Magazine article The Spectator

Out on the Town

Magazine article The Spectator

Out on the Town

Article excerpt

Harriet Sergeant Riot City: Protest and Rebellion in the Capital by Clive Bloom Palgrave Macmillan, £9.99, pp. 162, ISBN 9781137029355 In the middle of last summer's riots, Mash, a member of a South London gang I have befriended, phoned me. He was standing outside a shop that was being looted. 'It's the funniest thing, Harry man, ' he declared.

'This day I can go anywhere in London and there is no beef.' Mash is usually confined by gang rivalry to a few streets around his estate. More astonishing even than the opportunity to loot was mixing with other young men without fear of being stabbed or shot. For the majority of Londoners like me, the riots proved terrifying. For Mash, it was the first time he had felt safe in his city.

In his new book, Clive Bloom describes last year's riots as a carnival for the disinherited. For those who think the events of last summer a new and shocking departure, Bloom is reassuring. Riots have littered London's history. Indeed a chronology at the back sets in context protest and rebellion in the capital. He makes interesting points on 21st-century protest too - if cliches like 'the police are still the active agents of state repression' do not have you giving up in disgust.

For protest has moved on. Political power today is as much an illusion to the middle classes as to young men like Mash.

For those who do vote, 'their votes seem to evaporate as government is formed' and their protests, such as the Countryside Alliance, end in 'abject failure'. Instead the successful protester now uses social media, corporate jargon, staged events, entertain-ment and 'carnivalesque situations' to disarm

authority and spread the message.

To confuse increased monitoring by the

state, they revel in anonymity. 'Put on a

mask and say, "We are not going to be

famous," ', declare today's protesters. These

virtual communities of tweets and blogs

come together at festivals, demos, the student

riots of 2010 and the flash mobs of last

summer to outsmart authority.

For in the last two events, authority

embarrassingly lost control to youth --

youth of different classes but essentially

young people short-changed by the Baby

Boom generation. 'Where's my future?',

one student banner poignantly asked on

10 November 2010.

Despite being sold as a 'comprehensive

analysis', the book is less engrossing when

it moves on to last summer's riots. …

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