The riots in London and other major cites in England have shocked everyone. Whilst they seem to have begun in response to the death of a young man by the police in Tottenham, London, it developed into disorder which was more about looting than protest. It was as if permission had been given to mostly young people to break into shops and major stores and get for themselves goods widely advertised, but beyond their ability to buy over the counter. We have seen some appalling scenes of violence on TV. The total disrespect for normal civic behaviour has alarmed the country, whilst the damage done to property and livelihoods is already being costed at millions of pounds. The social loss is beyond price.
There are many explanations being offered for this mayhem. One-parent families, poor discipline in schools, the law being more about rights than responsibilities, significant areas of disadvantage, the lack of jobs, the closure of youth clubs and sport facilities, the ineffectuality of the police, the Courts giving trivial sentences and the prisons an invitation to more crime (50% of prisoners re-offend), the ending of maintenance to encourage teenagers to stay at school, social exclusion, and – increasingly in the tabloid newspapers – race.
Most people seem to be agreed that there are multiple causes which implies that there needs to be a much more detailed response than the blame game.
Political leaders have returned from their holidays to ‘take charge’ of the situation and Parliament is in session this afternoon. The Prime Minister talks of a sick society and inadvisably speaks about ‘fighting back’, which is the last thing required in an inflammable situation. He has made a long statement in the House of Commons saying that offenders will be punished (magistrates courts in London have been in 24 hour session) and that the whole situation is about thuggery and criminality.
The debate in the Commons continues.
One media focus has been the death of three friends in Birmingham where they were killed by a car driven with what seems to have been that intentional purpose. The father of one of them has been calling the youth of the community to respect the mourning of the family, and not to take the matter into their own hands. He has become a living icon of forgiveness and peace.
There are no excuses for what is happening, but there may be reasons. One of mine is that the sick culture Cameron speaks about is in fact a greed culture, apparent at every level of society. Consumerism has replaced citizenship as a defining characteristic of how the nation now lives. The greed exists at its most obscene in the banking sector, is epitomised by an aggressive advertising policy which suggests that life is deficient unless everyone has the latest electronic device or is able to buy designer clothes.
Whilst there is a mindless, crazed ferocity about the riots of the last five days, and a level of existing criminality which may have risen to the surface, the acquisitive tone and style of our present national life in my old mind is a major contributing factor to this deeply worrying situation.
In this we are all to blame.