Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Summer of 2011

When I was seeing the violence and protests unfold in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and other Arab nations sitting in my room in Wolfson College, Oxford little did I know that a similar pattern of violence would occur in the United Kingdom months later. By most counts, the violence, its spread and the official reactions have been shocking and produce some very interesting realities about life in Britain in the 21st Century. Forget the Empire, this is a Britain battling simultaneously a series of cuts, an elitist government, corruption at the highest places and now a wave of discontent that’s being sorted on the streets. Paradoxically, the violence which was part caused by the series of unpopular decisions taken by the Conservative government may lead to many more such decisions. It may also spell disaster for immigrants thus affecting Indian aspirations and the already settled diaspora.

What began as an outbreak in a London suburb over the death of a youngster actually turned in to a national crisis and even spread outside London to other places. Many have seen the violence as a response to the unpopular decisions taken by the Cameron government and the manner in which they have been executed over the past one-year. When Cameron took office last year, he undertook the most unpopular decision of introducing cuts. The decision was noteworthy because of the fragile coalition and the fact that the country was facing a terrible deficit due to thirteen years of Labour rule. Subsequently, the cuts were extended to universities, the health care and other things. While the rationale behind the cuts was sound, the situation has changed drastically over the past one year. Except for the Referendum on the AV and the Royal Wedding, there was nothing Cameron had to cheer about while the list of problems went on and on.

More than anything else the riots show just how out of touch the political establishment of Britain, especially in the Conservative Party are out of touch with the reality of the day and age. Today the Prime Minister, his Chancellor and colleagues from the Conservative Party, the Deputy Prime Minister and the two tallest Leaders of the Labour Party studied at either Oxford or Cambridge. With the resignation of Andy Coulson the top levels of government has nobody who studied in state school or has a background that is working class. It is precisely this disconnect that has repeatedly cost the government very dear. Even as the violence spread the top political establishment seemed either aloof or holidaying abroad. It was not till the escalation of the violence that all decided to fly back to London. Considering Boris Johnson faces an election next year and Cameron is already unpopular this is not promising news.

On a different note, the violence is a part of the transition Britain is facing after years of ‘pampering’ on the public money. Apart from discontent, it shows the refusal to imagine life without the social security system and the NHS, arguable the most inspirational system for developing countries such as ours. In hindsight, it makes one wonder whether the British government could have dealt with the cuts slightly differently. But the jury is still out on these questions and it will take while before we can find answers on the same.

The implications of the riots are many- for one it leaves the government in a very unpopular shape. Cameron will have lots to answer for. What I fear most after this violence is the impact on immigration and the old debate of multiculturalism in Britain. As of now immigrants have not been directly involved in the waves of violence but one never knows what could happen in the future. The discontent over economic opportunities in the country may mean a back clash against overseas Indians, both professionals and students who have gone there. This will not only be harmful for those targeted but also for the UK itself as it will lose arguably more intelligent and dedicated professionals. Yet, considering the current situation one must understand their anger. Sitting far away in India, all we can hope is that normalcy is restored soon and the Government wakes up before it is too late.

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