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To These Young People, There Really is no Such Thing as Society

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Londoners have passed a night of relative peace and quiet, as opportunistic rioting and looting spread to other English cities.

As shock fades, the recriminations begin. Conservative MPs accuse the previous Labour government of fostering welfare dependency, failing to improve education and forcing fiscal austerity upon the nation. Labour MPs allege that coalition government spending cuts have created a context of weaker policing, youth unemployment and destroyed opportunities.

Both sides are wrong to blame each other without admitting to their own part. The deficit reduction objectives of Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians are correct but indubitably they are creating difficult and perilous readjustments. This should be acknowledged. Labour politicians should face up to the fact of the economic mire they bequeathed, and the fact that youth unemployment stood at 2.5 million when they left office. Furthermore, a youth in Manchester interviewed on this morning's Today programme said, "I'll keep doing it until I get caught - the prisons are full so what are they going to do, give me an Asbo?" The Labour government filled our prisons to record numbers and introduced the utterly ineffectual Asbo.

As Robert Halfon writes this morning on ConservativeHome, "the causes go deep." Deeper than the last government, and the government before that, and so on. Every government makes mistakes.

Blaming these riots on policies announced in the past 12 months is ignorant and intellectually lazy. Last night, the deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet Harman, said the Government was not on the side of young people and alluded to tuition fees, the EMA and youth unemployment as causes for the discontent (see Newsnight clip below).

Showing the brazen obstinacy that has become her hallmark, Ms Harman ignored the fact that a re-elected Labour Government, which first introduced tuition fees (breaking a manifesto pledge) and commissioned the Browne Report, would have had to increase tuition fees. She ignored the fact that her government had plans to reform the inefficient EMA. New Statesmen blogger Dan Hodges tweets that if Labour continues to focus on it, the party will be out of power for a generation.

But most significantly, Ms Harman made the curious assumption that the young people rioting and looting in the streets of London and other cities have anything more than the remotest of ambitions for staying on at school or going to university.

Herein lies the root cause of the recent violence. It is found in the anger of an economic and social underclass in Britain's cities; a collective rage borne out of disillusionment and exclusion. No single party, no single politician, no single government can be blamed for this miserable phenomenon. To ignore this demonstrates a collective dereliction of responsibility not dissimilar to that shown by the perpetrators of the past few days.

These are communities bereft of identity, responsibility and hope. A politician once said that there is no such thing as society; another more recently said that there is such a thing, it just isn't the same thing as the state. But what the indiscriminate vandalism and cruelty demonstrates is that society is irrelevant to you, if you don't even know of any such thing as community.