The Annual Student Toss

As the new student season approaches all the big city universities are preparing for the influx of Freshers. Looking out of my office window, which overlooks the main road that runs through the student village, I can’t help but look forward to the Annual Student Toss.

The Annual Student Toss isn’t a game played by rugby boys to see who can shoot their load the furthest, nor is it a variation on Soggy Biscuit (I still can’t believe all those dirty old middle aged mum’s in my office actually know what that is!) The Annual Student Toss is a spectacle that only those who have a view of a main road where drunken students stagger from their accommodation to and from the clubs and bars in the city, will get to see. I am fortunate enough to be one of those people who at least 3 or 4 times a year hear that dull thud that tells me the games are underway.

The townspeople of Guadalupe, Chihuahua celebrate Rosario Ibanez’ acceptance into Manchester University by preparing her for the AST

The rules of the AST are simple – students pit their wits against traffic as they attempt the perilous journey from one side of the road to the other without getting knocked ten foot in the air by an oncoming vehicle they have somehow failed to notice. From what I gather, before crossing the road the competitor must first hinder themselves with a handicap. Handicaps vary from reckless vagueness to utter stupidity. Excessive consumption of alcohol and/or drugs whilst munching on a kebab is popular, as is confounding the senses by listening to music through an i-something, walking blindly into the road whilst texting or BBing or talking on a mobile phone is very common, but my personal favourite is The Trouser Shuffle, which involves the competitor struggling to walk whilst attempting to pull up a pair of pants that they have deliberately worn with a loose belt so that they hang down around their knees and show off their arse – priceless. If you’re really lucky you may get a combination hit – drunken student texting mates whilst eating a kebab and struggling with pants before being propelled ten foot into the air with a look of utter shock, horror and bemusement is rare but comic gold.

High flying business student Giles Faulkner-Bebbington scored a perfect ’10’ with his record breaking 32 metre toss off the front of a Range Rover. His economics professor told worried family members in hospital “Don’t worry, this kid will go far”.

The common denominator with all of these students is that for some reason they believe that a busy high street is actually a pedestrian plaza where you can stroll along nonchalantly without paying any attention to what is going on around you. You would have thought the absence of a fountain, statue, green space, or flocks of mutated pigeons eating discarded fast food was a give away. For me, just the fact that vehicles are continually driving up and down this elongated ‘plaza’ would have made me think “Hmm, this is actually a road, I better take care before I get hit by a ton and half of Mini Cooper.”

Although not quite on a par with The Hunger Games or The Running Man, this does seem a pretty sadistic spectator sport, but I am genuinely glad to say there have been no fatalities so far… Actually that can’t be true because there are speed cameras on the high street. Anybody who has done a speed awareness course will know that those big yellow money spinners come at a cost of three dead people a pop. Well all I can say is that there have been no fatalities on my watch… Yet.

Stop, look, listen – I mean how hard can it be!?

Now many of you have probably misjudged me as some sicko who enjoys seeing people get hurt; not so. First of all, most of these people don’t get that hurt because they are so drunk they are numb. Secondly, as wrong as it is, everybody enjoys seeing someone have a semi-painful accident… don’t they? Whether it’s right or wrong, seeing somebody trip up, fall over, walk into a post or get taken by surprise and hit by a car is just funny. I don’t know why. Maybe Jeremy Beadle and the makers of Jackass and Wipeout have the answer. There’s also something quite satisfying about the idea that the future masters of industry, lawyers and doctors – the brightest young things getting the best education that mummy and daddy can buy so that they can grow up and be well-paid arrogant smug pricks – can’t even negotiate a fucking road properly. I mean how can you get into a top university but not be capable of passing the test required to join The Tufty Club?

However, that said, road traffic accidents are no laughing matter – but in this instance I just can’t help it. So this year I think I’m going to appeal to the students on their level in a bid to prevent more accidents of this kind. I therefore intend on putting on a student night called ‘Roadkill’. Everyone has to dress up as a member of the Tufty Club and the bouncers will all have to dress up as Green Cross Code men. Everyone who buys a ticket will get a free green vodka sambuca shot and a condom with the message ‘THINK, STOP, WAIT UNTIL ITS SAFE’ printed on them. Proceeds from the night will go toward resurrecting the Tufty Club in universities across the country. It may seem an irresponsible idea because everyone will get drunk and it’s very likely someone will get hit by a car on the way back to their student digs. However, I’m sure that for those that make it back to shelter safely, the message of road safety will penetrate with good effect and get hammered home.

