Editor's Note: Jonathan Hopkin is Reader in Comparative Politics at the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
By Jonathan Hopkin, Foreign Affairs
The riots that caused five deaths and millions of dollars in damage in London and several other English cities earlier this month will prove a test for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his one-and-a-half-year-old Conservative-Liberal Democratic administration.
At the start of the summer, Cameron's economic policy was already on shaky ground. In mid-2010, his coalition government had enacted austerity measures aimed at eliminating Britain's budget deficit - currently more than 150 billion pounds (roughly $248 billion) - within five years.
It introduced a plan to cut public spending by 81 billion pounds ($134 billion) over four years, leading to sharp reductions in welfare benefits and social services in Britain's poorest neighborhoods. The cuts affected social housing benefits, particularly in high-cost London, and policing, with an estimated reduction of 16,000 officers across the country. It is no surprise that most of August's riots took place in areas with high poverty, unemployment and dependency on welfare, nor that the police struggled to respond to the violence. FULL POST
Editor’s Note: David Goodhart is the former editor of Prospect Magazine. He will be on Fareed Zakaria GPS this Sunday at 10am ET/PT speaking about the riots in the UK.
By David Goodhart - Special to CNN
Have the extraordinary riots of the past few days revealed a crisis of authority in British society? And what if anything can be done about the pathologies of the inner city youths who were running amok?
These riots happened for one overwhelming reason. The police lost control of the streets on Sunday and suddenly lots of bored kids saw an opportunity to create mayhem with a very low likelihood of being caught.
Law and order, like paper money, is a sort of confidence trick. For a short period its mask (or helmet?) slipped and all those inclined to resent authority, who feel the official world is against them in some way and enjoy the thrill of small scale violence, saw their chance. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Matthias Matthijs is Assistant Professor at the School of International Service of American University and a Lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of Ideas and Economic Crises in Britain From Attlee to Blair.
By Matthias Matthijs, ForeignAffairs.com
London is burning. And over four consecutive nights, the conflagration has engulfed multiple cities across the United Kingdom, including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham, and Leeds. According to some early estimates, the total cost of the vandalism and extra police could run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
In response, British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament from summer recess for an emergency session, “to stand together” against the looters. He condemned what he dubbed the “sickening scenes of people looting, vandalizing, thieving, and robbing.”
The unrest traces its immediate roots to last Saturday in Tottenham, a London suburb where a protest to commemorate the death of a man who was shot by police trying to arrest him turned violent. What followed was a viral response across the country that spurred many young people to violence, looting, and general disorder.
The riots are set against the backdrop of Britain’s ongoing fiscal and sovereign debt crisis and the coalition government’s politics of austerity. They illustrate the critical connection between class politics and fiscal retrenchment. In some ways, they resemble the British riots of 30 years ago. But the policy solutions of the past - a strong response by the state together with the fruits of neoliberal deregulation - may no longer be available today.
Debt-laden governments across the globe are slashing spending to bring budgets in line. At the same time, riots in Athens and in London are the latest examples of spreading civil unrest. Does economic austerity cause social anarchy?
A new working paper by economists Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth seems to say yes. Studying instances of austerity and unrest in Europe between 1919 to 2009, Ponticelli and Voth conclude that there is a “clear link between the magnitude of expenditure cutbacks and increases in social unrest. With every additional percentage point of GDP in spending cuts, the risk of unrest increases.”
“Expenditure cuts carry a significant risk of increasing the frequency of riots, anti-government demonstrations, general strikes, political assassinations, and attempts at revolutionary overthrow of the established order. While these are low probability events in normal years, they become much more common as austerity measures are implemented.”
By Tony Karon, TIME
To reduce the riots that have shaken Britain this week to nothing more than criminal wickedness, as Prime Minister David Cameron and his cohort tend to do, is a dangerous exercise in denial. And it barely survives the most cursory scrutiny: Tens of thousands of people don't suddenly take to the streets to manifest wickedness as if in response to the appearance of Lord Voldemort's Deatheater sigil on their Blackberries, without any context; criminality - which the actions of the rioters certainly are, with no mitigating features or excuses - on the massive scale seen in London this week is indicative of a social crisis. And to dismiss as apologists for thuggery those who seek explanations in the state of society for a mass outbreak of criminality is a self-serving, self-deluding evasion by those in power.
When so many young people have been so willing to break the laws that maintain order and protect property rights, it doesn't require a Marcellus to point out that there's something rotten in the state of Britain.
By Nick Assinder, TIME
After three nights of violence, arson and looting that have left parts of London looking like a war zone, Prime Minister David Cameron has one pressing question to answer from citizens looking to him for reassurance and action: Who controls Britain's streets?
Throughout Monday night and the early hours of Tuesday morning, the answer to that question appeared to be the mob. It certainly was not the police, politicians or local community leaders, all of whom were overwhelmed by the unprecedented scale of the violence and the speed with which it escalated and spread, first from one London borough to another and then, perhaps inevitably, to other cities, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.
If Cameron cannot offer a different answer, one reassuring people that government ministers and the police have control, then the consequences for his leadership could be far-reaching and ultimately even lethal. Margaret Thatcher's long reign as Prime Minister came to an end partly as a result of less devastating riots in response to her attempt to radically reform local taxation in March 1990. As Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament for Hackney, one of the worst-hit boroughs in North London, tells TIME, "One of the basic functions of a nation-state is to maintain public order. If Cameron cannot regain control over the next 24 hours, then he will be in serious political trouble."