Actually, I didn’t predict the London riots, but at least I had the excuse that I was abroad, on holiday. Whilst I was away, I watched Question Time on the BBC Parliament channel (it’s amazing that I have a girlfriend, isn’t it?), and from listening to those sage political commentators, you’d be convinced that each of them had predicted these precise events a long time ago. Many of them (Prescott, Paddick etc) spoke of a kind of inevitability about the London riots, which was surprising, as no-one to my knowledge had warned the country of this powder keg about to blow at any point before certain areas of the capital were on fire, by which time most people would agree that it was a little late. The shocking events of last week are made even more shocking by the fact that they came as a surprise to most people.
Public (and media) reaction has broadly fallen into two wildly simplistic categories. The liberal view is that we have a mass of young people (mainly young black males) that have been ‘failed by society’. This failed by society line (henceforth to be known as FBS) is trotted out often, but no-one has yet to give a satisfactory answer as to what it means. Still, it sounds good, and it gave the Guardian a chance to wheel Russell Brand out to emphasise the FBS point. Mr Brand clearly gave so many soundbites after the death of Amy Winhouse that he’s now required to comment on all major news stories. I await his coverage of the US presidential race with baited breath. Back to the main point, but in what way has society failed these young rioters? One news channel suggested that it was the fault of the ‘nice things’ industry, which has created ‘must-have’ items such as iphones and D+G clothing. The theory is that young people cannot afford these things, therefore their self-worth is defated, meaning there is nothing left for them to do but smash things, and nick things. Does anyone actually believe this is the truth? There’s lots of things that I can’t afford (a yacht, for example), but you won’t see me down at Brighton Marina at midnight in a hoodie, making off with someone else’s.
Having nice things doesn’t make you happy and content. These young people are angry because they don’t aspire to anything, and the majority of the fault lies with the parents. Quality parenting is about setting your child up well for life, and guiding your child as best you can until you are able to remove the stabilisers, and they are free to make their own way in society. This usually means some form of understanding of what is right and wrong, a respect for your fellow human beings, and a little bit of education along the way. Is that too much to ask? Only yesterday, my hairdresser was bemoaning the fact that so many of her friends are pregnant (they’re all about 21, and the babies are unplanned in general; I did a bit of research). Why are these people so happy to have kids, when they’re generally so unhappy with the raising them properly bit? True satisfaction comes from earning things: not having them given to you, and not from nicking them. There’s a good message from which to start. Labour were totally wrong in the assertion that 50% of people going to university would be a good thing. In fact, fewer people going to university would be a good thing, and more people doing apprenticeships and learning a trade would be an even better thing. All young people have talents, and the sooner they find out what they are good at the better.
On the flip side to the liberals and their seeking to justify this behaviour comes the ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ brigade. Those that think it’s reasonable to lock up two morons from Cheshire for 4 years each for trying to incite a riot via facebook. I don’t know what’s more tragic, the long sentence or the fact that nobody came. This knee-jerk reaction attempts to placate a public that is baying for blood, but we cannot allow public opinion to override rational decision-making. Handing out over-tough sentences as an ‘example’ has been proved not to work; someone isn’t going to refrain from hurling a brick through a window because the sentence length for criminal damage has increased by 33% in recent times. We need to consider the root causes of this anti-social behaviour to prevent it – to cure the cause, not to hammer the consequence.
We are a confused country. Are you proud to be British? Am I? Do we know what it means? The spectacular failure of Cameron’s Big Society suggests that the Thatcherite ideal of greed is good still looms large over the country. Better parenting to start, more opportunities for kids to learn a trade early, less emphasis on having to go to university (fewer universities even) and far less exposure for Russell Brand.
That can’t be too tricky, can it? Or maybe Huxley had the best idea after all?