Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Everyone has a theory, but still no one has answers

The causes of last year's riots are still contested every day by every sector of society and every specialist

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The Independent Online

Last week Darell Desuze, 17, admitted the manslaughter of Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, in Ealing. Bowes tried to talk sense to crazed rioters last year, was attacked and later died. It was a savage crime, one of many committed over those frightening days. Such offenders have few defenders, understandably. Desuze will be sentenced next month by the judge, Mr Justice Saunders, who said he would take into account the context when passing judgement. Good luck to m'lud. Even his considerable cerebrum may find it somewhat testing to sum up the context, contested daily by every sector of society and an unending line of headmen and specialists.

Mayor Boris Johnson has blamed our educators and wants strategic control of failing schools in London, a number of which he claims are "chillingly bad". It is a pitch for re-election and also Boris being plain daft. True, some pupils leave sink schools and, well, just sink. However, there is no evidence that the young people who rioted were illiterate and innumerate or that some bracing Latin might have tamed them. The very next day Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, turned on "lax" mums and dads, who expect teachers to be surrogate parents, and double standards: "Bad behaviour and violence is condemned but endlessly available as entertainment." Some of this analysis is compelling – on their bonfires of vanities, winners, like Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell, have tossed good manners and consideration and the burden on many teachers breaks both backs and will. But again schools can't simply shift all responsibility elsewhere .

Christina Odone, the Catholic commentator, is absolutely sure the rioters came from homes without dads – again plausible, but no evidence is produced. MPs David Davis (Tory) and David Lammy (Labour), both raised by lone mothers, weren't seen throwing bricks or torching carpet shops. Max Hastings concludes the causes lie with the generous welfare system. Soon immigration or multiculturalism and political correctness will be blamed and we will have the full set.

More seriously, studies suggest deprivation and inequality were underlying causes (which David Cameron dismissed as softie nonsense). Last week the results of a Runnymede Trust survey found that race was a factor. How can it not be? Unrest started after Mark Duggan, a young mixed race man was shot dead. At first the police said the victim shot at them, then it turned out he didn't. This has happened too many times to black and Asian Britons and each new case adds to collective rage and life struggles. The unemployment figure for young black men now stands at 56 per cent. But white anarchists were there in high numbers, so race cannot be overemphasised. My head hurts now looking this way and that, trying to piece together all the possible reasons why English cities erupted. But we must persevere, look more honestly at this country as it is today and at the responses to the disturbances, which should worry us. It is not just to imprison young people for many months for stealing bottles of water or a bin.

Some thinkers and analysts have been duly diligent. David Wilson, former prison governor and academic, locates some of the unease in our widespread culture of entitlement: "It is not only about the underclass, it's about politicians, bankers, it's about footballers." The one and only Camila Batmanghelidjh, who works with some of the nation's most troubled young people, wants us to understand why kids go bad: "It's repeated humiliation, being continually dispossessed in a society rich with possession." Two weeks ago outside Topshop in Oxford Street, I saw people camping, not anti-capitalist protesters as I thought, but capitalism's fools, desperate for some new Nike trainers. I asked two of them why? They looked at me as if I was a loon. These consumers have had their brains occupied. They are what they must own. Those who can't buy will take. The panel looking into the riots criticises aggressive advertising aimed at young people. For this maniacally pro-business Coalition, these messages will be dismissed.

Which makes one ask, is it to do with how the ruling Tories were parented and schooled? Raised by über-businessmen or stock-owning dads and frightfully society-conscious mums must have left their little hearts undernourished surely. And then to go to schools where bullying or warlike competition is seen as leadership, what hope did they have? Avaricious bankers were similarly made, not born that way. When Osborne can only give to those up high and kick away the weak walls of benefits for those under his feet, the poor chap can't help it. Toffs and street gangsters are more alike than they would care to be. Neither lot know how to care about society, the pain and destruction they cause and both are without conscience.

As the cuts hurt and citizens become more divided and intolerant, there will be more unrest for sure by nihilists. The powerful will impose further severe suppression and trust will collapse. Neither the Jubilee nor Olympics can save us or put GB back together again.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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