Letter from Simon Kelner


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The Independent Online

So now we know it's serious.

Not only has Parliament been recalled from its summer recess, but BBC1 will tonight broadcast a special edition of Question Time on the riots, the first time the programme has had its own holiday break interrupted. What a relief! Just when you were worried that an insufficient number of people had offered an opinion on the disturbances, along come David Dimbleby and co to tell us what they think. It's not hard to predict the way the discussion will go: someone will advocate national service, the studio audience will clap; another guest will blame the breakdown of the family unit, more applause; someone else will highlight the deficiencies of policing, muted applause; there will be political points scored; and then someone, to general assent, will talk with some understanding of the nihilistic attitude of youths living in poverty - and with poverty of choice and ambition - in inner-city Britain. Along the way, rap music - with its insistent focus on violence and materialism - will be blamed, as will the lack of discipline at schools. Quite frankly, I don't really know where all this gets us. One newspaper yesterday helpfully gave us a run-down of who stands where among those public figures jostling to get their opinion heard. So, Digby Jones, former director of the CBI, blames the culture of political correctness; Norman Tebbit says it's poor people having too many children to get more benefits; Desmond Morris, the zoologist, points to the alienating effects of big, sprawling cities; while Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of a children's charity; who works in inner cities, says the rioters feel the violence is an act of revenge against a society that has neglected them. And add to that the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph castigating the BBC (didn't you just know it would be its fault!) for their general liberalism and, in particular - on the first night of disorder - referring to rioters as protesters. Each to their view and we can but wonder at how opinion splits on party lines! I will offer only this thought on an aspect that seems to have been forgotten, amid the rush to judgement. If the police hadn't gunned down someone who, it is now believed, did not shoot at them, none of this would have happened and we could have gone on in blissful ignorance of the social and economic divisions that blight Britain.

Simon Kelner is Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and i