One Question has been on everyone’s lips following the riots: why did they happen and what is the Government going to do about it?
The answer become much clearer this week when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for what he called a “security and social fightback”.
It signals the beginning of increased police powers including permission to use rubber bullets and attacks on civil liberties and the Human Rights Act.
Cameron also announced a tough zero-tolerance approach for those found guilty of being involved in the disturbances with repercussions such as benefits cuts or eviction for their families.
Conservative-run Wandsworth Council has already applied to evict 18-year-old Daniel Sartain-Clarke, his mother Maite de la Calva and her eight-year-old daughter Revecca.
Sartain-Clarke denies charges of violent disorder and burglary outside an electronics store in Clapham Junction last Monday and is being held in custody.
The PM said he wanted to see many more local authorities following Wandsworth’s actions.
Speaking in his Whitney constituency, the PM said the riots were a “wake-up call” for the country and pinned the blame on personal irresponsibility, children without fathers, crime without punishment and too many benefits.
He added: “These riots were not about race. These riots were not about Government cuts and these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated. Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations? I have the very strong sense that the responsible majority of people in this country not only have that determination; they are crying out for their Government to act upon it.”
As part of the ‘social fightback’, Cameron added that a “family test” would be applied to all domestic policy as a priority and stricter discipline would be enforced in schools.
His comments have raised fears that the policies will lead to the stigmatisation of young people, single mothers, working class people and ethnic minorities.
Others claim the riots and the way the media has covered them are playing a huge role in dividing communities along racial lines. Operation Black Vote director Simon Woolley said “race relations have been set back ten years.”
Woolley’s comments were followed by historian David Starkey’s controversial comments on BBC’s Newsnight programme in which he appeared to support aspects of Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and also said that the rioting reflected the fact that the “whites have become black” and adopted “a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture [that] has become the fashion.”
In announcing his plans, the Prime Minister said that tackling gang culture is now a national priority and made it clear where he believed the majority of the blame lies.
“At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs” he said: “Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes. They have blighted life on their estates with gang on gang murders and unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders.”
Infamous American cop Bill Bratton CBE, praised for his work in Los Angeles, Boston and New York, has been drafted in to help guide The Met on dealing with gangs.
Cameron added that the Government was also examining ways of cracking down on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, which he said were abused to organise disturbances.
Home Secretary Theresa May will work with Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and other cabinet members in a cross-Government programme of action to deal with gang culture.
A report will be presented to Parliament in October.
Twilight Bey, of Hogarth Blake education consultants, a former gang member with 18 years’ experience of gang mediation and helping young people turn their backs on gangs, said: “Is Cameron right? My answer is a straightforward ‘no’.
Taking away people’s homes does not help the problem. Many young people in gangs are already disadvantaged, and that only makes them more disadvantaged. It costs something like £54,000 a year to keep someone in prison, but you could take just £1,500 of that from your law and order budget and invest it into social intervention which has more positive results.”
Bey said he wanted to see the Government invest more in mentoring, parent awareness classes to help adults understand how to manage their children and getting young people into apprenticeships and job placements and “help them on the road to become contributing and law-abiding members of society.”
In response, Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Cameron for taking the easy way out by playing the blame game and urged for a public inquiry into exactly why the riots have happened.
He said: “Day by day the Prime Minister has revealed himself to be reaching for shallow and superficial answers. Not the lasting solutions the country needs, based on the wisdom and insights of our communities. A strong response to restore order must be followed by real change.”