The riots of this summer have had no shortage of comment with the majority of mainstream media offering little in terms of insight by merely fiercely denouncing the perpetrators without posing the simple question- why? (SevenStreets offered its own interpretation).
With this in mind it was with curiosity that many ventured to Edge Hill University’s Ormskirk campus to take in the views of Owen Jones. The author of ‘Chavs’ had been a regular presence on news channels during the disorder and was held up as a key dissenting voice to the pervasive attitudes.
During those days in August I recall feeling at a loss to reason why rioting had come to Liverpool. Surely it couldn’t have been a reaction to the shooting of Mark Duggan, a man resident some two hundred miles away? Themes of frustration, anger and poor relations with the police were well voiced so I was looking for someone to tie all this together and, perhaps a touch ambitious, give some hope for avoiding a repeat.
With the lecture theatre poorly signposted it was after the 6.30pm start time that many arrived but Jones had seemingly just warmed up ten minutes or so in. Speaking to an audience mainly made up of students and head nodding liberals – exceptions were found during the Q&A – the main challenge was to present his views clearly rather than win over doubters.
Most of the discourse was on the social factors that prompted young people, vast majority male, to reek such havoc. Themes of disenfranchisement and broken communities were continually referred to in a clear delivery aided by his obvious frustration at the decline of working class opportunity.
All too briefly did he take the talk towards the themes of our consumerist society, little mention of why the looting was concentrated on shops selling clothes and shoes.
Perhaps an hour was not long enough to engage the audience on themes of materialism and how it leaves people feeling compelled to wear the right brand of clothing. This would have required a much broader spectrum to lecture on and Jones clearly felt it easier to stick to simple themes of class and, later on, Conservative bashing.
It was apparent that the bulk of research had been conducted in London so for those interested in answers about why Liverpool saw rioting were left disappointed. Of course many of the factors mentioned were easy to apply to any cities but speaking in the North West may have prompted more analysis of Manchester and Liverpool.
Opinions that strayed from the speaker’s views were brushed aside as anecdotal evidence of people interviewed in the capital was presented as the ambigious answer to those trying to find some clarity.
Leaving the lecture there was a bustling murmur of debate and further conversation which is credit to the skill of Jones’ delivery and his admission that the subject needs far more research, particularly on why certain areas saw petrol bombs and burnt out cars whilst others didn’t.
Personally I headed home with more questions than answers as, despite a thorough analysis of certain factors, there was a disappointing lack of depth. The evening, far from providing some tangible explanation, proved that there are no easy conclusions to draw; however impassioned the efforts of the speaker were.
This was lecture two in a series of (In)Security, Surveillance and the State lectures at the university. Details of further events can be found here