Nottingham has just got a little duller.
When I first started Beestonia, I looked around at other local blogs, and was amazed at the quality of a few. Amazed, and daunted. These weren’t half-baked conjecture, polemic and ranting, these were witty, insightful and relished in their independence by being fearless, controversial and most importantly, agenda setting. I suddenly realised that I had to raise my game, the bar was set high, and ensure my writing was written well. Most importantly, I had to avoid clichés about high-set bars and raising games.
One particular inspiration was Alan-a-Dale, the author of the wonderful Nottingham Graffiti. Alan, yes- I know it’s a pseudonym has suddenly announced his retirement from the blogging scene. This is not good news.
Now, Alan was often very good at exposing hypocrisy in the higher echelons so I initially suspected he’d been forced to close down for reasons darker than his own explanations: he’s just too busy. He’d think the same, and similarly I’d realise quickly that rationally it was probably true: I’ve often though Beestonia was a drain on my resources. It’s not easy setting your home town as a Benign Dictatorship, y’know.
Its still sad. While I wish Alan the best, I still hope he has a change of heart. Or writes for Beestonia on occasion. Without his voice, Nottingham is less melodic. Encore, Minstrel!
My Mandatory Piece on Riots.
I’ve had a little break from Beestonia as I pursue a couple of other projects, and enter the world of full-time paid employment for the first time in months. Between my last article and today, Nottingham has been burnt down to smouldering foundations and its lawless anarchy on the streets, Beeston making Somalia look like Switzerland as plasma telly crazed hoodies take control and force us into the sewers to plot our resistance.
Or so the media would have you believe. A marginally more messy night in St Ann’s and a couple of poorly thrown firebombs; possibly created by lighting a bottle of WKD, crashing onto the steps of Canning Circus police station and a state of emergency is called. We were even graced by a visit from Nick Clegg, the first time a Lib Dem voter has been seen in the city centre since the local election rout.
Every commentator has weighed in with an opinion, from the good (Peter Oborne, Gary Younge) to the absolutely bonkers (just about everyone else). Predictably, Labour point out the social reasons for the trouble, Tories blame the welfare state and, err, Blackberry phones, while Lib Dems stand at the top of Derby Road and mumble platitudes about policing. Everything is said with such conviction and certainty you wonder why the hell no one predicted it. Well, apart from the Kaiser Chiefs. I don’t ever want to come across all Mystic Meg – unlike her , I now have a job- but I’ve been wondering when this would kick off for ages. And now I will attempt to shoehorn in a couple of local angles to stop it sound like I’m using Beestonia as my own polemic rant-board. Bear with me.
Two hundred years ago, Nottingham, and England as a whole was hit by a terrible recession caused by a costly foreign war, a banking collapse and rocketing food prices. Unemployment was on the rise, to such an extent queues formed outside workhouses every morning, broken people offering themselves into slavery as the only other option was the grave. An unpopular, barely elected government held sway, and things looked like they were only going to get worse. Skilled workers, artisans in stocking manufacture (a huge industry two centuries ago) were replaced with cheaper, unskilled operators of the new stocking frames, producing inferior goods at a cheaper cost where the saving never went further than the frame-owners pocket.
I’m sure you can see the parallels. Things are grim. A whole swathe of the population are ignored as they long ago became economically and politically alienated: why bother improving the livelihoods of the deprived if they won’t venture into a ballot box come election day? Policies are thus aimed only at the aspirant middle classes, whereby the frequency of bin collections supersedes any attempts to improve the lot of the poorest. The traditional ladders of escape: libraries, free education, and the concept of meritocracy are kicked away with budget cuts, abolition of EMA and a political elite that boast about their connections and revel in a system that favours who you know, not what you know. Etonians rule over us, men with no grasp on what the world is like outside their bubble of fellow wielders of power, bankers, CEOs et al. And as surely as this strata forms, an uber- class that has long ago secreted themselves into gated estates and plush yachts, insulating aways from the base realities of life, so an underclass forms, similarly exclusive yet excluded, impermeable; and then it all goes BOOM.
Back in 1811, things exploded. Across Nottinghamshire pissed-off men rose up, visited the frame workshops owned by men whose wallets swelled as others emptied, and destroyed the frames which had ruined their livelihood. Frames which made inferior goods, frames which unbalanced local economies and led to the extreme poverty that infected Notts at the time. It caught on and there was barely a night where some form of angry destruction didn’t kick off, and frames would be found smashed in the morning, the perpetrators long gone, and as the fire raged, the government wondered what the fuck was going on.
