I remember the last riots in Britain in 1981. It was a time of racial tension and high unemployment, which contrasted sharply with the emergence of the Yuppie conspicuous consumption role model for the young English middle class. Thatcher was loved in the South and hated in the North.
The riots started in Brixton. Thatcher, who , six years after the riots, famously said: “There is no such thing as society” rejected all analysis of the underlying cause of the riots. She said: “Nothing, but nothing, justifies what happened…No one should condone violence. No one should condone the events … They were criminal, criminal.”
Her response was to ignore calls for changes in what the Scarman Report called a disproportionate and indiscriminate use of ‘stop and search’ powers by the police against black people. Scarman’s recommendations for investment in the inner city and actions to reduce racial discrimination were not implemented. Thatcher stated that “Money cannot buy either trust or racial harmony.”
The riots continued through the summer and spread to Toxteth in Liverpool. The flared up again in Brixton in 1985. In 1999 the Macpherson Report, commissioned by the Labour government, found that recommendations of Scarman Report had been ignored and concluded that the police force was “institutionally racist”
Now we have a new generation rioting and looting. The behaviour of these rioters is different and has different causes. The looting in these riots shows a disregard for the law that is not so much criminal as completely amoral. This is a generation that feels deprived if they don’t have latest phone and coolest clothes. Social mobility has come to a stop. The economy has died. The currency is worth nothing. Parenting has been nationalized. Education is failing. Those most motivated to serve their country are being shipped out to support America’s war on terror.
One could imagine that a modern Scarman report would identify a need to integrate a growing social underclass and to build greater involvement in local communities.
On the surface, the Tory response hasn’t changed much since Thatcher.
Cameron, the man who, in February, blamed “the doctrine of state multiculturalism” for having created a Britain in which “We have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong”, is again reacting as if nothing more than criminality is happening here and he intends to respond with force.
Except there is more to it this time. Cameron claims to believe in “Big Society” and he wants to shape it. The man leading the charge to fix “Broken Britain”, the ex-leader of the Tory Party, Iain Duncan Smith founded a right wing think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, in 2004 to focus on how this Big Society should be shaped.
The recommendations that are being presented as response to the riots are part of the new Tory ideology that his think tank produced. It translates like this.
- Britain is broken.
- It lacks moral fibre.
- Poor parenting and years of flabby, liberal, multicultural Labour rule have allowed people to lose sight of their duty to each other and their country.
- We must fix it through zero tolerance of those who think and act differently than us and by using the law to re-impose the moral values and disciplines that will restore the Britain that we (the old-Etonian upper class) believe everyone should live in.
So now we see proposals to go to war with the young poor. Thousands of arrests. Calls for “Academies” to “re-educate” the poor. Systematic harassment of any leaders in the ranks of the poor, the disenfranchised and the disillusioned who encourage challenging the Government. Proposed suspensions of social networks. Prosecution of teenagers for what they say on Twitter and Facebook.
It would sounds like the text-book response of any well-established Middle Eastern Dictator.
I hope it meets with the same fate.
I do not approve of the riots or the looting but they should not be used as a convenient platform for Tory social re-engineering which essentially requires our police to go to war with the young.
Cameron and Duncan Smith are not the right leaders for these times. They lack the vision, the credibility and the will to address the fundamental issues.
I hope that the British public will see them for who they are and dismiss them from power as soon as possible.