Letter from the editor: A parallel universe

I’m sure you must have watched the television coverage of the riots last night, as I did, with increasing concern and, yes, fear.

But there was also a sense of inhabiting a parallel universe. For those of us lucky enough to be in work, the years of economic gloom have seemed like a phoney war. We may have tightened our belts somewhat, but life has remained pretty much the same.

Yes, the rioters are damaging their own communities, laying waste not only to cars and buildings, but also undermining the hopes and aspirations of their neighbours.

But for so many of them, what else is there? These are the truly disenfranchised, the people for whom the eurozone crisis and the volatile markets might as well be on a different planet.

While the children of the middle classes whinge about the lack of first time-buyer mortgages, and the cost of university fees, these children – and many of them are children – have no more chance of owning a home or earning a graduate-level salary than they have of sprouting wings.

They are the result not of the new, credit-crunch poverty, but of an older deprivation – a marginalisation that is not only economic but also racial in its origins. A volcano does not suddenly erupt without a long period of growing tension deep in the earth. In the same way, riots do not come from nowhere. That pressure has been there a long time.

There was something quite chilling about the way the fires seemed to spread. Hackney, Lewisham, Peckham, Croydon – it was difficult to suppress the suspicion that some plan was being played out.

How organised, I wonder, will the government response be? Can we expect a co-ordinated strategy that will make a real difference? And if so, what should that strategy be?