I recently had a night-out with some Conservative-voting friends. I know, I know, but it’s my contribution to community service. Surprisingly, one of them roundly criticised the Westminster government’s inadequate response to the cost-of-living crisis. He feared lack of action could lead to street protests and possibly, widespread disorder.

Similar alarms are being sounded by opposition politicians across the spectrum. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned of “a winter of dire poverty”, with millions pushed “over the edge”. The First Minister has called for a political summit to address the crisis.

Yet, those in office appear paralysed in the headlights. Typically, the lame duck Prime Minister (was he ever anything else?) washes his hands of responsibility and says it’s down to his successor. But don’t hold your breath for effective action from Ms Truss or Mr Sunak. The selection process has marginalised considerations of merit or leadership ability. They can’t even agree on a way ahead in dealing with the most serious peacetime crisis most of us can remember.

Ms Truss’ changes of parties and policies brings to mind (Groucho) Marx’s aphorism, “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others”. Laughably, Mr Sunak talks of criminalising those who denigrate Britain. Bad news laddie, you’ve done a pretty good job of that yourself.

The political vacuum and paralysis increase the possibility of direct action. The non-violent variety includes the Don’t Pay Campaign that claims tens of thousands have already pledged to cancel their energy direct debits on 1 October. The campaign’s confidence that collective action offers security in numbers may well prove ill-founded.

What if there are mass disconnections just as winter kicks in? Will people take to the streets, just as they did in the so-called 1990 anti-poll tax riots? On 31 March 1990, the London protest ended in serious disorder. Replacement of the tax was not immediate, but the protests certainly concentrated John Major’s mind.

Eleven years later, a flammable combination of grievances required only a spark to ignite the worst riots seen in England for more than a century. The spark was the shooting of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police officers in Tottenham. Much of urban England erupted into five days of violence, looting, and fire raising.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s hallmark response was superficial and trite; “It is criminality, pure and simple”. Mr Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg chose to sidestep other possible causes: institutional racism in the Metropolitan police, a financial crisis, austerity, evictions, closure of facilities for young people, a fall in the real value of wages and reduced benefits.

At the same time property owners and shareholders prospered. To be fair to Mr Clegg, two years later he appeared to have realised the error of his ways when linking social unrest to zero-hour contracts and poverty experienced by those in work.

The question remains however, were lessons learned? If anything, wealth is even more unfairly distributed. Many of the combustible issues leading to the 2011 riots are still there. Artist Baff Akoto used his 2021 documentary film and exhibition, Up Rise, to give voice to those involved ten years earlier. Virtually all described the pervasive atmosphere of anger and frustration directed at the elites, who were largely dismissive of the plight and concerns of poorer communities.

Anything sound familiar? Since then, the same elites have continued to prosper, despite their culpability for financial crashes, expenses scandals, Brexit and pandemic crony contracts for PPE. And, oh yes, the huge profits being made by fat cat energy companies and their shareholders while many face unmanageable bills.

In 2011, the police were run ragged by the scale of the disorder, leading to demands for the army be called in. Baff Akoto described 2011 as the “first uprising of the digital age”, noting there were even calls for the Blackberry network to be shut down. Social media has moved on hugely since 2011 and it’s even more likely that those inclined to do so, could lead law and order a merry dance. Very few of the causes of the 2011 riots have been addressed. Large swathes of the country feel more resentful and shut out than they were ten years ago. As unsustainable energy bills pop through letter boxes, even the reasonable and peaceable might think, enough is enough.

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