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Riot: Civil Insurrection from Peterloo to the Present Day
By Ian Hernon
Published by Pluto Press (2006)

Review by Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 91

The summer of 2011 was marked by looting and clashes between hoards (readily identified by the press with easy labels) and the police. During this time I was reading this book on the history of riots in Britain.

It takes as its starting point the Luddite actions of two hundred years ago. It progresses through Peterloo, Captain Swing, Chartists, Suffragettes and race riots. The last few chapters cover (amongst other disputes) the Poll Tax, G8 and Stop the War. A chapter that I found particularly interesting was on the Police Strike of 1919 that saw gunboats in the Mersey and soldiers patrolling Liverpool. Due to lack of support by other unions, the strike failed, so when the General Strike of 1926 was called by the TUC, the police stayed resolutely on the side of management and government, as they have since.

The focus of the book then is on those riots that can be seen to have a political edge rather than the exuberance that sometimes overflows after a sporting event, concert or bank holiday clashes between youth cultures.

By understanding something about the history of unorganised violent expressions against authority we can see (I believe) that a major factor in the riots of 2011 was the loss of confidence in the police by all levels of society. The shooting of a suspect, in suspicious circumstances and the lack of subsequent openness was merely yet another incident after a series of unrelated prosecutions of officers for corruption and misconduct.

After the end of the time frame of the book we have had student protests, anti-banking/capitalism protests, the Occupy Movement and more reacting to the present economic crisis. Plus revelations about undercover police, violence against protestors and the collapse of prosecutions against soft targets such as UK Un-Cut. The most successful of previous protests have been those that mobilised the widest support from the public, not just those that were the noisiest. I have little doubt that there will be more protests to come, some of which will become riots.


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