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Telegraph: “The underclass lashes out”

While most journalists are searching to understand the riots in London and other parts of the country, Mary Riddell, the Daily Telegraph columnist has written what is generally regarded as the most insightful analysis so far.

Under the heading The underclass lashes out she mentions policing and ethnicity and them writes:

The real causes are more insidious. It is no coincidence that the worst violence London has seen in many decades takes place against the backdrop of a global economy poised for freefall. The causes of recession set out by J K Galbraith in his book, The Great Crash 1929, were as follows: bad income distribution, a business sector engaged in “corporate larceny”, a weak banking structure and an import/export imbalance.

All those factors are again in play. In the bubble of the 1920s, the top 5 per cent of earners creamed off one-third of personal income. Today, Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since then. Last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion.

Europe’s leaders, our own Prime Minister and Chancellor included, were parked on sun-loungers as London burned. Although the epicentre of the immediate economic crisis is the eurozone, successive British governments have colluded in incubating the poverty, the inequality and the inhumanity now exacerbated by financial turmoil.

Britain’s lack of growth is not an economic debating point or a stick with which to beat George Osborne, any more than our deskilled, demotivated, under-educated non-workforce is simply a blot on the national balance sheet. Watch the juvenile wrecking crews on the city streets and weep for all our futures. The “lost generation” is mustering for war.

This is not a cri de coeur for the failed and failing. Nor is it a lament for the impoverished. Mob violence, despicable and inexcusable, must always be condemned. But those terrorising and trashing London are also a symptom of a wider malaise. In uneasy societies, people power – whether offered or stolen – can be toxic. Most of the 53 per cent of e‑democrats calling to have the death penalty reinstated (of whom 8 per cent would opt for firing squad or gas chamber) would never dream of torching a police car, but their impulses hardly cohere either with David Cameron’s utopian ambitions.

What price the Big Society as Tottenham, the most solid of communities, lies in ruins? The notion that small-state Britain can be run along the lines of Ambridge parish council by good-hearted, if under-funded, volunteers has never seemed more doubtful. Nor can Ed Miliband take much credit for his unvaried focus on the “squeezed middle”, rather than on a vote-losing underclass that politicians ignore at their peril, and at ours.

That is a long quote to extract (I hope the Telegraph and Mary Riddell do not object) but there is much more to her column today and it is essential reading for anyone who is trying to make sense of what has happened over the past three nights.

It is, as always with journalism, a “first draft” but it shows that the riots cannot be seen in isolation. They are a symptom of the state our nation is in. We have been sitting on a tinder box of dissatisfaction which a spark has now lit.

The immediate need is to bring the riots to an end and that will need tough policing. Most of the rioters are young, probably poorly educated, and unable to articulate their reasons or motivations. The voice of the young man in a news clip on the BBC today saying, “Let’s get some watches, man” reflects the idea of mindless violence.

But it also reflects envy and helplessness in a horribly unequal society.


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  1. Lee says

    What these thugs need is a place in society; and the easiest way to integrate someone into society is to require them to work – therefore there needs to be a job for everyone, irrespective of circumstances…so, make it a requirement that local authorities become employers-of-last-resort.