Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have made speeches over the past week about the underlying issues of British society. The civil unrest that besieged our streets last week has forced it under a very bright spotlight, and every aspect of our culture is now firmly at the top of the political agenda and a major talking point. The Labour Party are calling for a national conversation about the precise causes of the riots and what can be done to solve them. The government seems to believe that politicial action needs to be taken, and is placing every policy under intense scrutiny. I'm going to attempt to wedge my views into this big debate. Whether you agree or disagree, I'd love to know your thoughts because the one thing has come out from the conversation so far is that everyone has an opinion.
First things first, an obvious point; it took a riot to start this discussion? These concerns about our nation did not just emerge overnight. Both government and opposition politicians are engaging in opportunism right now, and let's not avoid this fact. Nevertheless, the most vital question of the debate simply asks why this happened. Last week I'm pretty sure I counted five major televised debates asking this question. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I was able to count because I watched every single one. All were incredibly heated, more so than I have seen on live television for a while. Everybody has their individual opinion on this topic, which has created quite a diverse set of answers.
People participating in this debate need to be extremely weary of generalising specific sections of society, because using stereotypes will simply cause aggrovation and further confusion. It's very easy to fit the thugs that took control of our streets last weekend into clear categories, but this won't help the discussion. They were of no specific age, generation, ethnicity, gender or location, and accusing them of being so will ensure that this vital debate sees no outcome.
This week, I have watched and listened to debates on the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News, and read countless articles from every perspective in the press. I have now heard pretty much everything blamed for the nights of violence in Tottenham, Manchester and Birmingham. From teenage pregnancy to race, from the standard of interlocutors' English to the development of technology; the blame game has extended too far for any one person to keep track. Here's my take on some of the suggestions I have heard.
Home & Family
One of the most aggrovating points of argument I heard in a debate this week was someone pointing out that Tottenham was in the top ten British areas for single parenting figures. They elaborated to suggest that this was the primary reason for the riots last Saturday night. For starters, the presumption was made that everyone taking part in the unrest that night was from Tottenham. This is false. They then insinuated that all single parents were of a poor quality. This is also false. Whether a child has one guardian, two guardians or seventy, this does not affect the standard of parenting they have received. How a child is brought up has an unquestionable influence on what sort of person they grow into and how they will behave. However, the age and number of their parents does not make a difference.
It is fair to say that, in the vast majority of urban areas in Britain, there is a lack of community spirit. I challenge city residents to name ten people that live in their street, close or block of flats. If you can, you're a member of a very lucky minority. Everybody is so distant, which makes it hard for people to feel like they belong to something. This may well be the reason why some people were willing to burn local residences and businesses to the ground. They felt detached because they didn't know the victims.
I was following the tweets of a journalist who was on the streets of Birmingham last week. He said he was walking down a pavement and he counted fifteen empty cars. Fourteen had been burnt to cinders by a gang that was at the other end of the road. He was bemused to find one untouched, until he talking to the gang and discovered that it belonged to the mother of one of their "members". When he questioned why she was allowed to keep her vehicle and others weren't, the gang explained how she had recently lost her job and was going through a hard time. This fascinated me, because it shows that if they knew more people within the community, if they knew their stories and what was going on with them, they might not have even participated in the events of last week.
During Ed Miliband's speech at Haverstock Comprehensive School this morning, he said how his time in education had taught him values as well as academia. This should be the same for everyone, but it's not something that can be taught with a whiteboard or worksheet. The art of respect should be taught from the moment a child enters a school at the age of four. Authority is something students have to directly deal with during school, college and university, working under teachers and tutors. This prepares them for the passive authority they will have to live under in later life, like the police, the courts, and the general law. If the figures of power that pupils encounter during their education don't teach in a way that allows them to be admired, yet in control, students aren't set up of later life.
Schools should be encouraging kids to dream and inspire, and it's just not happening as much as it should. People can blame the curriculum or teachers themselves, but something just isn't working at the moment.
