Leading article: Liberalism has improved Britain – its defenders must speak up

Share
Related Topics

When David Cameron spoke of "pockets of our society that are not only broken, but frankly sick", in his first response to the recent rioting, he was saying no more than would have been expected from a Conservative prime minister in such circumstances.

Less predictable, perhaps, was the near-unanimity on parade in Parliament on Thursday, where MPs from all parties vied to identify a malaise that stemmed, as they saw it, from a destructive moral laxity pervading Britain. From parenting to education to policing, a cross-party consensus called for discipline, toughness and the re-establishment and enforcement of boundaries.

It could be argued that, in their clarion calls, the politicians were doing no more than reflecting the public mood. An e-petition demanding the withdrawal of state benefits and council homes from those involved in the disturbances has soared to the top of the 10 Downing Street website. A poll we publish today has 78 per cent of those asked supporting automatic prison sentences for anyone convicted of rioting and 54 per cent agreeing that Mr Cameron failed to provide the necessary leadership.

Given the sight of trashed high streets and the television pictures of recent days, this reaction might not be altogether surprising. But the long-term cost could be considerably higher even than that of the rioting. The very real risk now is that three nights of sporadic and localised violence could force three decades or more of liberalism into reverse.

True, some aspects of social policy may have had unintended, even malign, consequences. Allocation of social housing according to need alone has created greater concentrations of disadvantage. A focus on child poverty may not only have helped single parents, but also made child-bearing a logical life choice for some ill-equipped to become parents. But the alternatives must be considered, too.

The differences between the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 30 years ago and the violence that began in Tottenham a week ago are starker by far than the similarities. Then, racism on the part of the police was a prime catalyst. Thirty years on, racism has not been completely expunged, but it is not what triggered the latest disturbances. If the looters who have reached court so far evinced any disadvantage, it was social and economic. After 1981, much policing was rethought, with community relations front and centre. It is an achievement that the clamour from many of these same communities now is for more policing, not less.

And while multiculturalism as an approach designed to foster social harmony is in the dock across Europe, the sensitivity to cultural difference and protection for civic rights that it presupposes have served Britain well. If anyone needs evidence, it can be found not only in the look and feel of our shops and streets, but also in the way communities have come together to condemn the rioters, clean up and collect money for the victims.

As for social attitudes, we have to ask what a fast track back to 1980, or even the 1950s, would produce. Do we want pupils to be in cowering fear of teachers armed with belts and canes? Do we want two-thirds of schoolchildren to be written off as failures at 11? Pregnant teenagers forced to have abortions or banished? Do we want sexual difference stigmatised again? Or families who cannot afford their rent to be split up? Those made redundant to face destitution?

There are compelling reasons why many facets of liberalism were embraced and, thanks to liberalism, Britain in 2011 is a far better place for the majority of its citizens than the Britain of 1981. This is the conclusive riposte to those now seeking to set back the clock.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks