For Want of Welsh Riots?

Following news coverage of the constantly rebranded riots, the general public could be forgiven were they to feel confused as to where the recent (and ongoing) rioting is actually taking place. It is notable that over the last few days the BBC newsfeeds, their website in particular, have struggled to decide where exactly the riots are emanating from. Starting as the ‘UK riots’, in the last 24hours the outbreaks have been rebranded as the ‘English riots’ or ‘England riots’, though occasionally bouncing back to ‘UK riots’ as phantom reports of Welsh outbreaks of violence bubble to the surface, only to disappear again. In some respects, elements of the media have been eagerly looking for signs of malcontent beyond the English borders. Today the Guardian carried this http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/10/uk-riots-wales-minor-arson?INTCMP=SRCH rather clumsy article, as so called ‘attempted looting’ reports were gathered. Not just England then? Well, that is at least how elements of the ‘national’ media would have it presented. Despite local policing describing the incidents as ‘isolated’ and ‘minor’, these were still considered worthy of consideration within the wider reporting of the ‘UK riots’. Yet in reality, there have been no Welsh riots, and without any sense of smugness and without wanting to tempt a heavy dose of hubris, this has remained an English issue.  This though has not stopped the rumour mill, or the occasionally desperate attempts from hacks to create an extension of the story. Walk around Cardiff though, or Newport, an area far more likely to exhibit signs of the social disorder currently promoting the British Isles to the world, and you will find some fairly relaxed and quiet cities.

While it is unlikely that there has been a media conspiracy to get everyone involved, it has been evident in print and television media, that there has been a concerted effort to identify examples of what happened in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, in other area such as south Wales, though ultimately there has been nothing to find. Which raises some interesting questions, notably being, why have we not seen such behaviour in Wales?

Of the excuses put forward for the violence, shootings aside, social issues relating to unemployment and the economy have been thrust forward as underpinning the reasons (not that in practice reason has had anything to do with the outbreaks) for what has gripped many English cities. Yet Wales, especially communities across the South Wales Valleys regions, are affected, if not considerably more so, by the same issues. Unemployment and a bleak economic future are realities of life for many in Wales, and have as much, with the same reservation being applied to the use of the word, reason to take to rioting as any others in the British Isles. Still, nothing of the sort has occurred.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Wales has been spared the violence, and it is certainly not the intention of this submission to paint a picture perfect image of society in Wales. There are no shortage of problems, with small scale theft, drug distribution and dependency issues, and the same shared social problems that come with any Friday and Saturday night. But the inclination to engage in widespread destruction is not evident, and generally the concept of rioting in Wales is a rare commodity. In the history of Wales, there have been occasional and very localised occasions of race riots, usually manifest in violence against people rather than on property. Those incidents of property based aggression have usually been politically driven, and again highly localised and uncommon.

Understanding the reason both for the recent violence and the lack of it in other locations could ultimately prove to be impossible, as stated above, reason probably has very little to do with it. But in Wales at least, we might conclude that part of what makes the nation distinctive, is a long standing sense of community. Valleys communities in particular have managed, in the face of constant social pressures, to maintain a sense of cohesion. There is almost a ‘don’t shit on your own doorstep’ attitude that has been ingrained in Welsh youths. This might be manifest in youngsters going out of their locales to nearby towns and cities for their drinking binges, but areas seen as local and as ‘home’ seem to be spared the brunt of the darker impacts of social decline. It doesn’t make communities in Wales perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an important focal point on the importance on the idea of community that, we might hope, continues to prevent towns and cities here from following the decent.

That being, said, it is with a great sense of relief, and pride in a wider representation of the British Isles as a whole, that that idea of community is being seen across the country. Clean up operations, vigilante groups and strong arm council views on the eviction of looters, does highlight the fact that the acts being committed are the product of a subsection of society, and we must maintain faith in the positive views of society that can be seen in the aftermath. The positivity of community identity does exist, and perhaps instead of looking for stories of violence and looting in Wales, we might be encouraged more so to tell the story of the lack of violence and looting, just as stories from the news media coming out of London now fall on the community led clean-up operations. In Wales, community can be seen in the lack of violence, and that is a story worth telling in its own right.

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