Without the legitimacy, purpose or desirability of the Arab Spring, our Summer of Strife – with its much deeper roots - will be even harder to put down.
THE cod psychologists and moral arbiters of Fleet Street are in full session this morning, raining down fire and brimstone on the looters and rioters running amok in our major cities.
Never short of a tabloid cliché, The Mirror’s Tony Parsons calls them“self-pitying scumbags” exposing “the very limits of society’s attempts to be understanding, to be soft, to be compassionate.”
Over in the Daily Mail Max Hastings rolls out his grandest patrician sneer to call them “essentially wild beasts”. He continued his dehumanising analogy:
“They respond only to instinctive animal impulses — to eat and drink, have sex, seize or destroy the accessible property of others.
“Their behaviour on the streets resembled that of the polar bear which attacked a Norwegian tourist camp last week. They were doing what came naturally and, unlike the bear, no one even shot them for it.”
So far, so knee-jerk.
Meanwhile left-wing politicians – Ken Livingstone aside – observe a self-denying ordinance in linking the disturbances with wider social and economic problems in our inner-cities, terrified of confronting a public mood which they read to be one notch short of a lynch mob.
Amid the bromides and hyperbole, head of the Respublica think tank, Philip Blond made sense this morning when he tweeted that the events we are witnessing are “multi-factoral” ascribing a combination of “social libertarianism on the left and the neo-liberalism of the right” for the disturbances.
So yes, poverty, unemployment and a lack of hope and legitimate ambition drives this phenomenon; but also a breakdown in family life, discipline, social and community ties and respect for others and their property. Both right and left have questions to answer.
They may be rebels without a cause (except, it seems, the conspicuous consumption of pricey electrical goods and designer jeans) but these young looters are a distorted mirror image of those gallant young people gathering en masse for the purpose of shaking off the yoke of tyranny across the Middle East.
The yobs of Birmingham, or Croydon, or Manchester are hardly in the same category as the heroes of Egypt’s Tahrir Square and those protesting and dying in Syria, but the phenomena we are witnessing has parallels with the “Arab Spring” – with seemingly leaderless uprisings driven by social media.
A dispossessed urban youth with complex social problems emboldened by their very outsider status is using technology as an agency to recruit and organise, leaving the authorities flat-footed and unable to deploy resources effectively to counter them.
While our well-paid columnists (whose lives and backgrounds could not be further from those they castigate) churn out the thundering leaders and vent their spleens, the more considered question for policy-makers is how these amoral, unskilled, ruthless, socially alienated, reckless, yet technology-literate young people can be brought into mainstream society.
As our MPs break their summer holidays to gather tomorrow – no doubt to bewail the nihilistic madness of the looting in our cities – they should ally their grandstanding with a practical commitment to addressing the root causes of this phenomena.
This offspring of Margaret Thatcher and Frank Gallagher deserve the opprobrium currently being heaped upon them for their appalling and reckless actions; but if we are serious about avoiding this behaviour becoming a regular part of our urban life then our politicians are going to have to get serious about shattering the glass wall between our mainstream society and the utterly parallel world that a generation of dispossessed young people in Britain now inhabits.
Policy-makers – of left and right – have, in their own ways, created that world and only they can now fix it. It is a world of broken families, drug and alcohol misuse, low educational attainment, violence, parental failure and endemic worklessness – fuelled by welfare dependency and a black economy.
As the autocrats of the Middle East are finding out, it is difficult, once released, to put the phenomena of mass mobilising young people back in its bottle.
Without the legitimacy, purpose or desirability of the Arab Spring, our Summer of Strife – with its much deeper roots – will be even harder to put down.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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