He Said, She Said

I realise that my last couple of posts were a little bit sentimental and serious – I don’t know what’s come over me! Anyway, here’s a bittersweet tale of modern love to ease me back into the sublime, ridiculousness I intend on returning to… Enjoy.

‘It isn’t my fault!’ He said;

‘No, it never is.’ She said;

‘Oh, fuck off!’ was his return;

Louise said nothing; she didn’t have to. This was the part of the script that she always wrote and she knew the lines off-by-heart. It was just a matter of how long Jamie could resist predictability.

‘Did you book them?’ she asked.

‘Huh?’ Jamie smoked weed and wasn’t always dependable.

‘The tickets– you know? Did you sort them out?’

He could have remembered – he would have remembered – but she didn’t trust him.

‘Did I sort them out?! For the Weekender you mean?’

‘Yes’, she said.

‘O-oh, was this one of her oh-so-rare cock-ups?’ he thought;

‘You said you’d do it whilst I was gone. Didn’t you?’

‘“Didn’t you?” – Was she questioning herself here? Yes she was! She’s forgotten to get the tickets’ Jamie sensed a victory; ‘She’s not gonna twist this one around; No way’. He curbed his enthusiasm, placed his splif in its groove in the ashtray and braced himself to take command;

‘Babe; you said you’d do it on the way through town, I distinctly remember you saying that’; he tells her.

‘Yeah, but you said; “Don’t bother Babe, I’ll do it on the internet whilst you’re away”…’

‘Yes…’ Jamie interrupts – mustn’t loose his flow or get distracted… ‘…because I didn’t want you rushing to get to the station. But you said, “No, it’s alright, it’s on the way, it won’t take a minute…”’

‘Yeah but…’ She attempts an interception; – Not today – Jamie parry’s…

‘…YOU ALSO; – said – that I’d probably forget, so it’d be better if you did it; – Remember Babe? Remember when you said that? – ‘Smart bitch – I smoke weed, what’s your excuse?’ he thought.

She paused (she hated being called ‘Babe’ – but that wasn’t why she paused. She paused because for once she was losing and she needed the time-out to re-strategise).

‘So you didn’t get the tickets then, is that it?’ She said.

‘I didn’t get the tickets! I didn’t get the tickets! – Babe, you were supposed to get the tickets. Don’t try and put this one on me’; He had her this time. – Or did he?

‘Look, I’m not going to have a row about it. It’s always the same thing – I said, you said…’

‘…No no no – not this time…’

‘…Jamie, you do it all the time! You smoke a joint, get all confused and swear it was me.’

Despite his best efforts, Jamie was getting confused. He tried hard to remember whether he was right or not – and it was that moment of doubt that threw him off. He snatched the splif out of the ashtray and lit it, frowning hard in concentration.

‘No, Babe. Not this time – this isn’t my fault.’

‘It doesn’t matter…’

‘…It isn’t my fault! You said…’

‘…Jamie it doesn’t matter…’

‘…Yes it does! You always blame me – and you’re usually right, – but this time you’re not’

‘Look, just forget it. I’ll go on the internet and book them now, okay?’

‘It isn’t my fault!’

‘It never is’, she mutters under her breath.

‘Oh fuck off,’ he mutters under his.

Behind the glazed look on Jamie’s face he was seething with frustration. He was three-nil up at half time with everything going in his favour. Now, with the final whistle about to be blown she had managed to equalize – ‘Aaaaaaggh – the bitch!’ he thought, as his metaphor dragged its team off the pitch, arguing with the referee and bickering with each other as they walked down the tunnel past the disappointed fans and into the dressing room.

As Jamie leaves the room Louise smiles.

Jamie and Louise had been together for almost three years. They had come together via the archetypal 21st century mating ritual  –  bar, alcohol, sex, more sex, followed by getting to know each other. Whilst they were having fun, the time flew and weeks become months. The months became a year and when parental emigration made Jamie homeless, Louise let him move in.

