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Yes, the middle classes are revolting, but I don’t predict a riot

February 25, 2009

Riot shields ready to dodge the flying quiches. Set tasers to stun those unemployed analysts. Truncheon the bourgeois materialists. They no longer matter. We’ve bled them dry.

Recently, The Guardian reported police warnings of a ’summer of hate.’ Sources of Intelligence (in short supply in the police) ‘indicate’ that middle class anger at economic turmoil will boil over into violent civil disobedience, including riots and, improbably, looting. David Cox, my favourite agent provocateur, helped set this hare racing a few weeks ago. The government, always on the lookout for a new focus of fear now that the War on Terror has been exposed as a chimaera, have been quick to agree that its them middle class troublemakers wot we orta look out for. Watch out for suspicious huddles at Yoga classes. Report your neighbour if he starts wearing a beret and buys fertiliser for the allotment- middle class people use organic methods – he’s making bombs. Allotments need more CCTV cameras, if they haven’t already got them as protection from ex-bankers, out to steal the artichokes, fennel, radiccio and rocket, subsistence fare in Islington’s salad days, now as precious as plutonium on a Jobseekers’ allowance. Vanguardistas are probably already mobilising pensioners and out-of-work estate agents using Guevera’s foco theory, inspired by the recent Che movies. Video shops should keep records of anyone who has recently rented the Baader Meinhof Complex. Che was middle class: he trained as a doctor. Those krauts were middle class. So was Karl Marx (and he wrote Das Kapital in London). Peter Kropotkin was not only middle class, his father was a farmer. You see? Impose lockdown on the allotments before it’s too late.

I would rather welcome a return to the days of The Angry Brigade – AKA the Stoke Newington Eight – our very British homegrown Baader Meinhof libertarian communist anarcho-syndicalist situationist claque. Hell of a name, brilliant logo. Their trial, one of the longest in British legal history, kept us scared for weeks. True, they were responsible for 25 bombings, of embassies, Government Ministers’ houses and the like, but in a very English way, only one person was slightly injured. Stuart Christie, one of the accused, naughtily attempted to assassinate Franco, not during the Spanish Civil War, when it was almost a gap year pastime for all good Americans and Eric Blair, but in the 1960s, when it wasn’t. Co-defendant Angela Mason was awarded an OBE in 1999. Stuart lives in Brighton, is a great publisher who deserves an OBE (for services to anarchy?) and free speech. He’s great value and a friend. (Security services take note).

It would make a novel change if the English middle classes stopped twittering about downsizing from Waitrose to Lidl (and clogging up the Aldi car parks with their Volvo estates) and turned to riot and misrule. All things being equal, the UK should join Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece and imminently several other countries in disorderly mass protests against the corruption, neglect and incompetence which has played a large part in Britain’s slide towards second world status. A hot summer, cheap supermarket beer, risible dole payments, no chance of a job, kids facing a hopeless future, enacted against the backdrop of an oppressive regime actively inpinging upon civil liberties misruled by an unelected gurning Scotsman displaying symptoms of paranoid delusion would tip the balance towards days of rage in most societies. But in England, I’m not so sure.

The English Middle Class ethos (not necessarily its individuals) is a powerful sedative to revolution. The English are proud of their ability to somehow muddle through, make do, to be sanguine in the face of adversity; to be shat upon, in fact. Their inherent and wholly unjustified sense of superiority to the rest of the world has enabled them to watch their living standards decline while pretending that Britain (meaning England) still calls the shots on the international stage. The present government has pandered to that inertia, enacting a death of a thousand tiny cuts on civil liberties, introducing a plethora of stealth taxes and authoritarian laws while helping a repressive neo-colonial US regime steal resources and impose democracy from 35,000 feet. It would be fun to see them loot the Fromagerie, set up bogus accounts with Johnny Boden and refuse to shout weedy encouragement to British tennis players at Wimbledon. But it’s unlikely that they will throw petrol bombs at riot police. They’d get caught on CCTV camera. Anyway, they’ll be spending their severance pay bothering the natives of Cornwall, Walberswick or Tuscany.

There is a possibility of prolonged civil unrest, but by rights it should come from the (literally) lumpenproletariat, know known as the underclass, who used to make and do things when it was fashionable for economists to recognise the need for a manufacturing economy. They used to have a Labour Party, but like everything else, it was stolen by the middle classes, who in turn were duped by a Confederacy of Dunces. They now watch daytime TV and are too fat to fight.

Britain had some heady moments in the 1980s under Saint Margaret Thatcher, beloved of both Blair and Brown. Brixton, Bristol, Toxteth, Manchester and Leeds saw terrifying race riots which led to change and some great songs and poems. The 1984 miner’s strike was the last hurrah of protest at an engineered change in the balance of worker rights. It achieved little – its leaders were stupid and corrupt – but the unions had some lovely banners. The 1990 Poll Tax riots, the largest ruck in London’s history, caused the downfall of the Iron Lady. But those were different times. 2 million people took to the streets of Britain in 2003 to protest against the Iraq war. The government ignored them. I predict a lot of hot air, a lot of excuses for increased surveillance and, hopefully, a series of co-ordinated acts of civil disobedience which will emphasise the need to change the personnel in Whitehall. But middle class riots? In England? Perish the thought. It’s about as likely as a public enquiry into Weapons of Mass Destruction, MPs expenses or use of torture on detainees.