The August riots prove that David Cameron is right: Britain is broken. The question is this: how do our politicians fix it? David Vaiani reports.
Judging by the scenes of mayhem on our television screens, it is probably safe to assume that David Cameron will not be feeling the urge to hug a hoodie any time soon. Nor, one suspects, will he be exhorting others to do so, as he once did. All the same, David Cameron was right to point out before the election that our society is broken. At the time, his Labour opponents attacked him for even daring to raise the issue. But, as we watch mindless thugs rampaging across our capital city causing wanton destruction at every turn and the police seemingly incapable of restoring order to our streets, it is now abundantly clear that the foundations of our society have rarely been more vulnerable.
In that context, it is not good enough to grasp for easy answers, as the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone tried to do last night when he blamed ‘the public sector cuts’ for what has happened in London over the past three days. It is a charming thought to imagine that these rioters would be enjoying a leisurely game of table tennis, rather than smashing shop windows and setting police cars on fire, if only the local youth centre had not be been shut down. The truth, however, is somewhat more complicated than that.
Another favoured line of attack has been to suggest that the rioters are motivated by poverty and a general sense of hopelessness. There is, of course, some truth to this assertion. However, it is worth noting that poverty alone does not give anyone the right to destroy another person’s life. More to the point, it is difficult to square this image of the ‘poor and destitute’ rising up in anger with the news that the perpetrators are co-ordinating their actions by communicating via their blackberries.
Nor is it wise to focus exclusively on the racial profile of the rioters. When the riots began, some commentators immediately turned their attention to the fractious relations between the police and local black communities. An attempt was made to pin the blame for the riots on the police’s stop and search campaigns that have tended to focus on black youths. Whilst I do not deny that this blunt instrument has caused much resentment across the black community, it is not too difficult to puncture the argument by pointing out that many of the rioters are white.
So, in the end, we are left with a more nuanced picture of what has gone wrong. To put it bluntly, we have allowed an underclass to develop in this country and we are now paying the price for having ignored the problem for far too long. The emergence of this underclass is a direct consequence of some of the following societal ills: poor education, an absence of authority in many of our schools, a lack of aspiration, parental breakdown, absentee fathers, the illegal drugs trade which fuels much criminality, the gradual erosion of respect for age-old traditions and institutions, large-scale immigration, an emphasis on rights as opposed to responsibilities, a ‘culture’ that ranks celebrity fame and fortune over and above solid achievement and non-financial rewards, a grasping and impatient desire to acquire the world’s prizes without working for them. All of these cancers have fundamentally weakened the bonds that, over many generations, have held our society together.
To list these difficulties is not a glib statement of the obvious, but an honest acknowledgment of the complicated and deep-rooted nature of the problems with which we must grapple over the course of the next few decades if we are to rebuild our broken society. So, the Tories were right: our society is broken. The question is whether it is already too late to do anything about it.