Sunday, 14 August 2011

I predict a riot..

..it would have been more prescient if I'd written that last Sunday wouldn't it?  Back to that in a minute.

I was torn about my subject matter this week.  This blog was initiated principally to chronicle four key events, and the preparation for them, for which I was going to seek sponsorship this year.  And yet regular readers will know it's covered more than that, albeit that most of the subject matter has resolved around athletic pursuits of one kind or another.

This week, however, there has been very little that feels blogworthy on that front.  Sure, me & Mrs K have had a very pleasant ride of 16 miles along the Middlewood Way this afternoon, one of those new footpaths and bridleways that sit where once there was a thriving railway line - the Macclesfield to Marple line in this case.  And yes, as threatened at the end of last week, I did get a long solo ride in - 83 miles in 4.5 hours yesterday.  Not quite as far as I might have done, but I did manage to simulate the effects of 'bonking' (depletion of glycogen stores for any non-cyclists; why on earth that word was chosen I don't know, but then again, from an etymological and chronological point of view I don't know for sure that it doesn't pre-date the more modern meaning) by not eating breakfast, and only taking 1 bottle of energy drink and 3 small cereal bars with me.  This clearly wasn't enough, and I crawled the last 10 miles home.  And there were indeed 3 deeply exciting turbo-trainer sessions earlier in the week as I get to within 10 days of leaving home to go and do some Pyrenean riding.  I've also continued the bike prep, with both the Pyrenees and the London-Paris mounts needing new chains, cassettes and bottom brackets.  My wallet winced.  Better safe than sorry though; whether in the mist of the midi-Pyrenees or the flatlands of the Pas de Calais, I really won't need a mechanical.

So yes, there was all that - and then there were the riots.  I'm not going to talk about them directly - there's been plenty of that too, and as the news media loves and needs stories to justify its existence, there's been no shortage of analysis, discussion and debate this week.   Which, frankly, has left me nearly as infuriated as the events themselves - for each individual out there rioting and looting, there's a different combination of factors at play, whether they be opportunity, anger, gang-influences, resentment of authority, a genuine sense of grievance, and probably dozens more.  But it's all too easy to identify the causes, as many have, and come up with instant, easy solutions.  In fact, it becomes a kind of media-entertainment to do so, made respectable by cloaking it with the label of 'analysis'.  It seems to me that a package of changes is necessary to change attitudes and behaviour, and it'll be some combination of those changes that act on each individual in a slightly different, but still positive way.

What really struck me this week was the final manifestation of the breakdown of the covenant that seems to have existed for some decades between the governing and what might loosely be called 'the middle class'.  This is absolutely not party political, as my sense this week was of a disbelief from those on all/both sides of the Right/Left divide that this should be allowed to happen.  It could be argued that for some decades the covenant that has existed has suited many in the middle, whether they be, as I say, broadly Left or Right-leaning.  That covenant was based on the one hand of the 'middle' allowing the governing classes (particularly Tory but Labour too over the last couple of decades) their wealth, their knighthoods, their cosy post-political career lordships, ladyships, quango positions or non-executive directorships.  In return, the Left broadly got a social democracy with the health service and welfare state (though not as strong a model as many Scandinavian countries), whilst the Right broadly got a market-based economy and average levels of taxation and interference in private lives in comparison to similar western states.  Both got law, order and, despite our deeply-ingrained British cynicism, a basic trust in those governing us, whether they be politicians, bankers, civil servants, police or healthcare professionals.

To me, it feels like we're all disappointed and shocked.  We've known for a while that politicians are 'in it for themselves', whether that be petty nest-lining like the expenses scandal, or the professionalisation of politics where power is the only end, where politicians have had no other meaningful career, and principle takes its place at the back of the stage.  The Left is disappointed, or at least it should be, for despite the significant increase in tax take as a proportion of national income that happened under the last government, our great institutions of healthcare and education manifestly lag their equivalents in many other western democracies.  The Right is disappointed, possibly for the same reason, but certainly because it feels that the welfare state is too big and government at all levels lacks humanity and empathy.  And both sides are disappointed, with both our futile foreign interventions (Afghanistan and Libya), our flawed bankers (and they are deeply flawed, believe me, as I saw the excesses of HBOS from the inside), and then, last week, the police, who clearly, manifestly, weakly, failed to prevent disorder and law-breaking.  Police by consent by all means, but primarily  with the consent of victims rather than law-breakers.  I actually heard one policeman comment (don't think it was Sir Hugh Orde, but what a prize ar$e that man is) "if we'd done things differently, a lot more people would have got hurt".  He was referring to the rioters.  Let me just see if I'd have minded.....  and as for Greater Manchester Police, they couldn't have had a clearer warning of what was about to happen if Frank Gallagher himself had turned up at Force HQ on Monday with a megaphone, shouting "it's all going to go off in Salford and the Arndale tomorrow".  And whether you want to choose the excesses of the BBC or the tripling of student fees, there are countless more examples of the middle Left and the middle Right feeling let down.

And where does that lead?  To revolution in many places, but we don't do those in the UK do we, so we'll probably just settle for a good grumble instead.  Which is what this has been....

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