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What happened to the summer of rage?

July 18th, 2009 · post by Peter Hogan · 10 Comments

Earlier in the year it seemed to accepted almost as fact that this summer would see waves of unrest and street riots. But half way through summer none have happened. Peter Hogan takes a brief overview of the reasons why people haven’t come out onto the street in any great numbers.

Back in February, Superintendent David Hartshorn, of the Met’s Public Order Branch, predicted a ‘summer of rage’. This has not yet come to pass. Despite the Gaza protests of December and January, despite the G20 protests in London and their aftermath, and despite the various occupations and strikes around the country, no widespread riots reminiscent of 1981 or 1985 have happened. Considering the anger in the country about bankers, police, immigration and politicians this is somewhat surprising.

At the time, Hartshorn’s comments were said to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was argued that he was creating the conditions for such a summer, and damned by the liberal media for his views. That he has so far been wrong, has not received an iota of comment within the press. It’s as though he had never said a word! However, the reasons for his error and for the absence of widespread disturbances, or even major disturbances in London, have received an equal lack of attention, though they reveal much about the police, protesters and the public.

2009 so far

The police haven’t had a good year. The Gaza protests should have shown the cops that they simply didn’t have the nous to deal with large scale popular protest. It came as a warning prior to the G20 that the default position of police when faced with angry people was to batter them, instead of using a more nuanced approach.

With the Gaza protesters, the police bit off more than they could chew, and spent the subsequent months trying to make up for this initial loss. They lost control of the situation, and while they may have been able to prevent damage to the Israeli embassy, their loss of control on the streets created the conditions in which the G20 became a test they needed to pass to restore Met morale and to show those uppity demonstrators who the boss was.

The police showed themselves brutal, stupid, lying and incompetent at the G20.

As we all know this did not go according to plan. The police showed themselves brutal and stupid at the Gaza demos. They showed themselves brutal, stupid, lying and incompetent at the G20. This has influenced their policing of protest since then, and the subsequent inquiries into their actions – those which have reached their conclusions – suggest that this reticence to get stuck in (at least in London) will last some months more. The report by Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), expected in some months, is likely to prove very interesting.

However, for there to be a summer of rage there have to be (at least) two sides. And protesters have shown themselves somewhat reluctant to put themselves forward. There were the lively Tamil protests a couple of months ago, but the defeat of the Tamil Tigers has seen these fade away. The promise of the earlier months of the year has not been matched in more recent weeks. There may of course be protests later in the year. However, for the foreseeable future, bar the Climate Camp in August, there is little left-wing protest on the horizon.

Fascists marching again

However, on the right things are rather different. Buoyed up by gaining two MEPs, the BNP are happy enough with the way their fortunes are going. Further down the ranks of the right, an increasing number of groupuscules, small political groups, seem happy to get out on the streets. March for England, United People of Luton and the English Defence League have been on the streets in recent months, with the EDL looking to have an outing in Birmingham on 8 August. This presents a number of interesting scenarios which may play out over the remainder of the year, with the prospect of fascist/ anti-fascist collisions greater than at any time in the last ten years – if anti-fascists can get their act together.

But, the largest part of the equation, which has thus far shown itself reluctant to come out onto the streets in numbers, is the public.

But, the largest part of the equation, which has thus far shown itself reluctant to come out onto the streets in numbers, is the public.

As mentioned above, the police, bankers and politicians have all covered themselves in shame this year. Yet although there have been rumblings of discontent, nothing outside the G20 has attracted public participation on these issues.

It may be that the right group hasn’t presented itself to organize this – but if people are angry enough they will come out on to the streets no matter who organizes a protest: the vast anti-war march of 2003 could have been called by anyone and would have seen a massive response.

The continuing aftermath of February 15th

Two issues not highlighted elsewhere are the feelings of powerlessness which the 15 February 2003 demonstration led to. Despite the largest turnout in British history for a demonstration the government simply didn’t listen. That people took a certain lesson from that has, I feel, been shown by the relatively low turnouts for subsequent anti-war marches: anti-war sentiment may not have completely diminished, but people’s eagerness to try to challenge the government’s policy on Iraq publicly ebbed considerably after March 2003.

It seems that anger at politicians and other ‘institutional’ figures is more likely to be expressed through the ballot box next May than on the street before then. What will be interesting is what happens after that, how the Tories manage the economy and other keystone issues. After a year of the ‘opposition’ in power, people may decide to return to the streets.

It may be that people are too angry at the moment, but feel that that anger is best expressed through the ballot box rather than the half-brick. Even so, with the summer proper still on us, it’s perfectly possible that Superintendent Hartshorn will still be right – there’s still all to play for and a couple of months for his prediction to come true.

