I’ve lost count of how many times the Met Police during the late 1970s – they were an advertising client of mine at the time – told me that the West Indian community in Brixton wasn’t a problem. “They have,” opined a Chief Inspector, “excellent community leaders – with whom we have a very close relationship”.
So when I drove my wife and brand new baby Anne-Marie out to our Oxfordshire cottage on a Friday in early April 1981, while I knew we were leaving a tense Brixton behind us, I saw little out of the ordinary to be concerned about.
A lot of my advertising friends at the time wondered why on earth we had bought a house in Shakespeare Road – a street running at ninety degrees to the infamous Railton Road…known to the SWP nutters and anarchists at the time as The Front Line. The answer to this was simple: it was a charming mid-Victorian house with many of the character features still in evidence, Brixton Tube offered fast access to the West End, and at £14,750 the house was about half the price of a simialr domicile in more fashionable Clapham. We liked the bohemian, multi-racial nature of the area….and its low price enabled us to run a weekend escape without too much strain on the budget.
It was a bit of a shock when the paper plonked through the front door of Pear Tree Cottage that Sunday, revealing a banner Sunday Times headline, ‘BRIXTON ABLAZE’. I had two reactions really: one, I will never listen to anything the police say ever again; and two, the value of our house just went down to zero – I was (for sure) negative equity personified.
I was right about the Met Police, but wrong about the house values. The Brixton riots became one of the many mixed milestones of Margaret Thatcher’s era. The Scarman Report into its ’causes’ recommended drastic urban renewal – a liberal misreading of the situation on a par with US reactions to rioting there a decade earlier. The phrase ‘endemic racism’ entered the language. But the words ‘cultural problem’ were not allowed in. And as a result of that denial, the impoverished young British middle class continued to gentrify the area from Kennington to Lewisham.
When we arrived back in Brixton that weekend, the flames were leaping high into the black Spring sky. We were greeted by a roadblock and told we couldn’t go through. I politely informed the police officer who told me “Issall gone bad in there again ternite” that my daughter needed nappies and we needed to get home. “On yer own ‘ead be it,” he said dolefully, and the red and white plastic parted to allow our entry. In our road, all was quiet. We settled my elder daughter down, and went to bed half expecting immolation during the night. Nothing happened.
Since then, nothing much has happened in the way of addressing the innate problems that come with multiculturalism. This was illustrated in a way guaranteed to show up the Establishment in August 2011. Not an event to embarass the Establishment mind you, because nothing embarasses incompetent rhinos. But rather, something in the way of selective looting to condemn a society that both ignores cultural difference and embraces economic dysfunction at one and the same time.
The big buzz words in the EU of 2012 are denial and default. Well, by default, socio-economic denial has triumphed over the last thirty years in the West. This has to change. We need to notice that we stand not shoulder to shoulder much of the time, but nose to nose. Bankers are nose to nose with the struggling middle classes and Silvers – law-abiding people who are in turn nose to nose with looting half-educated yobs they don’t understand, and politicians they don’t respect. To complete that vicious circle, go back to the bankers again. Mornington Crescent.
The two month old baby of 1981 is now 31, married and moving out to Kent….where she prefers to bring up a family in an environment of better education and less expense – rather than subject her progeny to the consequences of anthropological ignorance. The real tragedy in this is that what used to be the Sensible Right has joined the Insensitive Left in signing up to this bad science.