Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Rioters choose sneakers, stuff the cause

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The English riots that led the television news most nights this week were triggered by the death of a young black man, Mark Duggan, known to the police and almost certainly shot by them. Early inquiries backed the notion that although Duggan was armed, his weapon was never fired.

No surprises there. A total of 333 people have died in British police custody since 1998. Thirteen prosecutions have followed but not one conviction. That is indeed something worth agitating about.

However, it has been customary to wait for an official inquiry to come up with a white-washed decision before taking to the streets. Not this time. One five-hour vigil and two police cars on fire later, and it was all on.

What followed was not a protest. It was not, as some hysterical political extremists suggested, the English version of the Arab Spring earlier this year that saw uprisings against corrupt regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria.

What followed, with its wholesale pillaging of retailers, was not a demonstration about social injustice or racial prejudice. It was about shopping. It was about greed and envy.

The rioters, a racially diverse group, took to the streets to assert their rights to better shoes, bigger TVs and cooler bicycles.

Apologists have linked this to the appalling social divide in England, the rioters portrayed as an army of disaffected youth with no jobs and few prospects who used the technology provided by smartphones and social media to organise their attacks on property and people. But how alienated can you be on a BlackBerry?

If any element in society is responsible in any sense for what happened, it is not the political establishment. It is the global corporate consumerism that drives the economy by making people want more, while making it impossible for them to acquire it by, for instance, avoiding the taxes which would help provide better education and social services. "We're just showing the rich people we can do what we want," said one of the few rioters who had been interviewed. She has no idea what rich people are capable of when their shops are destroyed and their safety endangered. But she can be sure their response will not include improving social conditions or closing the gap between rich and poor.

Amid such idiocy, one of the few sensible comments came from a West Indian woman, leaning on a walking stick in the night, surrounded by debris and berating the rioters: "Get it real, black people. Get it real. Do it for a cause. If we're fighting for a cause, let's fight for a f***ing cause."

RWC KNIGHTHOOD

My fears about the travesties that would ensue when the honours system was re-introduced were confirmed when the Prime Minister joked about a knighthood for Richie McCaw if the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup.

The trouble with the joke was that it was all too plausible. There's no shortage of precedents. Sir Peter Blake, Sir Bob Charles, Sir Colin Meads. All were honoured for winning games or races - for doing their job. But no one should receive special recognition for doing what they are paid well to do.

If McCaw scores the winning try in the Cup final with a broken leg while rescuing a child from drowning and breastfeeding an orphaned kitten, then maybe he should get extra recognition, on top of the commercial bonanza that will come his way.

Otherwise, if we must have these ridiculous honours let's reserve them for people who do things above and beyond the call of duty.

PRIVATE PRISONS

My fears that the establishment of profit-driven private prisons would lead to worsening conditions for inmates, on the other hand, have turned out to be unfounded. Prisoners at Mt Eden can now have TVs in their cells and get bigger servings of what must be quite delicious food if they're asking for more. Prison manager Serco has also introduced a dessert option for prisoners who don't have to worry about their weight. Obviously, with prisons as with schools, conditions are considerably better if you go private.

ABOUT ADIDAS

It's just a jumper, no one's forcing you to buy it.

- Herald on Sunday

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