In the aftermath of last week’s riots which shocked London initially, and later England as a whole, many people have queued up to have their say on, why, how, and what they would do in response to the carnage that engulfed our streets. Some have blamed the impending spending cuts, while others have chosen to focus on this idea of a ‘broken society’, calling for drastic measures such as bringing in the army, and the eviction of any convicted rioters from social housing. Most recently, we have heard historian David Starkey’s outrageous, borderline racist comments on Newsnight, in which he effectively blamed ‘black culture’.
Today we heard from the Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband on what they believed was the necessary reaction to last week’s events. Whilst, David Cameron’s stance was to wage ‘war’ on gangs and declare that the ‘broken society’ is back on the top of his agenda, Ed Miliband in contrast focused on the recent ills we have witnessed from the higher echelons of society, as well as the need for a community based inquiry. Undoubtedly one of the most important speeches in Ed Miliband’s brief reign as Labour leader, he should be congratulated for understanding the need for the public to engage in a ‘national conversation’. This conversation, as he rightly put it, needs not to be ‘a standard judicial inquiry, made up of elites,’ but an inclusive conversation with the wider public.
Admittedly, I doubt many of the rioters that caused mayhem last week were politically motivated; most involved were probably seeking a petty thieving thrill. However, what certain people in this country are failing to grasp is that this problem is only going to get bigger, more widespread and more violent if we don’t take careful measures to combat it now. We can’t do this by removing people’s benefits or evicting them from their homes, these are merely reactionary short-term solutions. Politicians ought to sit down and engage. Not only with young people who have been on the wrong path of crime and are now turning their lives around, but with local youth workers, community leaders, parents and successful young people from all walks of life.
Importantly, Miliband made the point about the ‘greed, selfish and immoral’ nature of the rioters, but he also highlighted the actions of the bankers, who almost took us to the point of financial ruin, the MPs who fiddled their expenses, and the journalists who hacked phones for a cheap story. This erosion of morals, and in some cases illegal practices from those who should know better, should not be forgotten. As Miliband and ironically Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, noted the greedy and immoral nature of some in our society is arguably as ‘bad at the top as the bottom.’ After all, while what we witnessed last week was undoubtedly shocking and abhorrent in its nature, surely it can be argued that fiddling your expenses for an £8,000 T.V. is at least comparable to those people who looted Currys for a 32” Plasma.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of all this, what is needed is an open debate with all sections of society, and thus the emphasis should be on rehabilitation and increasing the opportunities for young people to find stable, paid work, rather than Cameron’s phony idea of a National Citizen Service for 16-year olds. The emphasis for those ‘Not in Education, Employment and Training’ (NEETS) should be to help them find apprenticeships and paid work rather than making these people feel excluded from society and fueling this need to loot our streets. Finally, we need to engage in properly educating people of the differences between right and wrong and furthermore the value of education itself, rather than knee-jerk reactions such as throwing people out of social housing.
Ed Miliband’s speech Part 1/2 –
Part 2/2 –