Lansons Conversations

What next for public life post-riots?

The silent majority will speak a little more. In Britain only the workers and the left demonstrate, others don’t. In the aftermath of the riots, the strength of public feeling led to online gatherings, clean-up campaigns and even vigilantes. We may not ever have our own tea party movement, but in future key parts of the silent majority – the elderly, council tenants, savers, taxpayers – will speak and be heard a little more. Consumer brands will need strong leaders and savvy boards. So far we’ve seen a few companies tone down their advertising as a result of the riots, but this probably won’t last. Many brands have profited from questioning authority (particularly mocking parents) and identifying with street and gang culture. And they will only remain ‘cool’ if they continue to catch the mood of their audience. However politicians and media will challenge companies that are felt to be encouraging the breakdown of society. To stay the right side of the line of acceptability, future brand campaigns will all be vetted by corporate communications and public affairs before seeing light of day. To thrive in this environment consumer brands will need strong leaders and savvy boards. When the rhetoric fades, we will accept that we have to spend more time understanding the rioters, in other words, the excludeds. Our society only works if almost everyone feels part of it, at least in some way. After the royal wedding we convinced ourselves that Britain was one nation, yet how facile that looked on the night of August 8th. We will all have to understand our own country better. This will take a major slice of the academic and think tank resource and effort in coming years. In dealing with the excludeds, Cameron’s Government will ultimately take the same route as Blair’s and throw money at the problem. Maybe not in the same form of blanket benefits but money nonetheless. This time however, other groups will suffer more as the money will come from somewhere. Watch out the ‘squeezed middle’, the elderly and the arts. Emboldened with new confidence, petty crime will return to our (metropolitan) streets. Many of us remember times when it was accepted that the car window being smashed occasionally and the annual burglary were part of London living. As a result law and order, crime and the causes of crime will again become a national issue as in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The ‘squeezed middle’ will – as they themselves expect – remain the squeezed middle. They will continue to feel that the rich above them dodge the rules and that those “below” them get given an unfair slice for not working. Will this resentment bubble over into more, for instance the rise of the far right? Probably not, but concern will rise. Perhaps our biggest danger is that we adopt zero tolerance across the board. If zero tolerance is right for rioters, why not bankers, politicians, children et al. Yet we all know humans err and stray, the question is on what and how far. Social media will continue to grow and grow in influence. Yes rioters used it, but rioters get noticed anyway. One of the enduring memories of the riots will be the reassuring waves of caring, compassion and common sense from ordinary (silent majority) folk. We only know the depth of this because of social media like Twitter. A new burst of artistic creativity will come to Britain, not driven by public subsidy but by social tension. Friction and hardship leads to questioning and often great art. Maybe we’ll welcome a new wave of British artists over the next five years. Will years of realism and questioning knock Premier League football from its gilded perch? Or as with ancient Rome will the paegents get bigger alongside the problems? Together with the Olympics, surely the probability is for greater appreciation of other sports at least. For more information or to get in touch with Tony, email