→ 10 CommentsThis entry belongs to the following categories: Articles · resistance

10 responses so far

  • Tom posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 11:33 am. Comment #1

    I agree to some extent about anti-war marches have demoralised alot of people though I think this is only people from some demographics.

    Equally Chris Knight and crew have done us no favors by continuing to organise ineffective ‘theatrical’ protests with ever more dwindling numbers. It’s easy to understand why people are turned off when it appears people like George Galloway and Chris Knight are ‘leaders’ of our movement.

    With upcoming elections it feels like we must present political and social ideas far outside of the ‘democratic’ party political system we currently have. People don’t like to think about ‘politics’ because it has so little to do with there lives. As anarchists we can show them how wrong that is!

  • Anon posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 11:43 am. Comment #2

    In brief…

    Er…’cos it was a (cop&) media creation – if you believed it, more fool you!

    It’s hardly rage, but there’s more than just the London climate camp going on (see listings at

    And it’s more than just some big demo a few years ago that has disempowered people & given us no militant mass tradition. But that’s a longer story

    And, er, anger is hardly expressed through a ballot box…just imagine!

  • Tom Fiction posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm. Comment #3

    ‘And, er, anger is hardly expressed through a ballot box…just imagine!’ I agree which is why we should be expressing ourselves in other ways and encouraging others to do so. My point was that most people know that voting is pointless. In the current social climate apathy is pretty understandable.

  • Longtermer posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 1:01 pm. Comment #4

    It’s early days here in the U.K. Pointless to use the media and cop created Summer of Rage as a measure for social antagonism. Already there have been a number of wildcat strikes in the oil sector, occupations over school closures, the Visteon occupation and now the Vestas dispute. The credit crisis (or the capitalist crisis) is not over. There are no green shoots in the economy and all the statistics point to a long period of crisis and recession.
    So expect massive public spending cuts, massive redundancies, massive pauperisation all round in the next five years. That’s when we will know if the UK is just generally apathetic and defeated or whether the long tradition of class fightback will rear up once more

  • calum posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm. Comment #5

    I’ve been feeling the same way all summer. some good points.

  • summer rager posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 1:55 pm. Comment #6

    It’s not been much of a summer of rage, but there’s still time for an Autumn of Anger. Disarm Dsei’s move away from Excel to take on the Investors in the City might liven things up a bit.

  • ibs posted:
    Jul 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm. Comment #7

    Autumn of anger maybe, but unfortunately looks like we’re going headlong into a winter of ennui. I wonder what affect the death of Ian Tomlinson has had on all this. The fact that cops caused the death of a bystander at a protest and nearly got away, combined with the routine violence at the G20 and Gaza protests, could well make people think twice before taking to the streets. Let’s not forget that as well as talking up a summer of rage, the police also prophecised mass violence at the G20 protest which they went on to fulfill.

  • Long Termer posted:
    Jul 21, 2009 at 12:27 pm. Comment #8

    Most people here seem to focus rage as something that takes place in big demos in the streets. Yes, that’s a small part of the equation but in end it’s the long and often tough behind the scenes struggles that will make a difference in the end. In May 1990, people had the biggest riot London had seen for centuries against the Poll Tax but it was the local organising of non-payment that destroyed the hated tax. As good as the riot felt for many it was merely the cherry on the top for it was the local work that put the boot in and got the Poll Tax scrapped.
    It’s easy to forget that things that seem the most rebellious becasue they feature broken windows and things on fire are not necessarily the most radical and useful in the end. Most riots are a bunch of people coming together for a few hours in London, breaking stuff and having a laugh (fair goes!) and then going home. If we are serious about change, then it’s taking care of the everyday lives we live in our homes and work that is where we need to be radical.
    So big up the Vestas workers who have now occupied their factory last night. It’s not a big riot but it is people going ‘Fuck this!’, lets occupy and struggle against the bosses desire to fuck them over. That’s a local struggle that radicalise a hell of lot more people than some often pointless riot in London.

    GIve the Vestas workers some solidarity!

  • cerebus posted:
    Jul 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm. Comment #9

    This summer of rage talk reminds me of communists talking of the revolution. Almost all communists in the 60s and 70s thought now the revolution comes and hey I know lots of communists who are still talking the same way.
    But the point is not talking about “the revolution”, it will come or not, but saying “tomorrow, I’m sure tomorrow it comes!” won’t change much.

    and I agree with “Long Termer” that rioting and violence won’t change much or anything at all:
    “Pogo on a nazi, spit upon a jew,
    Vicious mindless violence that offers nothing new.
    Left wing violence, right wing violence, all seems much the same,
    Bully boys out fighting, it’s just the same old game.”

  • Tom Fiction posted:
    Jul 23, 2009 at 8:08 pm. Comment #10

    Cerebus I hear your point but check out this article