These riots present David Cameron with the opportunity to convince us that Britain is broken and to do something about it. We should help Mr Cameron and not hinder him by complaining, writes Olivia Jackson.
As a nation, we don’t tend to go in for rioting and looting: it’s not our style. But several very British aspects of the disorder seem to be emerging.
Amidst the Tweets about where to gather and when for more rioting and looting ‘fun’, a rising swell of Tweets, texts and websites has become apparent: those organising clean ups, serving tea to the Police, and a few organising defence of streets and buildings. While nothing like the scale of help seen after the Blitz, this is perhaps in the same spirit – people turning out voluntarily to get life back to normal as fast as possible.
One look at the photos and footage all over the Internet sums up what Cameron has been trying so long to persuade us to enact: the Big Society. Perhaps it was there all along, or perhaps it needed a crisis to draw it out of us. Perhaps, in our British recalcitrance, we simply don’t like being told what to do.
Either way, one thing has become increasingly clear both before and during the riots: the welfare state is failing young people and communities, and simply throwing money and projects at the problem won’t make it go away. A welfare mentality – and a vast welfare state – has undermined families and communities. If I can live on welfare, and everyone around me can too, then I have no need for neighbourhood accountability or to provide for my family. I can effectively do what I want. Community ties are loosened, which most criminologists will say is a major factor in criminal behaviour, as the social ties which keep us in check are simply not there. Social cohesion and a sense of belonging fails, so people attack their own communities. Two girls interviewed by the BBC, as they drank their stolen wine, told the interviewer that the riots were ‘well good’ and ‘fun’, and that they were showing the rich people and the police that they can do what they want. I’m not sure the small shop owners and the council house residents who have seen their belongings go up in flames would agree with them.
We desperately need the same spirit which sweeps up glass and makes tea to continue to engage and get hands dirty long after the riots have stopped. We need that Big Society to continue turning out, but this time to do what the State can never do: build relationships, build communities and mentor those whose lives are spinning out of control in a welfare vacuum. We need the post-Blitz spirit to mend Broken Britain.
Meanwhile the press blame cuts, liberal upbringings and lack of moral guidance, politicians, banks, racist police – anyone, it seems, except the looters themselves. This is something else we are sadly good at in Britain: blame. It sometimes seems as though we have stopped looking for reasons, and seek only to assign blame. In recent times, we go one step further and, where the perpetrator is someone we like to see as a victim, we will blame anyone other than our pet victim. So we keep them free from ever having to take responsibility… as long as they continue to fulfill our notions of victim and conveniently remain in the underclass.
Articles outlining the various options open to the Government, from water cannons and plastic bullets to putting the Army on the streets and enforcing curfews, all seem to use as their counter argument that these things have not been done before in Britain, and that we British are uncomfortable with the idea of such methods being used against civilians. This is true, but we have not in the modern era seen looting like this, and I would guess we are rather more ‘uncomfortable’ with mob rule, arson and rioting than with the water cannons and plastic bullets the Government have now said they are ready to use. (The very fact that we use words as mild as merely ‘uncomfortable’ is perhaps another national trait!)
Of course, to be truly British, we need a British summer complete with rain which, as Harry Raffal points out on this blog, would send the rioters scattering. It’s no fun walking home in the rain with a 42 inch flatscreen and new trainers.
As politicians visit ransacked areas and Boris brandishes his broom, this could be David Cameron’s biggest chance yet to truly launch his Big Society, fix Broken Britain and restore a cohesive national identity. Let’s help him, rather than be ‘wingeing poms’, and help these riots be remembered for some good British spirit.