In 2011, things exploded. August, a dry, scorching week of sleepless sultry nights and charged air, and just as the browned bracken in Bramcote Woods just needs the tiniest spark to trigger its seemingly annual forest fire, so the trigger happiness of the Met Police provided the spark to make the country explode. And the government, idling in Italian villas or hanging out in Florida with Mickey Mouse, decided it was a fluke and when it became apparent that it was contagious, wondered what the fuck was going on.
Well, apart from Soubry, who didn’t think it was fair on the ‘taxpayer’ (an insidious term, which has this air of self-righteousness despite the fact that EVERYONE is a bloody taxpayer to some degree) to fund her trip back. I suggested on Twitter that maybe she might like to fund the flight back to Westminster herself; and a few minutes later an email appeared from a friend who works as a policy wonk in the House of Commons explaining that any travel costs accrued by MPs as a result of a parliamentary recall is covered not by some central fund paid for by the taxpayer, but an insurance company that shoulders the expense. With her undoubted experience of criminal law, sentencing and other legal expertise, she could have been an influential voice of reason, and pragmatic cold flannel to the fevered brows of the knee-jerking hang-em flog-em element of the House. But no, she stayed away. She’s a great fan of swimming pools, as her non-Broxtowe gaffe in Mapperley attests to. Ok, I concede that no riots occurred in the technical boundaries of Broxtowe. That’s not the point. Her niche in Parliament should be used to its full potential, hiding behind the constituency sounds a little thin when we barely get a look in on other matters.
The troubles of 1811 set ablaze swathes of the industrialized urban Midlands and North. The government sent in armed troops to quell the blaze, yet they first appeared ineffective, then too heavy-handed. Laws were swiftly passed to make the breaking of frames a capital –punishable by execution offence under the Frame Breaking Act. Luddites were now up against an extra 12,000 troops drafted into certain areas. Suspected insurrectionists were rounded up, and without proper recourse to a fair trial transported, jailed and more often than not, hung.
The last few days back here in 2011 have only been mildly less depressing. I spend many evenings in the centre of Nottingham, and the police presence has not been intensely visible. Understandably so, but still I left to go walking in Derbyshire on Sunday to find every bus shelter up the Derby and Ilkeston roads smashed in. There is talk of shutting down social media sites, from the same people who were shouting its liberating ability in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere earlier this year. There’s talk of ‘non-lethal’ police tactics such as rubber/plastic bullets (17 deaths ensued when used in Northern Ireland, eight of which were children) and water cannons (a useless method when employed in urban, narrow streets: the damage to property would be far greater to property than anything a looter could dream up). Council house tenants are being evicted if any member of their household are caught looting: often before conviction. This smacks of the collective punishment, and is being practiced right here in Nottingham. Read this great piece by NCCLOLS for the mechanics of this idiocy. With no sense of irony, the threat of rendering families homeless is dualled with the threat of curfews: people with no home being told to stay at home or face arrest is something only an idiot, a misanthrope or a right-winger could dream up. Please excuse the tautology.
There was few who spoke for the Luddites back then; few were able to vote, and the government, ran by the unpopular Spencer Perceval was terrified of appearing weak. The Prince Regent, sensing a toppling of the ‘natural order’ swiftly issued a 50 guinea reward for the capture of any ‘evil minded’ smasher of frames. Was anyone there to offer some reason against this reactionary rabid mob? Step forward Lord Byron, Nottinghamshire’s Greatest Ever Man, who dedicated his maiden speech in the Lords to lend a voice to those with none:
“. . .whilst these outrages must be admitted to exist to an alarming extent, it cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of these miserable men in their proceedings, tend to prove that nothing but absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious, body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their families, and the community.”
Luddism eventually died out, to become a lazy journalistic term for anyone who thinks they can function life without a iPhone 4. Yeah, eat MOSS and live in a CAVE if you DARE use an iPhone 3. Yet its legacy lived on, leading to Nottingham being a hot-bed of discontent. Housewives riot when bakers refuse to pass on a drop in the price of flour. The theatre season comes to an abrupt end when the traditional doffing-of-cap at the end of a show infuriates a monarchist who swings his cane at a non-doffer. A riot ensues. Researching this, I found this site equally informative and entertaining. Nationally, the anger proves infectious, leading to such events as the Pentrich Uprising, and insurrection thereon.
It may seem tenuous and glib to compare what happened on the streets last week with the events of two centuries past, and some may think I’m excusing the inexcusablE. As that reliably bumptious fool David Starkey proved last week, a historical perspective can prove tricky.Yet this is no modern malaise, this is just another turn of the wheel. I felt disgust at the looting, the fires, the murders. I probably would have felt angry at the events of 1811 if I’d been there. But both were acts fuelled by disparities, and until we rid ourselves of the Uber-class and the inequity that brings, we’ll also always have an underclass. And to steal from Aristotle, ‘Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime’. So yes, I blame the parents.