Louise was a team leader peddling customer deflection and corporate tricks in a call centre. Jamie peddled classic vinyl in a second hand record shop. She was all assertiveness, management strategy and office politics. He was the ‘Er?’ in Slacker. She had never gone to University but had worked her way up into mid-management by the age of twenty-five. He had got a 2:2 in Art History after spending three years getting stoned to the soundtrack of rare grooves and electronica. She hadn’t had a boyfriend in almost three years. He hadn’t even noticed the last three years. On the surface Louise and Jamie couldn’t be more different; but in some perverse way they complimented each other.

Fate had brought them together on an end-of-month Friday night.  Their regular venue closed for refurbishment, Louise and her work colleagues had found themselves on the opposite side of town in a student bar that was having a promotional vodka night. Jamie was usually the resident DJ at ‘Carbon’, but that night he had taken off to take advantage of the free drinks, never expecting to take advantage of Louise too, who had quite frankly drank enough to be anybody’s; Not that she wasn’t attractive or that Jamie wasn’t desirable. Despite his lack of physical definition Jamie was quite a good-looking guy in a metro-sexual, floppy haired kind of way. He had the face of a young Mick Jagger and an unlikely style made attractive by the celebrity of Jarvis Cocker and Russell Brand, but now a de rigueur image in pop-culture. Although an unremarkable looking woman, Louise had legendary breasts and a well-presented cleavage – quite irresistible for any straight man to look at without at least a mild throb of enthusiasm. She had a stern look but not a stern face, but it was only when she was relaxed and dropped her guard that you would notice the difference. Blonde hair, hazel eyes and a body that Rubens would have called beautiful, but ‘Hello’ magazine wouldn’t have; she was a fuller woman no doubt.

The romantic details of how they met they will probably never remember. The alcohol, fuelled sex of that night they couldn’t forget and frequently repeated. Those prurient pleasures probably carried them through the first year, but there was more to it than a great pair of tits and a good shag. Despite their obvious differences, they did sort of… complete, each other.

She may have worked hard and done well, but she had few friends and knew her profession was soulless. Despite her organised, confident, persona, at least twice a week she would cry to herself in her lonely two-bedroomed designer apartment in the city centre. She would cry because she was overweight and lonely.

Jamie wouldn’t have smoked so much if he didn’t want to blur the edges of his underachievement and numb his feelings of insecurity. He would have loved to buy new things and live on an income rather than an overdraft, but he knew you needed drive and ambition to do that. You needed to take responsibility and make plans, and those were things that terrified him.

As individuals Jamie and Lou disliked themselves. As a couple they at least loved each other, sort of. So their relationship worked; sort of.

Louise booked the tickets then asked Jamie if he fancied eating out, as a sort of peace offering. He’d live off beans on toast if he had to, but she knew how much he liked a good meal;

‘So where do you want to eat then?’ she said.

‘I’m not arsed, whatever.’ he said.

‘Why can’t he ever make a decision?’ she thought.

‘McDonalds then?’ was her return

‘McDonalds!?’

‘Well you said you’re not arsed.’ She said.

‘Yeah but I don’t want McDonalds’

‘Then try making a decision then, dickhead,’ she thought to herself. Jamie did this whenever they would go to eat – go anywhere. He’d never commit to making the choice but be the first to complain if it wasn’t the right one.

‘Well what do you want to eat then?’ she said.

‘I’m not bothered, you decide.’ He replied (surprise, surprise).

‘I always decide and then you moan when we get there – “It’s too expensive, it’s too snobby, they don’t have anything you like, the menu’s foreign…”’

‘Alright, alright! – Turkish; That’s what I want.’

Louise was surprised. Was this a trick? ‘Okay, Turkish it is.’, she said.

‘Then, I think we should go out for a drink and a bit of a dance’ he continued, ‘It’s Friday, I’m not in work tomorrow, we’ll get pissed on cheap Vodka’s, stagger home and…’ As he went on to tell her what they were going to do that night, Louise felt warm and happy and very much in love with her skinny, little, layabout, boyfriend who worked in a record shop, smoked too much weed and knew how to rub her up the wrong way; and the right way.

