Editor-At-Large: Don't blame the looters – blame our hypocritical leaders

Share
Related Topics

In a crisis, those struggling to assert authority rapidly develop a common language. Last week, experts, politicians and community leaders engaged in another battle – the prolific use of "R" words: responsibility, respect and rules. And robust – as in the desired policing strategy. We're told one section of Britain doesn't want to abide by the rules. They don't know the real meaning of respect, and they have no interest in shouldering responsibility. That might be true of many who took part in the casual violence and happy- go-lucky looting and arson, but we need to look closely at our own personal ethics before rushing to blame one age group or social class.

On Wednesday, David Cameron talked about "a complete lack of responsibility" in some sections of society. Ed Miliband did the same on Thursday and Friday. The trouble is that many young people have a completely different idea from our political leaders of responsibility and respect. In broken families, or homes where mum is a teenager, respect is what you want from your mates. Respect is not something you naturally grew up with, learnt from a set of boundaries or rules imposed by your parents. To the young, respect is a way of making you feel important when you have very little and no support system at home.

One man who works with gangs told Ed Miliband that some kids attack their mums if they are told what to do. They don't know any better. Kids know teachers aren't allowed to touch them. They can threaten to report to the social services anyone in authority who disciplines them – that's how far the balance of power has shifted. The fact that kids, black and white, have adopted quasi-American slang, where the police are "feds" and pals are "bruvs" shows they regard life as a battle in which they are warriors. They have no high-minded cause but a complicated set of rules and regulations. Discipline exists within their peer group; it's just not the kind most of us understand.

The majority of young people work hard, never break the law and try their best to get on in life. For others, life is more difficult – the Government seems determined to cut youth projects (75 per cent of the youth services budget has been slashed in the deprived north London borough of Haringey, for example), reluctant fully to fund apprenticeships and invest enough resources in getting all kids literate by 11. There are nearly a million young people under 25 out of work and 17 per cent of 15-year-olds can't read and write properly, a shocking state of affairs. In many of the areas where rioting took place, up to 90 per cent of the kids receive support via the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which is also to be cut. How many will be able to afford to go to college in a year's time?

I find it a bit rich when Cameron and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, blather about looters, when they both belonged to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, where no evening was complete without a bit of pointless destruction. Even Nick Clegg admits to setting fire to things as a youth. Johnson's alleged marital infidelities hardly make him the right person to pontificate about broken homes. As for antisocial behaviour, politicians and bankers are both guilty of diddling the taxpayer – and I didn't see many of them go to jail for nicking a bottle of wine or a television set on expenses. Journalists can't be too self-righteous either, as the number of arrests in the phone-hacking scandal reaches 12, with more expected.

Talk of moral decay is just as pathetic. These children are the product of the Blair years – even Ed Miliband admits that Labour was better at reshaping the fabric of society than instilling ethical values. Citizenship classes seem a sick joke these days. Cameron's big new "responsible" master plan should be implemented from the top down, and never mind enforcing it, jackboot-style, on the lower orders.

If we shop in malls, high streets will get a new role

Driving through London last week, I noticed that one casualty of the riots is the notion of window shopping. Retailer after retailer offer a blank-shuttered façade, making our high streets (which were already pretty drab places, with a high percentage of vacant stores and charity shops) look bleaker than ever.

Mary Portas was appointed by the Government to breathe life into our shopping streets, even though she has been a consultant to Westfield, whose huge malls have sucked shoppers away from them and into faceless boxes. She has called a group of big retailers to a working lunch next month, but her task, in the wake of the riots, is doomed. Businesses are facing a bill of more than £140m and many will close for good.

Why don't we stop trying to save the high street and turn it into something different such as low-cost housing with community facilities? People on low incomes like malls and chains – the staff don't patronise them. It's only the middle classes who care about high streets. If we want to save them, we've got to shop there – and most of us can't be bothered.

Long school holidays spell trouble

Hazel Blears made a bit of a fool of herself last week by asking why rioting kids weren't at school. Clearly, Planet Blears operates to a special calendar. But why doesn't Michael Gove tear himself away from the television studios and order English schools to start the autumn term early?

Any money spent recompensing teachers for losing part of their holiday would be worth it compared with the cost of any future extra policing. The long summer holiday – especially when the weather is rubbish – is an anachronism. Schools should be open year-round, and offer compulsory summer activities that teach kids practical skills.

I know teachers will complain – but modern schools need to assume a far more proactive role in shaping their pupils' lives.

Wrong sermon, Archbishop

Once again, the Archbishop of Canterbury gets it wrong in his response to the riots. Dr Rowan Williams says it's essential that the Government build strong communities, but people make communities, not government initiatives.

Between the wars, strong communities were often in the poorest areas, where people looked after each other without state aid. Years of Labour directives have left many people infantilised. They can tick boxes but can't see how to do things for themselves.

David Cameron needs to junk red tape, remove restrictions and health and safety garbage to make it easier for local people to start youth clubs and run activities for all ages. He should stop the sale of council property to developers and hand it to residents instead, for community projects funded by the Lottery.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker - Learning Difficulties

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a leading and growing provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

£7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 2nd & 3rd Line

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Think I'm living the high life on benefits? Here's what being disabled costs me every day

Hannah Buchanan
 

Like many other black men, I grew up with only women around. Now I'm worried the experience has ‘feminised’ me

Tyrell Williams
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones