SLEPT with the London Riots

This article will describe some of the key events of the past days of London rioting from my perspective. It will then touch upon some of the (very) broad issues by a SLEPT analysis and finally outline the major questions we need to ask. Each section could have been an essay itself, but I hope it kicks off some discussions and thought processes.

Key events

Things began as a result of the death of a young black man in Tottenham last Thursday called Mark Duggan. We are still awaiting news from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on the circumstances. Tottenham’s community has a history of friction with the police. Therefore the tension, and to an extent the riots, can be understood on Saturday night. Of course, the human cost of ruined homes and destroyed businesses is wrong, but the specific issues in Tottenham can be vaguely explainable. I was in Manchester visiting my friend Richard and was out of town Saturday night. However my flat is a mile south of the Tottenham riots and I was glad to return to a standing home on Sunday.

Sunday night saw trouble too in Enfield and Brixton. This was further away from my place, it still hinted towards racial tensions and was the beginning of a very uneasy few hours. By yesterday afternoon Hackney central was under attack. Only 2 weeks ago I was there meeting the council for my webinar project. This is only a couple of miles south of where I live. I could see by now that the incidents, springing up in South London too, were far from being about Mark Duggans’ death or racial tensions in the direct sense. Young Londoners were rioting, looting and trashing their own city, seemingly for fun. As the situation worsened and my particular vulnerability became a consideration, I began to consider my options.

In 2011 one wouldn’t expect to flee a UK city, but this wasn’t a normal situation – as the pictures on tv clearly illustrated. However I am an independent guy in all senses and do not run away from problems. I conferred with my dad, discussed how the particular area I was in would probably be ok and that things would settle. Around working, making some calls and chilling I kept an eye on the news. By bedtime last night trouble had spread all over London, and indeed the UK. Buildings were burning, shops ransacked and people terrified. I figured I needed to get back to my mums house, not risk getting caught up in this sad snapshot of Britain and continue watching events unfold from a safer haven. I write this blog in the tranquil, sunny and peaceful town I grew up in Cambridgeshire. I am looking forward to tonight, after last night where I hardly SLEPT.

SLEPT analysis

I referred above to there being racial tensions, but last night’s problems were seemingly unrelated to the incident in Tottenham. On a higher level there doesn’t even seem to be a point, political or otherwise, to the riots. It is just young kids causing havoc on an August evening. My feeling however is that the problem is still political and here is why. Using SLEPT – social, legal, economic, political and technological we can consider the broader issues.

Social – Whether there is an underlying point, or even a cry for help in these actions, it does make you question society. If there was a protest, a speaking out or some call for change we could understand things better. Some commentators are suggesting the policy decisions, especially in education, are disengaging the younger generation. Others question why families and communities were less able to affect the small but effective minority. Either way, our society and community needs a serious shake up. The actions in London and the UK cannot continue.

Legal – We have laws a plenty to deal with this type of incident. The problem, similar to the Disability Discrimination Act, is enforcement. With the riots, the police are currently demoralised with the budget cuts affecting them and the loss of key personnel after the phone hacking problems. They also have to deal with the intricacies of human rights eg. Peoples freedoms to act and freedoms from harm. I am not a specialist in this area, clearly, but I am saying the police tread a line where had they of searched, shot and bulldozed everyone, they would be in the media firing line. However they have been restrained and stretched in resources, leading to ineffectual law enforcement. I wonder also if the courts and prisons can cope with the numbers coming their way as a result of this.

Economic – we know communism didn’t work, however we have a larger reason of late to question capitalism. With the inequality of global/regional wealth, the credit crunch, market crashes and calls for austerity, is this system working either? My feeling is no, but it has to work as it is the only system that works for humans’ unlimited wants in a world of limited resources. It is up to the political world to use capitalism more fairly and sensibly. However without jobs, taxes, public spending and incentives for all, capitalism can and will fail.

Technology – I am leaving ‘political’ until last. The main interest under technology is social networking. Twitter and Facebook helped mobilise the riots so quickly and efficiently. Blackberry messenger privatised their communications too. As a solid supporter of social networking I still defend this method of communication. Anything can be hijacked and used for bad, plus the information is now being used to track down the perpetrators. However it does need acknowledging that technology played a big part in this and leaves certain questions open.

Political – all of the above links back to Politics.

  • The decisions on why society is not right and how to reconcile these massive issues.
  • The decisions on law making and law enforcement.
  • The decisions on the economy around why the world is bleak financially, why there are no jobs and why debt is so high.
  • The decisions on technology such as privacy vs public interest with phone hacking, and how social media fits within our world.

All of these questions need answering, need solving and need communicating appropriately.

Last thoughts

I have outlined the recent events, explained how the riots directly affected me and discussed a few of the questions that need asking after this mêlée. Beyond specific policy questions, it makes me wonder about our whole political system.

The general public demand protection and assurance, understandably so. However if you are one of the kids rioting:

  • you feel the government never listens,
  • you see the cut the money in your education and your future too,
  • you see the political expenses scandal,
  • you feel disengaged,
  • you wonder if the ‘rules’ are right,
  • you wonder if the ‘rules’ are fair,
  • you debate how trustworthy the government is

Finally, if you have little to lose – the riots somehow seem justifiable in the eyes of that person.

We do need government, we do need rules, we do need to trust. However only when we really trust the people that decide our social fate through the steering  of our economy, deciding our laws, enabling technology to be used for good and all other matters, can we expect everyone to abide by that.

Maybe it is time for a politician who isn’t from an affluent background, who understands real people and who can communicate with them on all levels to solve this. I worry that Cameron, Clegg and Milliband cannot. I do hope on Thursday they can restore calm, order and faith back in people (on all sides) and allow everyone to get back to living and not fearing. Then we can tend to the bigger questions these riots have thrown up.


  1. Excellent summing up of some very complex issues Martyn. We’ve been brushing too many things under the carpet hopeing they’d go away, not least an education system that has failed too many young people. As you say, when someone has not much to look forward to they have nothing to lose and the usualy rules of society cease to apply. 

  2. As Ann said, excellent summing up, but can only be that. This is an amazingly complex issue. Ask anyone if they want peace – answer yes, yet many feel violence or wanton damage and looting is only way to communicate. Could it be as simple as better education, allowing people to feel they are communicating effectively, and ensuring they are taught in areas relevant to todays society, not early 1900’s?

  3. Wow – Martin – food for thought! I cannot believe what people are doing to our country! It is awful on so many levels – It sickens and saddens me, as a teacher and a mother I wonder what has happened to these people to believe that this is “OK” behaviour , it is them, their communities and the tax payer who will pay. But the scars of this and the damage to local people could last a life time. This is so sad and needs to stop. Earlier this year we were watching this kind of thing unfolding in places such as Eygpt and the Middle East, now it is happening in our own country – it is shocking – and makes me so sad.
    I hope these people see sense and realise that it is their future they are wrecking!

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