‘Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham’
From London Review of Books:
Like the shooting season, the public riot is a child of summer, a free-access Glastonbury without the portaloos. Scotland’s failure to emulate the disorder in London, Birmingham and Manchester prompted a good deal of gloating in the local papers. Aberdeen’s Press and Journal gleefully reported plans to draft in Scots plods to bolster the thin blue line south of the border, and David Cameron’s new anti-gang measures that will draw on Strathclyde police’s – admittedly ample – experience. Scotland didn’t fail to riot because the preconditions for it don’t exist in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Dundee. The weather here this week has been typical of the Scottish summer. No one feels like rioting when it’s pissing down with rain.
Lewis Namier famously described 18th-century British politics as ‘aristocracy tempered by rioting’. In fact riots often combine the form of radical protest with reactionary content. The Gordon Riots that erupted in the early summer of 1780 after the partial repeal of the 1698 Popery Act led to an orgy of looting not of moveable property, but of gin (though that isn’t where the name comes from). The riots drew on long-simmering resentment against excise duties on liquor. Horace Walpole remarked that more people had been killed by drink than by musket-ball, as the mob rifled gin-palaces for free booze; at one point a fire in the Fleet was unwittingly fuelled when it was doused with gin instead of water. One of the rioters’ targets was the old Clink prison. That was part of the medieval ‘manor’ or liberty of Southwark, an area so free of city jurisdiction that the bishop, whose manor it was, used it to run bear-baiting shows and a brothel.
As well established as the riot tradition is reactive alarmism that the country is going to hell in a looted shopping trolley.