As if the phone hacking scandal didn’t suffice, this week’s riots in London and other British cities dealt another heavy blow to the UK reputation. Cameron’s “Big Society” is there now for everybody to see, and guess what: it seems to wear hoodies (the looters) and doner knives (the vigilante groups). “Value for money”, if you allow us. One wonders what actually took the alienated youth so long. Obviously short-sighted Cameron & Osborne policies are hardly the only culprits for this looting spree, but the upper class arrogance and body language of Cameron & his Tory friends for sure don’t help. Cameron’s quote “we will not let any phony concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of these pictures and the arrest of these individuals (i.e. looters of minor age)” was further evidence of his (by now well-known) populist credentials, not to mention his dumb plan to make the use of Twitter and Blackberry’s more difficult for potential rioters. Suddenly, ‘restoring law and order’ and ‘scientific social management’ don’t seem all that different anymore.  Next time Cameron feels like lecturing the Beijing mandarins, they will surely remember.

Anyway, class war is back. Only this time the angry mob is going after consumer gadgets, and overpaid pundits are working overtime to call it anything but a class war. They understand very well that it’s all about the dominant narrative these days. Unsurprisingly, Theodore Dalrymple has a different opinion on the rioters, but my guess is that as long as we keep hearing outrageous stories like this one  (on the lavish 2011 City banker’s summer party), nihilist violence must feel like the only option left for many people. I just spent some time in a few Chinese mega-cities and frankly, the glitzy but near empty Gucci, Vuitton & Burberry designer outlets in department stores felt like an accident waiting to happen there too.  For every person I met who stressed “the Communist Party will be in charge for another 100 years”, there seemed to be another one saying the biggest current problem in China is the CP. So for the ones who think only the Western world is in trouble, think again. You might want to read James Fallow’s assessment of contemporary China in the new Atlantic issue.

Finally, on a more optimistic note, the Gates Foundation started a partnership with Barcelona, arguably the biggest soccer club in the world at the moment. Gates hopes together they can bring more global attention to the promise of life-saving vaccines and the fight to end polio. A lofty cause, no doubt. Meanwhile, Spanish professional soccer players announced a strike. The likes of Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol already confirmed their participation. Just when you think the world can’t get any crazier, soccer players paid millions of Euros a year are advocating for better labour conditions. But hey, Puyol and co actually hand a couple of interesting innovative ideas to the Gates foundation here – better labour conditions for the working class, strikes, collective labour agreements, … !  And to be fair, they advocate for their less fortunate colleagues, who haven’t been paid for months.  All is not lost in this world, it seems.

Kristof Decoster

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