UK Riots: What The Papers Say


First Posted: 11/08/2011 11:17 Updated: 10/10/2011 10:12

Politicians and journalists alike have been left scrambling to explain the motives behind this week's rioting to a baffled public. In many cases, the disturbances have sent those on both the left and right scurrying back to the safety of their well-worn ideological standpoints.

Journalists essentially blamed either the rioters themselves, or the rest of us for creating the society in which they grew up.

As Aditya Chakrabortty explained in the Guardian: if you're a left-winger, the causes of the violence and looting are monstrous inequality and historic spending cuts, if you're a right-winger, such explanations of the violence are tantamount to condoning it.

The Daily Mail put itself back in familiar territory by revelling in the spirit of 'I told you so'. The paper listed its perennial bugbears as causal factors: blaming the political class’ failure to support the traditional family, deadly gang culture, lack of discipline at home and in school, a police emasculated by 'rights culture' and mass immigration that has stretched social structures to breaking point. It accused the BBC 'and other apologists on the Left' of offering excuses on the basis on poverty and race.

Melanie Phillips, The Daily Mail's star columnist, was on typically vitriolic form. 'It is moral collapse not poverty that caused this', she told her readers . She particularly blames delinquency on lone parenting, which Tony Blair did not support as Prime Minister, but he weakened ‘at the hands of the ultra-feminists and apostles of non-judgementalism who were determined to destroy the traditional nuclear family'. Building to a crescendo, she declares the causes of our social malaise to be many and complex, but 'every one of them is the fault of the liberal intelligentsia'.

However, there were some more nuanced responses. The Telegraph took a different approach. It was was one of the few newspapers to take anything positive from the experience of the last few days. Cristina Odone announced that 'ethnic communities have emerged as the heroes of the week’s riots' as they bravely fought the looters away from their streets, culminating of course in the tragic deaths of three Muslims outside a mosque in Birmingham. In perhaps a subtle dig at Daily Mail, 'for many Britons, who have long looked down on the newcomers, or mocked them, this will come as a surprise – probably an uncomfortable one'.

The left wing press took the opportunity to point out the headache this is creating within the Conservative Party. The Independent highlighted the ‘clash of the Etonians’ as David Cameron and Boris Johnson publicly disagree over policing cuts. Peter Popham decided it was ’tragically fitting that the two men grappling for control of the future should both be over-privileged dandies out of a bygone age’. In an article that felt a little bit dusty, he recounted the privileged upbringing of David Cameron, as he explained that among the Conservatives it is now a ‘battle of the dinosaurs’ for power.

Whichever trigger you attribute for the rioting, there is common ground in condemnation. The Guardian concluded by quoting a local Labour councillor from Edmonton. The councillor could have reeled off local pressures that the riots have highlighted. Instead he just said: "Look, I'm a lefty. I believe in the politics of the street. To me that means Tiananmen Square; not some kids smashing in HMV. This is bullshit."

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