Team GB – From Riots to Victory We’re All In This Together

Olympic Park London 2012

Olympic Park London 2012 (Photo credit: williamsdb)

There is a starkly, contrasting, parallel between the riots that rocked and shocked the nation last summer, and the superb performances of our competitors at London 2012. During the Olympics we have seen dozens of inspired, young people in Team GB who have shown the motivation to work hard to achieve pride and glory for the nation they represent. Last year we saw hundreds of ignorant, young people from that same nation feeling devoid of prospects and disenfranchised with the wider society, rampage throughout their towns and cities in a destructive free for all. If rioting had’ve been an Olympic sport we may have had a chance of even more medal glory! But how can these two groups of people be so different in their beliefs, dreams and ideals?

Whilst the Olympics and the riots seem diametrically opposed, as a nation we are, as Cameron says, “All in this together”, so whether we like it or not, our hooligans are just as much a part of ‘Team GB’ as our Olympians. But can this huge contrast in attitudes to life provide some rationale to the actions of those young people who ran amok last summer – one of whom was actually an Olympic ambassador and another an Olympian in training?

The nation is on a high after the Olympics and nobody wants to be negative about the event. I know the media agencies and corporate sponsors have spent millions to protect their asset and have carefully controlled the public image of the games, but still, I must confess that I have felt uncharacteristically patriotic. This has been partly due to the fact that it’s on home soil and Team GB have done so well, but also because of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Only a Northerner would have the gall to direct a London Olympic ceremony in front of a Conservative Prime Minister and the Royal Family and create a centrepiece based around the Industrial Revolution of the North and the Labour inspired National Health Service – all performed by a colourful, multi-cultured cast – cheeky! But Team GB’s medals haven’t come cheap. Aside from the individuals’ efforts, it has required the concerted effort and conviction of the state along with billions in tax-payer’s money to achieve that success. No expense has been spared to make London 2012 the greatest show on earth. So what would happen if that expense and committed effort was put into the education and social development of all our young people? What more could we achieve and just how great would that legacy be?

Lord Moynihan said that it was “wholly unacceptable” that 50 percent of Britain’s medal winners in Beijing came from private schools, yet only 7 percent of the nations pupils go to independent schools. Although that figure was much improved in London, once the media put it out there the political parasites picked up the scent and immediately called for more funding and better facilities in schools so that we can produce successful sportsmen and women from wider and more diverse backgrounds. What an asinine, selfish and narrow-minded view. Surely the legacy and inspiration from such an iconic and expensive, global spectacle, should aim further than just developing athletes?

When you consider the contrasting parallels between the events in London last summer and this year’s Olympic triumph, the legacy of the games should go further than the development of athletic poster boys and girls to garnish the nations public image. The self-aggrandisement of those in government who have lapped up the positive publicity from the games seems to have blinded them to the bigger picture and grander vision? If well resourced, quality education can find and develop the best-of-the-best in the field of sport to represent Britain at our Olympics, then surely that philosophy can work to discover and develop all the latent talent in our young people?

“And here we have one of the athletes from Team GB sizing up the flaming hurdles for the final of the 1000 metres rioters steeplechase”

In the last 12 years since the turn of the millennium our country has spent over a trillion pounds on expensive luxuries like the Millennium Dome, Wembley Stadium, relocating the BBC, bank bailouts and the Olympic games. When you follow the news and the media it’s easy to forget the important stories of just a few years ago and thus fail to put the circumstances and stories of today in correct perspective. It will be some time before we find out who reaps the rewards of London 2012, but whilst we are in the middle of a crippling, global recession, when you look back over the last 12 years and consider the profligate spending of our government, it is enough to make you buckle at the knees.

The national and political hubris gained from the success of our games will last for a short while. From the opening ceremony onwards, it was a games that showed the best of the British public. Our multicultured volunteers and our cast of competitors delivered us the pride and the glory that the behaviour of our politicians, bankers and those bigoted, racist detractors in the BNP and EDF never could. But not long after the firework smoke has settled, the reality of life and the real state of the nation will resurface, and no amount of running, jumping, swimming, rowing or riding will change that. But if our leaders put half as much of the effort that our Olympians have put into their performances into making our education system better, then the future might be brighter – and for a whole lot longer. If our leaders put the same concerted effort into making our society work as they did this Olympics, then the whole of the nation may be able to truly share in the pride and joy the games. If the rest of us put as much effort into raising our young and maintaining positive communities, then we might just be able to come together and force change for the better. We have produced an impressive list of inspirational Olympic stars – Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Laura Trott, Anthony Joshua, Andy Murray, Ben Ainslee, Sir Chris Hoy, the Brownlee brothers – all of our competitors in all their shapes, sizes, colours and creeds – in their success they are all Team GB. Made in Britain. And so from the rioters to the victors and everyone in between, we are all team GB and we are all in this together.

