Britain: London's burning issue

Riots and looting across the capital spread to other English cities.  Why?

The shooting by police of a Tottenham man as he sat in a cab led to a peaceful protest by relatives and friends.  And an inquiry by an independent police commissioner into the circumstances surrounding Mark Duggan's death is underway.  Yet Duggan's demise sparked war-zone-like devastation of Tottenham High Road as youths rampaged.  Now copycat arson, looting and theft in Enfield, Hackney, Battersea, Peckham, Walthamstow, Brixton, Ealing, Croydon and other parts of the capital have ensued.  Is this opportunistic vandalism and greed or something far more serious?  Maybe there is underlying frustration fuelling this mayhem.

It's likely there is boredom and a lack of ambition at the root of much of this.  CCTV is everywhere, and many perpetrators will be picked up and charged.  As culprits are rounded up, questioned and taken before the courts, it's important for authorities to differentiate between anarchists and leftists who've taken advantage of the situation to provoke and incite, and undervalued and disengaged youths who've ventured onto the streets to enjoy a spree of excitement to alleviate their dull, ineffectual lives.

Where are the sporting facilities, youth clubs and projects to engage these young people?   Sports grounds have been transformed into expensive apartment blocks over the past thirty years.  Factories which used to employ the unskilled and under-educated have closed, while Chinese manufacturers produce cheap products to feed the insatiable appetites of debt-addicted consumers.  As companies have sought to decrease cost, call centre jobs have moved offshore.  Graduates from English universities, often with commercially obscure degrees, have languished on the sidelines, some resorting to low-level jobs to develop other careers in an attempt to pay off student debt.

Fast-food outlets have peppered England's high streets to entice an increasingly obese population.  Yet, where does the cash come from to buy this cheap food if not mainly from welfare?   Single parenthood has been encouraged by decisions taken long ago to provide free housing to unemployed teenagers, many of whom deliberately became pregnant to free themselves from their parent's oversight.  

Many teenagers who now loot and riot with apparent impunity were raised by overstretched and stressed mothers in a fatherless environment.  In certain districts gangs harrass and extort, enticing otherwise engaging youths into criminality and social exclusion.  

Hard-pressed working parents have lived for now, many freelance and buying for today in a consumer-driven frenzy.  Adults have lost respect, as jobs have become as disposable as the products they buy.  Kids have too often been raised in an environment with no hope and no respect for authority.  They've entered teenage with no dreams of their own.

With little decent ambition and few law-abiding role models on whom to base their prospects, it's unsurprising that disorientated youths now binge in an orgy of destruction.  But this is not to excuse this apalling, disfunctional behaviour.

Tenets of the Church have passed into history, as the Established religion presents no answers and provides no structure in modern society.

Jobs which could have been offered to some of these people have instead been handed to migrants.  This is unsurprising as many English youths leave school unqualifed and yet expect the state to support and succour them.  The result has been the creation of an undervalued and disregarded underclass of English people, of whatever hue.

This time, it seems it's not a race issue.  But a huge problem effecting as much as 10-20% of the population.

The re-introduction of conscription to provide stability, skills and order to this generation would be expensive, and a policy which would drop like a lead balloon with the professionals in the military.  But incarcerating these people in jails only to educate them into hardened criminals is not a great idea either.

It's impossible to undo the damage done by thirty years of rotten political doctrine.  But Home Secretary Teresa May, PM David Cameron, Mayor Boris Johnson and the rest of the elite had better start developing workable long-term strategies to productively engage the young, or in a decade's time this will flare up again, albeit in another form and perhaps in a more vehement fashion.  It's 2011, so the Riot Act isn't an option.  Taking a hard line if only in tone, as Tottenham MP David Lammy has, may play to the Labour Party gallery and assuage the concerns of middle-aged locals, but it offers no guidance.  And a solution is what is required now. 

Update on August 10, 2011 

Nick Robinson of the BBC reported on David Cameron's fightback speech, saying the PM will lead a new moral army, as Cameron has pledged:
  • "more robust" policing - using rubber bullets and water cannon if necessary and ignoring "phoney concerns about human rights"
  • no reduction in visible policing (not the same thing as a pledge not to cut police budgets)
  • all night courts handing out prison sentences for those convicted of violence with more prison places provided if need be
  • a society with a clearer code of values, a focus on better parenting and more personal responsibility.
Together with in excess of GBP600m (just shy of US$1bn) in funds to be allocated by Big Society Capital "aimed at giving socially orientated financial organisations greater access to affordable capital, so they can in turn help charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups" as The London Evening Standard described them, this is merely a start.

Further reports breakdown rioters' backgrounds, age and careers (when appropriate), the range of which is astounding.  Some have not been in the 'undervalued' catagory at all, but hold down good even respectable jobs.  It seems many were swept up in this furore by a tidal wave of mass bad behaviour.  The courts will meter out harsh sentences as retribution for wreaking havoc and wrecking lives and property.  There's a definite groundswell of opinion that rioters on welfare should have benefit payments stopped.  Other severe measures have wide popular support.

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  1. There is a saying that goes something like this, "how a house is built is how it has to be maintained".

    I think it's evident that this is a systemic problem, however I feel that looking to 'authorities' to patch these issues is missing the boat entirely.

    Change can only be affected by desire firstly and secondly by will. There will never be a willing authority - it doesn't suit the model. History shows us that the will to change must come from people themselves or their society will slip into oblivion. The challenge is to the people. If you shirk responsibility and obey denial other people will control your life indefinitely.

  2. David Cameron has attempted to encourage public participation in the process of improving society through the government's "Big Society" concept. This has taken time to take hold. However, the London Evening Standard reported on July 29 that "Cameron's vision for a Big Society bank became reality today, with the first investment set to help disadvantaged young people into work or education.

    The bank, now relaunched as Big Society Capital, is set to receive £600 million in equity capital in the coming months - £400 million from dormant bank accounts and £200 million from the big four UK high street banks.

    It is aimed at giving socially orientated financial organisations greater access to affordable capital, so they can in turn help charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups."

    The New Statesman, Morning Star and the Left have been scathing of the initiative. The Morning Star reported on August 2, "David Cameron's Big Society propaganda bubble well and truly burst today after it was revealed cuts to vital local services risked a meltdown in Britain's social infrastructure.

    The trade union-backed False Economy website found that around 2,000 charities and community groups were facing budget cuts of at least 5 per cent, with some losing their funding altogether.

    False Economy researchers said that the cuts risked jeopardising entire charitable operations in some of the most deprived parts of the country."

    In the end, you're right. If the people don't press for change themselves then society can't improve. Governments can attempt to set the stage for societal development, but the people themselves have to demand it.

    The spontaneous response to riots in London is exemplified by action taken by locals in Clapham Junction in Battersea, when hundreds came out into the streets to assist local shopkeepers in the clean-up operation and to sweep roads clear of debris. Perhaps this will be the start of a process of regeneration and a huge improvement in community spirit.

    After the 7/7 terrorist attack on London in 2005, American journalists noted that the peoples' calm and community-spirited response was indicative of the spirit of the British when under attack during the Blitz in WWII.

    The current turmoil in the UK might spur a similar response.

    However, news of three Asians mowed down by a car as they attempted to protect local property in Birmingham was an horrific crime, derisable and utterly condemnable. There's been an understandably angry reaction from local Asians and then sensible calls for calm.

    It has to be hoped that the spirit of community which existed during the Battle of Britain will prevail. Actions of left- or right-wing lunatics or fanatics to further stoke the flames of dissent or to use the mayhem to incite should be stamped on with the full force of the law and the utter condemnation of the people.