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“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony” are the words that we’ve heard on repeat for the last couple of weeks since the loss of Britain’s longest reigning Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. However much we may decide to respect or loathe her for the changes that she made to the country, I think we can all agree that harmony was something she did not achieve. From unemployment to poll tax, the Iron Lady divided the country and her policies caused riots on a scale we may never see again . However, the tuition fee riots and the London looting back in 2011 do perhaps prove that we are falling into this riot culture once again, not to mention the death parties that have been going on up and down the country. It truly pains me to see Britain’s people acting this way especially when most of the time it comes to nothing but destruction and wasted anger. Then again, we do have the right to freedom of expression and it’s no surprise especially during Thatcher’s time of destroying unions that people got so overly emotional. So where is the line between progressive protesting and anarchistic rioting?
Even before the extensive division that grew out of the ruthless rule of Thatcher, anarchy is something that has always existed. The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 and Bloody Sunday in Ireland are just some examples of disorder that preceded Thatcher, but it was when she stepped through the door of number ten that society seemed to spiral out of control. The first act of anarchy under her leadership erupted in Brixton in 1981 along with similar events emerging in Toxteth and Moss Side, all areas that had been heavily affected by mass unemployment. In Brixton, police cars were pelted with bricks, buildings were destroyed and hundreds of people were left seriously injured. Unfortunately, all the energy that was put into destroying people’s lives and the country meant nothing and the events ended in those chilling words, “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
But nor were the public going to stop these obscene acts of protest. The influence of Brixton continued right through the 1980s into the miners’ strike of 1984 which turned a whole workforce against Thatcher forever. The latter end of her second term in office seemed quite calm, but it never lasted through her third term which gave birth to the poll tax riots where everyone was forced to pay the same amount of tax whatever job they were in. Britain had never seen such a succession of disorder and it was hoped that once Maggie was kicked out by her own party in 1990, this riotous culture would begin to calm down, especially as it was a decade that proved such behaviour would never work in your favour even if you did set off a bomb to kill the Prime Minister in the Grand Hotel in Brighton.
There are several explanations for why voices were not heard in the 1980s. The first would be how Thatcher thrived off conflict and probably got some kicks out of seeing people disagree with her so much. Another reason would be the inability of the police to control the destructive behaviour. If the police had not been so outnumbered and more organised, the riots may not have got so out of hand. Whether Thatcher’s ideas were outrageous or not, there must have been a way to peacefully and intelligently protest against her, without seeing the country fall to bits. Since Thatcher’s reign, you’d think Britain would’ve learnt to act more harmoniously in their protests to ensure that they were heard and respected.
Unfortunately this is not the case. The 1990s saw uprisings occur in Bradford and Brixton – once again mainly in relation to racial issues – and today we have seen thousands involved in the riots against rising tuition fees and the dreadful looting and arson that happened in London and Manchester in 2011. This event was the worst civil unrest Britain had seen since the beginning of Thatcher’s reign and so I think this is where Britain needs to bring in that question of where that line is between peaceful protesting and destructive rioting. The London and Manchester riots were on the scale of the Brixton ones, with hundreds fearing for their lives as the police became heavily outnumbered and I still fail to understand quite what this riot was trying to prove. That social networking and violent behaviour can win over the police force? Wrong. With the country’s cities in flames and clear lack of control over the looters, the police will surely only find way to come back stronger next time after being attacked by the powerful force of social networking. If this mass protest had been organised more intelligently, the police may actually have been out-witted and listened to the people who believed the shooting of Mark Duggan (allegedly the incident that started the riots) in Tottenham was representative of institutional racism in the police force. The scale of this destruction is not a protest; it is a riot that proves nothing but how disgustingly indecent humans can get if given the opportunity.
Based on this event and the death parties for Thatcher across the country, I started to lose faith in humanity and our ability to work together as a society. There seems to be an obsession of risking people’s lives to prove a point about the world we live in. Whether those points are right or wrong, nothing is worth putting people’s lives on the line. The fact that people have been celebrating the death of a person no matter what you thought of them is shameful and it’s embarrassing how low the country seems to have stooped in recent years. However, my faith was slightly restored after reading a story about a woman who politely called up the police to ask if she and a group of people could protest against Thatcher ideals and the cost of her funeral. The police allowed it, which really shows that freedom of expression is possible and does not have to cause trouble for the police. Although I cannot bring myself to join in with any celebration of her death for various reasons, I do respect anyone who was peaceful about their views on the matter.
I hope this act of decency will push others who have smashed windows and kicked people’s ribs in to have a word with themselves and really think about what they are showing to people when they display such ignorance of human life. Rioting is unacceptable and a culture that will never gain us any respect. However, I will keep my faith in believing that we are capable of peaceful and creative protesting that gets our views across without causing the destruction that no one deserves.