A Foul State of Affairs – A Year After The England Riots

Tottenham Riots

It is just over a year since the civil unrest that spread across England in last summer’s riots. Lots of well-spoken political commentators and pundits have had their say in the media on the cause of the riots and the national umbrage of our youth last year. Most of those commentators have decent careers, live comfortable lives and have a vested interest in saying the right thing. It was also noticeable how politicians on all sides focussed on the “criminality” and cost of the riots, whilst refusing to accept any culpability in the state of the society they and their peers have propagated.

Whatever was the real cause of last years’ riots, it’s hard not to accept that there is a hypocrisy and corporate sickness that is at the core of much of our nations ills and bitterness. It’s difficult to say when or how this all started, but a good place to start is the turn of the millennium. This was a landmark time period on the calendar and should have signified an epoch of a new and better era rather than just a big, lucrative, corporate party. Yet the extravagant state spending that started with the Millennium Dome and continued into the 21st century has not been the answer to our ”broken society”. And whilst David Cameron spoke out about our “moral collapse” and “irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if choices have no consequences, children without fathers, schools without discipline, reward without effort, crime without punishment, rights without responsibilities”, the last couple of years have shown that many of those from the higher echelons of society – namely bankers and politicians – are just as guilty as those poorly educated, impoverished rioters of whom he was speaking. And I believe it is the double standards, hypocrisy and disproportionate approach to spending of state funds that was largely responsible for fuelling the flames of last years’ civil unrest.

It was estimated that the Millennium Dome cost the taxpayer around £1 billion. Yet after the big end of the millennium show, the government couldn’t find a way to make the dome profitable, so they sold it for a comparatively paltry £106m! The renamed O2 Arena, which is now privately owned by AEG, has been the most successful music venue in the world for the third year running. Which is good news for the state who reap the benefits of the taxes it brings in, and I suppose this in someway covers some of the astronomical losses incurred by the taxpayer. That is until you then consider what came next – the new Wembley Stadium.

Let the corporate party begin.

In 2001 the BBC reported that the new Wembley Stadium – originally estimated at costing around £200 million – could end up costing around £660m. That’s significantly more than the fantastic Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, more than the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, more than the Stade de France in Paris, more than Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium – more than any other sporting venue in the world! It was reported that the final, real cost of building Wembley was around £975m – almost three times more than the original quote. You can’t help but think if there was this kind of increase in costs for building a personal property being paid for out of an MP’s own pocket, would they have been so casual and forthcoming in paying for it? But this money was lottery money, F.A. money – public money, so it is a lot easier to keep on giving. National stadium, national pride, fantastic political currency.

In February 2011 Sky News reported that, ‘Some £9.3bn of public sector funding would pay for the Olympics in London, with Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office saying, “the final cost of the Games to the taxpayer is inherently uncertain”‘ The final cost of the Olympics is now more than £11bn, but the event has proved to be a huge success in terms of medals and state profile and the nation is currently on a high – again, a flagship international event represents great political currency.

Billion Dollar Baby

The BBC relocation to MediaCity in Salford was estimated at costing the taxpayer around £1 billion. This included furnishing the BBC’s MediaCity offices budgeted at £37 million. The BBC reported that they would pay £1900 per month over two years to house those with commitments in London who moved to Salford in luxury apartments on Salford Quays. Those who ‘upped-sticks’ and moved straight away would be given a ‘Taxable relocation payment of £5000’ – which is nice. For those who refused to move ‘oop Norf’, the redundancy pot was ‘allegedly’ around £64 million.

The banking crisis of 2010 plunged the nation into economic meltdown, resulting in people losing their homes, jobs and livelihoods and ushering in a period of austerity measures unheard of since the war. Yet whilst the rioters received stiff sentences for their sins, the bankers drove off into the sunset in their luxury cars, many of them taking six figure bonuses with them – some as much as £15 million – and without serving a minute in jail for what was tantamount to criminal irresponsibility. Whilst Iceland charged their premier, and along with Ireland, tracked down their rogue bankers and made them pay, we coughed up the money from the national coffers to bale out the banks. We even allowed Bob Diamond to resign with a £2 million payout a year later, even though he was at the helm of alleged fraud at Barclays. In times of austerity and public outrage at the bankers actions, it is difficult for many of us to stomach the figure of £850 billion that we paid to bale the banks out (RBS demanded another 1.5 billion on bonuses!).

