Tony Blair has issued a sharp warning that "muddle-headed analysis" of the recent riots by politicians from both left and right is in danger of producing the wrong policy responses.
In a rare foray into domestic politics, the former prime minister dismissed claims the country was in the grip of a "moral decline", insisting the disturbances were "an absolutely specific problem that requires a deeply specific solution.
"Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution," he wrote in an article for The Observer.
"Elevate this into a high falutin' wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work."
Mr Blair said that while the left argued the rioters were the victims of social deprivation and the right said they needed to take responsibility for their actions, both sides "just miss the point".
The "big cause", he said, lay with alienated youths from dysfunctional families living outside "any canons of proper behaviour" - a phenomenon affecting most modern societies in the developed world.
"I think we are in danger of the wrong analysis leading to the wrong diagnosis, leading to the wrong prescription," he said.
"The big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour.
"The key is to understand that they aren't symptomatic of society at large. Failure to get this leads to a completely muddle-headed analysis of what has gone wrong. Britain as a whole is not in the grip of some general 'moral decline'."
"The truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.
"This is a phenomenon of the late 20th century. You find it in virtually every developed nation."
In an apparent sideswipe at David Cameron, who sharply criticised the initial police response to the riots, Mr Blair said that it was essential that the police felt they had the backing of the Government.
"The police need to know they have strong support. They need to feel it from politicians and public alike," he said.
Mr Cameron, meanwhile, promised a fightback against "the wrong-headed ideas, bureaucratic nonsense and destructive culture" which had led to the current problems, including the "twisting and misrepresenting of human rights".
Writing in the Sunday Express, he said: There are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else.
"The British people have fought and died for people's rights to freedom and dignity but they did not fight so that people did not have to take full responsibility for their actions.
"So though it won't be easy, though it will mean taking on parts of the establishment, I am determined we get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights."
The Prime Minister insisted that his commitment to tackling the "greed and thuggery" seen during the riots would be backed up by "the full force of the law".
"We need a stronger police presence on the streets, deterring crime and catching criminals instead of filling in forms or wasting time on phoney targets," he said.