However, during his speech today, David Cameron was keen to enforce the importance of the more obvious, academic side of schools. The best teachers can help students to learn the values I have just mentioned at the same time as the core subject they teach. When jobs are becoming inreasingly difficult to find, the need for good grades is ever more important.
Nevertheless, those who spoke on Sky News or FiveLive and said they thought last week's turbulence was entirely caused by lapses in the state education system need to consider the power of their brains before critcising that of other people's. Unless I am unaware of a survey that every single rioter took part in and informed us of their qualifications, how can we judge whether they are masterminds or imbeciles? The group is most probably made up of a mix, and presuming they're stupid takes me back to one of my initial points regarding generalisation in this debate.
When Sky News reporter Tom Parmenter spoke to a group of young looters this week, one said he had specifically targetted a branch of Comet that hadn't acknowledged his CV when he had submitted it. When the unemployment rate is currently peaking at almost two and a half million (7.7%), that boy is not the only person in Britain to currently be feeling frustrated about the lack of employment opportunity.
The Benefits system works because, essentially, it gives those that aren't earning from employment money to live on. I would never criticise or call for such a vital scheme to end. However, there is no encouragement for those who are on these benefits to get back to work. I am sure that most work hard to find a job, but there are undoubtedly some that abuse the system. There is no official plan in place to convince those that need persuading.
To presume that everybody that looted last week was doing so because they needed the money is out of the question when the daughter of a millionaire has been prosecuted. However, the distribution of riches in this country is a huge issue in our society when twenty percent of people hold eighty percent of the wealth.
The lack of equality and tabloid culture have forced our nation into an obsession with the rich and famous. In the capitalist world we live in, children presume that money means success. The rich are glorified above the everyday folk, with their faces and stories taking up page after page of press and minute after minute of broadcasts. Every year I am captivated by the Pride of Britain awards in October, because it is the only occasion I am aware of when real, genuine role models are given a platform to be admired from. Yet, after a few weeks each year, the winners aren't given the attention they deserve. We live in a world where young girls idolise The Only Way Is Essex socialite Amy Childs, not Dr Allison John, who passed through medical school to save lives after having all her organs transplanted.
People aspire to be famous, not talented. They want to have, not to give. These hollow dreams have only damaged our society, creating an "us-and-them" culture and a pessimistic approach to ambition.
Well, we all know David Starkey's views on this topic. I respect the man, and I was delighted when I got the chance to meet him earlier this year. However, on this occasion, he was wholly wrong in every respect. I was astounded to watch such an intelligent man pursue such artificial stereotypes regarding black culture. He should not be singled out for having this opinion, though. Unfortunately, he's not alone.
Let's be perfectly clear; race and ethnicity played absolutely no part in the civil unrest we watched take place last week. I don't think multiculturalism is to blame for the violence, and I'm yet to hear a rational explanation to support the view that it is. These riots were not caused or carried out by a specific section of the British population.
Call me ignorant or naïve, but I also don't believe that multiculturalism forms a dent of any size in society. I think it's a massive plus that this country is home to a vast number of people from different nations and different cultural backgrounds. You only have to look through history to see the contributions they have made.
Extremist political parties have tried to cash in on the past week. The British National Party conveniently announced a "day of action" on Saturday. The BNP leader Nick Griffin has taken to Twitter to blame "blacks and Asians" for the unrest. Meanwhile, the English Defence League attended a number of street-protection gatherings last week, claiming they organised them. In reality, the majority were inpromptu and unplanned.
People must not be caught into the trap of blaming immigration for the disturbances in our cities last week. It is simply unacceptable and intolerable that radical organisations are using these times to try and grow their popularity.
Almost two thousand words on, I feel I have still been too brief. My opinions may not be the same as yours, but the point of this debate is that everyone can have a say. I urge you talk, write, tweet, shout, publish, post or broadcast your views in any way you can, because this discussion is incredibly important. It may have taken a riot to start it, but let's hope that we can come to a national conclusion that will prevent the scenes we saw last week on the streets of Britain from ever happening again.