Bankers in the Dock.

For most people it’s difficult to comprehend these types of figures and this scale of public money being seemingly wasted so casually. It’s even more difficult for your average hard working man and woman on an average wage, to stomach the kinds of profits and wages and lifestyles of those brokering these types of financially, calamitous deals; especially if they have ever been fined – or even worse, convicted in court – for such venal sins as using the wrong bin, or staying five minutes longer than their allotted time at a parking bay, or missing the deadline on a tax return. But even on a local level the amounts of money that are circumnavigated out of the treasury and into the hands of wealthy movers and shakers for political currency is alarming.

In 2007, local newspaper The Salford Star feature a blog about a regeneration project in Chimney Pot Park. Over £15 million was being poured into an Urban Splash development in two deprived areas of the city. When Hazel Blears, the Salford MP who resigned after being disgraced for fraudulent expense claims, introduced Urban Splash to Salford under the frantic, glare of flashing press cameras, she boldly took her publicity opportunity as she stood next to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Urban Splash Chairman, Tom Bloxham (MBE) and announced that the plans would “create exciting, affordable homes and help boost the regeneration of Seedley and Langworthy.” But when the heralded “affordable homes” of the Salford development were put on the market, the average price was £120,000 whilst Salford Council’s definition of an affordable home at the time was £57,000. Of the 108 houses that first went on sale, only 18 houses were kept back for local people (with a further 12 in reserve), and only 7 of them were priced at £99,950 – almost double the council’s definition of affordable. The rest of the houses cost upwards of £146,000. So for a public investment of £15 million, less than a third of the houses from that development were built for the local community and none of them were by the local council’s standard, ‘affordable’. However, Urban Splash offered discounts to its employees who wanted to buy one of the properties. It also turned out that there was actually nothing in the developer’s agreement to set aside affordable properties for local people. “We were not obliged to do this” confirmed a spokesperson for Urban Splash, “We did this from a genuine desire to offer houses to local people.”

In November 2000 the Daily Telegraph revealed that Urban Splash got up to 40% of the costs of some of its major developments from grant aid, and in particular from the government funded Partnership Investment Programme, which was subsequently outlawed by the EEC because it gave private companies an unfair advantage. The article concluded, ‘public money provided the developer with his profit… with surprisingly few conditions attached.’ The Chairman of Urban Splash, said at the time that, “It’s good business to do regeneration.” Apparently so.

Whilst the government sees fit to fork out literally billions on expensive stadia, corporate monoliths and handouts to help the already wealthy make even more wealth, it is sucking money out of community, culture, and public services which keep common society and our fragile communities bound together. Whilst politicians are having high powered meetings in plush offices over expensive meals with corporate CEO’s and members of big business’ wealthy oligarchy, the common man and woman doing an honest day’s work to survive from one overdraft to the next are left to struggle. And whilst this is all taking place, our disparate youth are being spoon-fed mindless media entertainment, consumerist junk and low-grade education’s, plunging their moral compass into disarray. They watch the rich and famous get paid huge amounts of money for doing very little. They watch the “irresponsibility” and “selfishness” of high-powered businessmen “behaving as if choices have no consequences” but getting away with all manner of indiscretions. As judges appear to pander to celebrities and their expensive lawyers, these same ‘icons’ of modern society pervade every corner of every media platform spouting vacuous inanities in the name of fashion/lifestyle/sport – all carefully edited so as not to jeopardise another sponsorship deal or media pay day – then they use their expensive accountants to avoid paying tax. Do you think this could have anything to do with the simmering frustration and anger within poor communities? There’s no point in looking to the media for answers because as the Levenson enquiry has highlighted, there is clearly a disturbingly collusive relationship between the media, the government and the police.

As the PR companies and spin-doctors perfect the art of polishing a turd, our confused young are blinded by ‘bling’ and justifiably have no interest in becoming the wage slaves that their parents have become. Most hardworking people doing a 35 to 40 hour week on an average wage are living hand to mouth on just enough to get by, as prices continue to rise and the guilt of not having the necessary lifestyle accoutrements bears heavily on their debit cards. Is this how we imagined it would be in the 21st century?

