One of my favourite short poems by Steve Turner is History Lesson:
History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.
I was reminded of it when earlier this week I read a tweet from @maggidawn:
Royal Wedding + riots… just like 1981
In 1981 Mrs Tree and I were in the process of moving to Merseyside and stayed for a few days with the very hospitable relatives of some friends of ours. Pete was a social worker, and on the Friday night I joined him and a mate for a pint in a Liverpool city centre pub. When we arrived there was a definite buzz to the atmosphere – nothing personal, but a definite edge. His friend, like me was around 6 foot tall, while Pete was considerably shorter. Having got the round in, Pete sat between us, looked at each of us in turn and said, “I’m glad I’ve got you two big fellas here with me tonight!”
Welcome to Liverpool.
Next morning at breakfast, Pete mentioned that a young black man had been arrested in Toxteth the previous evening. “There’s going to be trouble,” he said. That day we travelled back to London, and, just as Pete had warned, began to see pictures of what became known as the Toxteth riots on the TV news.
Of course, Toxteth was not the only place to experience rioting during 1981. Riots had already taken place in Brixton, three miles from where we lived, and many of our local shops installed steel security shutters over their windows for the very first time. And when Mrs Tree went on a training course in Manchester, she was strongly advised not to leave her hotel in the evenings.
As Lay Anglicana has pointed out, as political protest this week’s riots have a different, slightly synthetic feel to them. But they have raised all sorts of social questions that have been swept under the carpet for too long. In 1981, Michael Heseltine came to Liverpool, some things began to change and investment came to a city which had been in decline for too long. It is sad that it sometimes takes this kind of action for these issues to be taken seriously.
It will be interesting to see how the debate on the causes of this weeks riots and looting progresses in the days and months to come. Will anyone really listen?