Tuesday 30 August 2011


An interesting weekend in Bristol. While shopping in the city centre at Primark (which resides in the old House of Fraser building - how times have changed) I notice on my street map that I am only a few hundred yards from Stokes Croft, scene of riots both in May (connected to a Police crack-down on local anti-Tesco activities) and again in the recent "national" disturbances - so I wander up to take a look.

There isn't much sign of the damage now but the general environment is a real eye-opener. Not that it is unfamiliar. It's like going in a time machine back thirty years to run-down city centre communities in the 1980s. Ramshackle pubs, mouldering shops, overt signs of the vice industry, and (above all) relentless graffiti, posters and other imagery proclaiming what used to be called the "counterculture" - anti-police, nihilist/anarchist, and celebrating drugs.

It is especially depressing to see the same old gallows humour about the effects of drugs, which I would have associated with LSD but apparently works for its modern pharmaceutical successors, reminiscent of Robert Crumb's cartoons dating right back to the 1960s.

There's nothing new about all this which suggests that the riots reflect the same self-destructive behaviour which characterised the old counterculture. And I'm not at all persuaded that this behaviour has anything to do with imitation of black culture (note, Professor Starkey) but it is in fact a curious but very stale product of (wait for it) rather middle class preoccupations espoused by students from 1968 onwards. For example, the attack on Tesco appears to be based on the premise that we should all reject modern "agri-business" and buy our food at vast expense from rosy-cheeked peasants in the Farmers Market.

But I guess I should be pleased to see one bit of anarchist graffiti quoting Roman historian Tacitus in the original Latin: corruptisima republica plurimae leges (the more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws).

So who is to blame? Aside from the looters themselves the greatest indictment must be of the local authority in Bristol which has lavished funds on fancy city-centre schemes for a whole generation but appears to wholly neglect a community living immediately adjacent to it. It beggars belief that while prosperity has transformed communities for so many years there remain these pockets of squalor.


And what of the Tesco Metro store, subject of so much trouble? It's open again and the ordinary people of Stokes Croft are quietly using it to buy safe, cheap, and mostly home-grown bread, milk, chicken, etc, products of the amazing industrialisation of UK agriculture which began 70 years ago as a response to a blockade by submarines and means today that we are virtually self-sufficient in food.