Illustration by Paul Davies courtesy of Bloomberg.com

The whole continent of Africa could have been bought, irrigated and turned into the worlds biggest Tesco for the amount of money that has been squandered by our bankers and politicians in the last 15 years. When you compound all this with the all too recent headlines regarding the MP’s expenses scandal, where the pious and judgmental leaders of our country and councils squirmed under the media spotlight as they tried to explain away paying for pornography, moats and taps and sinks and second homes out of tax payers money, its enough to make you sick when you hear these same people condemn benefit cheats and preach about ‘public decency and respect’. And what is their defence? “It’s a system that has been in place for years” and “I did nothing wrong within the rules”. Their empty defence only serves to confirm that the majority of MP’s were culpable by not exposing the system years ago, yet Cameron talks of “moral collapse” in our society. I say that society learns from the example set by its leaders. Only the average man or woman in the street and those who were caught up in the hysteria of the riots cannot simply apologise, wave a cheque on TV and pay the money back. If every other thief in court had that luxury our prisons would be half empty.

The last couple of years have seen senior police officers, politicians, media moguls and CEO’s of huge corporations in the dock. If found guilty, are our politicians going to suggest that these police officers lose their pensions and other state benefits like the rioters? Are the politicians going to revoke the rights of bankers and brokers who crippled our economy to work in the city again? Are the politicians going to suggest that the banker’s pay for the damage caused to the country during the riots out of their substantial wealth? During the riots, would the police have stood so idly by for so long had the looters and vandals moved toward Canary Wharf, Belgravia or Knightsbridge? Would they have got the water cannons and rubber bullets out then?

In politics like in business, leaders love to bask in the accolades of success but refuse to accept responsibility when things go wrong. Our rioters are the product of the society which the policies that todays politicians and their predecessors’ have created? Nick Clegg predicted that the Tory governments’ policies could lead to civil unrest, but that was before he was within that comfortable, cradle of Downing Street. Now that he is part of the gang, he sings from their hymn sheet. But the politicians stare seriously into camera with a rehearsed look of disgust and bemusement at the public expression of anger and frustration. They wonder why there is no trust or respect for authority. They wonder why society is broken. They wonder why Tottenham erupted into violence over the death at the hands of police, of a young man of colour from a poor inner city area, when over 330 people have died in police custody since 1998 and not one police officer has been convicted .

Just because we all don’t have the capacity to articulate our feelings into words, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken in what is happening around us and it hasn’t had an emotional or psychological effect. The television and newspaper reports on the riots and the opinions expressed by the public were very selective – which is unsurprising when you consider the relationship these media organisations have with parliament. The independently produced documentary, ‘Perfect Storm: The England’s Riot Documentary’ produced by www.wideshut.co.uk provides an alternative and much more rounded perspective for example.

We are all complicit to some degree in the degeneration of our societies and cultures. As consumers we feed the corporate coffers irrespective of what ethical violations they commit across the world. We sit back in abject apathy watching nonsense on TV and argue with our neighbours over trivialities rather than bringing our politicians to account with a letter a week. But we’re browbeaten and desensitised by the sheer wave of corruption and injustice, and the vapid distraction that is thrown at us from every billboard and newspaper and magazine and TV screen and monitor every second of every day. And we’re too exhausted by fighting off the constant threat of economic insecurity. But in our defence, it isn’t us, the common men and women, who steer the direction of the polluting bandwagon. We are all in this together, but not in the way Mr. Cameron’s speechwriter means. We must take responsibility for what is happening around us as a society, as a people, as a species. We must try to make an effort for the collective good, even if it doesn’t directly affect us NOW, because eventually it will, as those business owners found out during the riots. I for one don’t want to see our society degenerate into the type of horrific civil unrest that consumed Nazi Germany, or the Balkan’s, or Rwanda – and don’t think that that is impossible in this most modern of societies. To use a football analogy, no team is too good to go down; so ‘I’m alright Jack’ just isn’t a philosophy that works. There is a sickness in our society, and I believe the virus causing that sickness is firmly entrenched within Parliament itself.

‘And as a single leaf turns yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, So the wrong-deor cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all’

From ‘A Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran