AS I SEE IT: How can we salvage society after the riots?

This week has seen endless discussion and debate about the country’s riots, from possible causes to appropriate punishment for those responsible and everything in between. Newspaper headlines shouted their updates on thuggery and decimation as the yobs swept through the country’s cities, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.

Politicians have spouted their theories and various pundits offered some explanation as to how this great country came to produce a feral youth, with little or no moral compass. Sociologists offered their academic views on varying television programmes, but the majority of us were still at a loss as to how it came to this as we watched our screens open mouthed, witnessing our beloved cities with their proud heritage being ransacked, looted and pillaged along with the TVs, trainers and pianos (yes pianos... looters had time to completely strip a Manchester city centre music shop bare).

Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail, came up with, in my opinion, the best social observation: “It was fun. It got people to notice us,” said a girl looter, interviewed by the BBC. “It showed the rich people and police we can do what we like.”

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Quoting a former London police chief, Hastings continued: “The depressing truth is that at the very bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, value or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’, they simply exist. Nobody has ever dared suggest to them they need to feel allegiance for anything, least of all Britain or their own community. They do not watch Royal weddings or notice Test Matches or take pride in being Londoners, or Scousers or Brummies. Not only do they know nothing of Britain’s past, they care nothing for its present.”

Throughout history, there has been an underclass, who have periodically surfaced with violence and the intent to riot. Capital punishment and other harsh forms of punishment have meant a civilised society could be maintained. The difference today is that the sanctions for wrongdoing have simply vanished. As Hastings comments “Those at the bottom of society today behave no better than their forebears, but the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want ... these people are not victims of mistreatment or neglect. It is now fantastically hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion which modern society finds unacceptable. These kids are what they are because nobody makes them any different or better.”

And isn’t that it in a nutshell? In a society where the law appears to protect the rights of the perpetrators of crime, rather than the victim, and where teachers have been deprived of their traditional right to arbitrate pupils’ behaviour, how will we reinstate the discipline and respect needed to salvage society?