‘Apocalyptic’ food shortages, gas and electricity bills soaring, wages not keeping pace with inflation… it’s beginning to look like we’re heading for major outbreaks of civil unrest this summer. As a resident of the London Borough of Ealing, which witnessed some of the worst rioting in the capital in 2011, I’m getting a little concerned. Not for myself and my family, you understand, but for the muggers, car thieves and burglars who prey on the middle-class residents. Will they be all right?
The educated bourgeoisie has developed an irrational fear of civilisational collapse, having been taught by books and films like The Road and Mad Max that gangs of marauding thugs will rule the roost in a post-apocalyptic universe. We’re told again and again that the moment law and order breaks down, our nice, leafy neighbourhoods will be transformed into Hobbesian hellholes. If bespectacled soy-boys like me aren’t killed for foolishly trying to defend our homes, the best we can hope for is to become indentured labourers while our wives and daughters are carried off on motorcycles.
But as I discovered during the disorder of 11 years ago, it is not middle–class property owners who have the most to fear from the breakdown of society, but the propertyless. This revelation hit me during a long day in August 2011 that began with a trip to Ealing Broadway, the site of the worst rioting the night before. It’s about a two-mile walk from my house, and as I made my way along the Uxbridge Road I could see exactly where the rioters had got to the previous evening, like a tideline in the urban landscape. On one side of the line it looked as it always does – the usual hotchpotch of restaurants, coffee shops and newsagents along the main road, with quiet residential streets behind – whereas on the other there were broken shop windows, burnt-out cars and upended bins, as if the area had been engulfed by some terrible destructive storm. That line was about half a mile from my house.
By the time I got to the Broadway it was too late to help with the clean-up, so I decided to wander back via a street of Victorian semi-detached houses just like my own. Had the sea of rioters flowed exclusively along the main thoroughfares or been diverted along residential streets? They’d been diverted. Everywhere I looked, householders were boarding up their windows, sweeping broken glass off their front steps or standing by their damaged cars, waiting for tow trucks.
I asked one man what had happened and he said a pack of feral youths had tried to break into his home at around midnight. He’d locked his wife and young child in the garden shed for their own safety and then done his best to keep out the mob as they tried to break down his front door and smash their way in through his front window. ‘Didn’t you call the police?’ I asked. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said. More than 12 hours later, they still hadn’t turned up.
I hurried home, convinced the riots would reach my street that night and desperately trying to think of ways to protect my wife and children. I asked the head of the local Neighbourhood Watch group to convene an emergency meeting and, not surprisingly, it was well-attended. There were about 30 of us, nearly all men, and we agreed we wouldn’t risk anything to protect our cars. If lawless youths wanted to smash them up or set them on fire, so be it. But if they tried to break into our homes, we would act. We agreed that the householder being targeted would set off his burglar alarm and the rest of us would come running to help, using whatever weapons we had to hand – cricket bats, hammers, iron bars.
Thankfully, the Metropolitan Police reasserted control that night and the riots fizzled out, so I don’t know what would have happened if our worst fears had been realised. But I suspect some of us would have come to our neighbours’ defence. Had that transpired, I don’t fancy the chances of the housebreakers. And this would have been on day four of the worst outbreak of civil disorder since the Brixton riots. By day seven, if the police were still nowhere in sight, I expect my Neighbourhood Watch group would have formed itself into an armed militia, with pickets at either end of the street.
The depiction of civilisational collapse in Hollywood movies, in which the usual social hierarchy is turned on its head, is clearly a myth. Middle–class pantywaists like me will be absolutely fine. It’s the criminal underclass who should be living in fear.
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