Why, not when?
The real question was ‘what were the conditions which made such a total loss of social control, expressed by looting, occur?’ That they happened in 2011 rather than the previous year or in 2012 was the wrong question.
The main factor
Of course there were many contributory factors, but by far the most significant was that we had become a nation of ‘shop till you drop’, It Could Be You, credit-fuelled consumer junkies. Widespread materialism (placing too high a value on money, possessions, appearances and fame – what I dubbed Affluenza) had been ramped up to such a degree that another question would be ‘why had there been no looting before?’
As the recession bit, money was getting tighter. For thirty years, first with Thatcherism, then Blatcherism, we had been encouraged to aspire, to believe that anyone could have anything or become anyone (even an ugly and unpleasant person could dream of winning Big Brother). There was a sense of entitlement to a widescreen TV and the sense that such a possession would make you fulfilled. What had been satirized as Loadsamoney in the eighties had ceased to be a joke. Being a loud-mouthed greedy person (otherwise known as the stereotypical American) had become highly valued. For five decades, we had been spending twice as much per capita on advertising to our population as mainland Europe, deliberately encouraging them to conflate real needs with confected wants.
The riots were inevitable
It would be wrong to claim that riots were inevitable. But it was hardly surprising to say the least when, one day, large swathes of the population who could not afford the consumer goods suddenly discovered that, if enough of them simultaneously smashed the windows of the shops and just took what they wanted, it was possible.
The biggest irony was that it took Right Wing journalists to point out that the population were only doing what the filthy rich ruling elite had been doing for three decades: the CEOs plundering their corporations, the MPs fiddling their mortgages and expenses, the politicians and civil servants hopping in and out of the financial services bed.