Monday, 22 August 2011

Back to Tottenham

I'm back after two weeks away. It's a surreal experience to watch your own high street go up in flames on foreign television. And then to have your neighbourhood dissected online  by quasi-anthropologists. Or see royalty  visiting the area as if it was some sort of colonial outpost hit by a natural disaster.

It's also infuriating to follow the subsequent debates online - from the 'bring in the army' cries of an almost fascist horrified middle class, to the predictably infantile cries of 'turn riot into revolution' from the usual suspects on the opportunist ultra-Left.

I wasn't there at the time so I'm not going to shine any light on the specific causation of the riot on 5th August. Nor am I going to ride the band wagon of local 'experts' who seem to have created a cottage industry out of sharing their own experience of life in this corner of North London. But I have lived in Tottenham for 23 years and so I think I am entitled to put in my personal two-pennyworth:

I moved here in 1988 when I bought my first flat just outside of the Broadwater Farm estate. You could say that it was a cynical move - at the height of the housing boom and in the wake of the previous riot this was one of the cheapest post codes in London. I have since moved around the area  but I have always stayed in Tottenham  - and  I have come to regard it as home. A place I just don't recognise as the gangsta-ghetto characterised lately in the media. In these 23 years I have seen governments come and go, and with them recessions and booms - but for Tottenham not much seems to have changed. For better or worse we have remained immune from the gentrification that has affected neighbouring areas. It remains what it was when I first got here; a community that defies stereotypes by being well integrated and doing it's best to make its way in some pretty shitty circumstances. 

Circumstances where - to use the post-Blairite lingo -  'life chances' only seem to get worse. Which is why -  putting aside the specifics of whatever catalysts triggered the events of 5th August - anyone who cannot see the causal link between social deprivation and riots must have their heads so far up their middle-England arses that they cannot see the wood for trees. Or maybe it was just because I was out of the country that I missed the coverage of the riots in Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells. 

One parting thought though - and a disturbing one for a socialist parent: Back in the 80's the riots were about social deprivation viewed through the lens of race. This time around it seems to be through the lens of a generation gap. That's not to say that the police have stopped being racist  - but in particular now there is a generation under 25 who see no place for themselves in our community. I think a 'disconnect' is the correct pop-sociology expression.  A generation that is  spoon-fed a dose of spurious education to arm them with bullshit vocational qualifications for jobs that don't exist, or if they do are over-subscribed at a rate of 50 to 1. And most of these are future-less low grade / low pay service and retail opportunities. For a minority an academic route  out might be possible. But if successful that will generally  mean either working or living away from the community. No more EMA and ever-rising tuition fees mean that the odds for that option are rapidly reducing too. 

However I promise that any resemblance to anything Tony Blair said this weekend is purely superficial ...

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