Police Seen Fueling London Riot.' (Photo from Luke Macgregor of Reuters.)
Somaiya kept to his benighted left-wing theme throughout his early coverage, even though the looters stole not basics like food but luxury items like smart phones and televisions, looting that was itself organized over social media via smart phone technology.
As London surveyed the damage on Sunday after a small anti-police demonstration spiraled into looting and violence that left 26 police officers injured and led to more than 160 arrests, many sought to cast the blame beyond the rioters themselves.
In Tottenham, the northern London neighborhood at the center of the rioting, residents spoke of twin perils that had converged to leave their streets scarred and smoldering on Sunday.
Frustration in this impoverished neighborhood, as in many others in Britain, has mounted as the government's austerity budget has forced deep cuts in social services. At the same time, a widely held disdain for law enforcement here, where a large Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for abuse, has only intensified through the drumbeat of scandal that has racked Scotland Yard in recent weeks and led to the resignation of the force's two top commanders.
Economic malaise and cuts in spending and services instituted by the Conservative-led government have been recurring flashpoints for months.
Speaking about clashes between disenfranchised youths and police, Graham Beech, the strategic development director for the crime reduction charity Nacro, said in a recent interview they could be rooted in 'a culture of enforcement,' which aimed to 'sweep these young people away as a problem.'
As the budget cuts take hold, risk of unemployment increases and social measures like youth projects are sacrificed, Mr. Beech said, and 'all logic says there will be an increase in antisocial behavior.'
'Boredom, alienation and isolation are going to be factors,' he added.
Somaiya, writing with John Burns, made the front page August 9 with 'Riots Continue to Rattle Britain in Worst Unrest in Two Decades."
After reporting that the rioting and looting were organized via Blackberry and other social media, Somaiya bizarrely turned around and claimed that the rioting was rooted in 'social deprivation' and 'deep cutbacks.' So how can they afford smart phones? Somaiya also wishfully assumed the Conservatives would be forced to expand the welfare state:
For a society already under severe economic strain, the rioting raised new questions about the political sustainability of the Cameron government's spending cuts, particularly the deep cutbacks in social programs. These have hit the country's poor especially hard, including large numbers of the minority youths who have been at the forefront of the unrest.
Together with the inevitable pressures to restore some of the spending cuts, Mr. Cameron and his colleagues have to confront the dark shadow that the rioting has cast on plans for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. That $15 billion extravaganza will have its centerpiece in a sprawling vista of new stadiums and an athletes' village that lie only miles from the neighborhoods where much of the violence in the last three days has taken place. With the Games set to begin in barely 12 months, Britain will have to satisfy Olympic officials that there is no major risk of the Games being disrupted, or ruined, by a replay of the rioting.
At one point, two priests entered the Pembury Road housing project in Hackney, the scene of some of the worst violence, to gain permission from rioters to allow an ambulance to take an injured elderly woman to safety. In Camden Town, a group of about 20 masked youths broke into a cellphone shop run by one of Britain's biggest operators, O2. Chanting 'O2, O2, O2,' they looted with extraordinary speed, to the sound of wailing alarms. Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner of Scotland Yard, appealed to people to help identify the rioters. He conceded, obliquely, that the unrest was at least partly rooted in social deprivation, saying there were 'conversations to be had' about grievances in London's most deprived neighborhoods, but said that could come only after the unrest had ended.
Appearing on the BBC, Somaiya described the reaction of U.S. newspapers to the riots with more left-wing jargon:
I think the word 'underclass' comes up quite a lot because it has a lot of resonance obviously with an American audience where there is similar income inequality.
- Clay Waters, TimesWatch