Alex Massie

The Only Thing You Actually Need to Read About the Riots

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Three cheers for Bagehot for this superb post on the Guardian/LSE's

abject justification for

inquiry into this summer's riots. Mr Rennie puts it exceedingly well:

Now, put me in many contexts, and I am quite the hand-wringing bourgeois liberal. Watching Newsnight yesterday evening, I fear I came over all Judge Dredd.

The researcher’s contention, in a nutshell, is that the rioters were not criminals who ran amok for a few days in August, losing their moral compass when they realised their actions would probably be without legal consequences. Instead, we are asked to believe, they are angry young people who hate the police and believe that they were taking revenge on a heartless world.

The problem is that after wading through screeds of interviews, and watching the interviews on Newsnight, it is clear that the question is not one of either/or. The rioters interviewed come across as criminals with a faulty moral compass who ran amok and hate the police.

Newsnight devoted a long chunk of airtime to Daniel, a young man who was held up as a key piece of evidence that the riots were not about looting and mindless violence. It is true that Daniel was angry and articulate, set out his moral code (as when he spared the life of a policewoman because she was a woman), insisted he did not take part in looting and stressed the political and economic factors behind his hatred of the system, including cuts in welfare benefits and a hike in tuition fees.

The problem is that Daniel also told us that despite living under the tyranny of state welfare cuts, he only managed to attend the riots by cutting short a foreign summer holiday nine days early, after receiving video clips from friends in London of burning police cars, and calls to avenge the fatal shooting by police of an alleged gangster, Mark Duggan.

I don’t want to sound heartless (oh, alright, this is going to sound heartless). I have no idea what Daniel’s personal circumstances are, and they may be grim. But it surely takes a special sort of lefty myopia to stick someone on television as a case study of economic despair, only to explain all about their long foreign holidays, their smart phone and their ability to book an early flight home at short notice.

Emphasis added. Quite. Do read the whole thing which includes a splendidly withering assessment of the Archbishop of Canterbury's "contribution" to the "debate". (Shorter version: the Archbishop cares for neither God nor the victims.)

Sure, there are problems with youth unemployment, with family breakdown, with educational failure, with a lack of civic engagement and opportunity. Few people deny any of that (though those problems are scarcely fresh or unique to this country). But it is also plain that many of those plundering shops in London and other English cities did so because, frankly, they could. In this respect the riots might be compared to the football hooliganism that plagued the country in the 1980s. That had few "social causes" either and was not the "fault" of the government of the day either; young men smashed up trains and fought one another in town centres because they could and because, for many of them, it was exciting and enjoyable.

Evidently, this was true of many of the rioters too. And it insults the great majority of young people (though not all those rioting were disadvantaged teenagers by any means) who did not take to the streets to thieve or destroy what they could and who were, in many cases, appalled or astonished by what was happening to devote so much time to "understanding" the rioters' concern that said understanding edges perilously close to whitewashing their criminality.

Certainly, it's useful, indeed necessary, to examine youth alienation and see what might be done to minimise it but it must be possible to do that while also condemning the kind of behaviour that we saw this summer. And condemn it properly, not in a mealy "yes, but..." kind of fashion.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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