Amol Rajan: 'Looting opportunists' and hyper youths do not a revolution make

They don't trust authority or uniforms. The simple fact is the only people they respond to are community leaders
  • @amolrajan

Revolutions are not born of hooliganism. These young people are not an organised movement with clear aims. They have no obvious leader, no head office, no command structure and no hierarchy. Far from storming Britain's Bastille, they are thieving trainers and LCD screens to flog on eBay.

Nor is this is a direct response to Government austerity measures. Many of those rioting couldn't spell "austerity", let alone distinguish between the spending plans of Government and opposition.

James Connolly, one of the lead youth workers at Prospex, a charity for disaffected young people in Islington of which I am a trustee, didn't sleep on Monday night, patrolling local estates and roads with our street teams to quell tension and show an adult presence.

"They seem mostly to be looting opportunists," he said yesterday. "These kids are very annoyed, it's school holidays and they just want to have fun. Right now they are very, very hyper. "

James has spent years cultivating relationships with destitute young people. He notes: "They don't trust authority, or uniforms. The simple fact is the only people they respond to are community leaders." Many of the looters come from broken homes. Aside from family members and the hooligans' peers, the people best able to calm this crisis are those in the third-sector who have spent years building trust and respect with young people. A consequence of the Government's austerity measures is that these people are less able to do their work.

Charities have three main sources of income: corporations, private donors, and the state. In a post-recessionary climate, the former two withdraw their support. If the state can't pick up the slack, these third sector bodies wither and die.

James notes, for instance, that a year ago our street teams were able to cover three patches in north London, with six full-time staff (aside from our legions of volunteers). Now our donors are drying up, and Islington Council has cut its funding. This week we were therefore only able cover one patch.

Though the Government's policies have not caused the problem, they could jeopardise the solution. Something fundamental has changed in our country, making it a less civil place to live. But while a contract between the generations has been revoked, the fear must be that it is beyond the capacity of mere politicians to restore it.