Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Britain is heading towards unrest again.

It was 15 years ago that I landed in Toronto.  Having arrived from the UK, I was obviously quite culture-shocked by the comparatively restrictive nature of the place when compared to where I just came from.  You couldn't smoke whilst you walked around the shopping centre… or grab a beer and walk through the park with it… or buy alcohol at the corner shop because it's restricted… or cross the street wherever you felt it most convenient.  Whilst I'm now a non-smoker, I was here and smoking when the laws changed about smoking in bars.  This just further enhanced my perception of the overly aggressive laws that the people here have to put up with.

Yes, to a (then) 25 year old, Toronto came across as the ultimate nanny state.

Now I'm 40 and just came back from my latest trip home.  Whilst Toronto hasn't given up on any of it's regulations, and still rapidly adds to the list of "thou shalt not's" (thou shalt not have free plastic shopping bags (repealed), thou shalt not sell plastic bottles of water in municipal areas, thou shalt not buy puppies in pet stores, thou shalt not build a 2000 sq meter building without a green roof, thou shalt not put weed killer on your lawn), it seems to have a remarkable air of "relaxation" about it when you compare it with the UK, currently.

The biggest thing you notice in the UK right now is how tense everything is.  You're constantly reminded that "CCTV is in operation on this [train/subway platform/shopping mall/etc] for your safety".  You're also told that if you leave a bag unattended for more than a microsecond then you run the risk of bomb disposal experts coming in and blowing up your shopping or laptop bag.  You're reminded that "if you see something, say something".  And, of course, there are the cameras.  Yes, the cameras are EVERYWHERE.

You might say "well, that's just the measures put in place post the 7/7 attacks", but remember that terrorism has been around for quite some time and wasn't a term invented by George Bush after 9/11.  Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was not uncommon to go to London and have to spend 2 hours being diverted away from where you wanted to be because of some IRA coded warning.

No, what has happened is the UK is mimicking the USA's efforts since they had their 9/11 attacks - the big difference being that whilst the public sees this stuff in the form of the TSA and it's security measures in the USA, in Britiain, it's integrated slowly onto the streets and general public life.  To put it another way, whilst the USA play's "whack-a-mole" with it's threats in a perceived isolated manner, the UK is openly carpet-bombing society to cover every threat angle.  

As you can guess, it doesn't feel too good there; People are getting tense, angry, and agitated.  If you make millions of people feel like they're under threat then they will act like it.  So what we're seeing now is a tinderbox of emotions ranging from religious hatred due to extremist actions, anger against the police, and a general distrust for anyone and anything that looks different.  Given what's been going on over there for the past few days, you can almost feel that the UK is rapidly speeding towards riots and other civil unrests.  

The big question is what will the spark be, that sets this off?