Fixing the Broken not Healing the Wounded – a wrong-footed Government response


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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Our wise leader, David Cameron, clearly being an iconic Philosopher King, spent many days studying the possibly causes for the devastating riots in London and across England. He concluded after much intellectually rigorous pursuit, that the causes of the ‘sickness’ of Britain are – single parents and gangs aka ‘other people’.

Oh well, maybe he didn’t put quite as much thought into his words as I credited him for after all, he’s been toting those policy aims for decades. What more could we expect of him? Complex thought processes and analysis? Don’t be silly, he’s a politician who thrives on sound-bite politics that blames others.

I’m going to share a tiny bit of my own obviously clearly thought through analysis and that is this. There are no ‘easy’ solutions to the endemic problems that created a culture where people feel they can take what they want. This was not about ‘gangs’ although I’m willing to concede that might have been a fraction of one part of a ‘problem’. This is not about single parent families although yes, there may be people who are labelled that way. It seems that when our leaders set about scapegoating some of the voiceless citizens, we are heading for more divisions and damage than healing and unity which is what we really should be seeking. I’m not saying people should not be punished according to the law but they should not have new punishments invented specifically for them just to satisfy the vengence of the middle class who suffered for the first times when Ealing and Clapham burned.

These were Cameron’s words yesterday

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face … Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback,” Cameron said as he described the violent disorder as a “wake-up call” for Britain.

“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.”

Setting out his personal priorities for government the prime minister promised he won’t be “found wanting”: “In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society. That passion is stronger today than ever.”

There’s a lot here to get our collective heads around. A lot of dangerous assumptions and a clear view into the simplistic mind of someone who is supposed to be a leader and has proved himself beyond inadequate for the task.  The Financial Times for example, explains that these riots happened in a period where crime figures had been falling consistency? A moral breakdown? Perhaps not.

Irresponsibility? Like appointing a press secretary whom you have repeatedly been warned not to appoint and to continue to give him ‘second chances’ when you don’t consider second chances for the person who steals a bottle of water.

Selfishness? Like the MPs who gorged themselves on expense claims.

Behaving as if your choices have no consequences? Oh, well, for this one I have to reference the Iain Duncan Smith story from The Broken of Britain

Now, all those platitudes, we get onto the real meatiness that Cameron is gagging for.

Children without fathers? Excuse me? Does he realise how he stigmatises and chastises all the fine families that are raised by a single parent? Does he really think the presence of a man and a woman in a family unit regardless of whether they actually want to be together (the usual reason that splits take place) will ‘help’ the children? He is a fool and it is a dangerous message. Male or female role models do not have to be parents and unhappy parenting is not a useful environment in any circumstances. Cameron has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ family just as he has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ community. It is damagingly false and it seeks to further stigmatise and alienate those who for very many good reasons, do not conform to his traditional family view. Does he refer to families with two mothers or two fathers or single-father families? What about communities with extended friends as support? He is finding it too easy to paint ‘poor people’ with a brush.

Schools without discipline? Again an easy target. How about actually putting money and effort into the schools that exist then rather than trying to hive them off into ‘free schools’.

Reward without effort? Um.. Mr Cameron.. you know, you with the inheritence of millions. Can you tell us exactly what effort you put into the accident of your birth?

Crime without punishment? – Well, I suppose that depends on definitions but an awful lot of crimes seem to be getting some mightily grand punishments at the moment. Unlike the bankers who ravaged the finances of the nation.

Rights without responsibilities? Dangerous stuff here. See, he has been quoting that awfully subversive Human Rights Act. Possibly because he, in his privileged position would never have need to refer to it.

Communities without control? Interesting one. I wonder what exactly he means. Which communities are these? Poor communities? Communities of people with different minority ethnic backgrounds? Gangs? It’s pretty rhetoric and a nice alliteration but it is meaningless.

You see, I don’t believe Britain is ‘broken’. I think she is functioning as well as she can despite the government though. I think the more that the rhetoric fixes on the ‘sick pockets’ and less on the body politic the more she will begin to sicken though.

Cameron’s ‘solution’ to help to fix (note fix not heal)  this country is to bring in Emma Harrison from Action for Employment as a ‘Families Champion’. Really? That’s a bit patronising and it seems to dictate to us as adult citizens what ‘families’ the government approves of and disapproves of but back to Emma Harrison who has built her millions on the back of the government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ programmes. Is this really a call for more private profit-making?

What message does it send about making money off the back of so-called ‘broken families’ and trying to fix them?

For me, Cameron’s heavy-handed and quite frankly ignorant response to the riots is a sign of a far more broken element of British society. The ruling classes and their detached empathy sensors. That has already caused a lot of damage and is likely to cause far more in the future and we need to be wary of it and try and push the agenda towards healing rather than fixing.

5 thoughts on “Fixing the Broken not Healing the Wounded – a wrong-footed Government response

  1. Great post. And you mention one of the things that has been really bugging me in a lot of the responses that have been made and that is the amount of non-specific rhetoric. I just keep shouting “but what specifically do you actually mean” when I watch or read interviews.

    Talk of ‘not being afraid of so called human rights rules’ – well ok, which rights are you (the person being interviewed – not you, obviously!) worried about.

    Talk of ‘being able to discipline our children again’ – really? What do you actually mean, because if you mean ‘hitting children’ then have the courage to say so and then we can have a proper debate about.

    ‘Teachers taking back control’ – more hitting? Or more training and support? One is likely to be good, one isn’t, but if you don’t say what you mean we can’t debate the issue properly.

    ‘Families without fathers’ – well, we can try and support single parents to overcome some of the issues some of them may face, we can try and reduce the number of children conceived in relationships the state deems likely to be transient, or we can try and force people to stay in unhappy relationships and with potentially abusive partners. But we can’t really challenge or debate these points because all we hear is rhetoric and slogans.

    Although when they do allude to specifics I certainly don’t feel any happier (free schools, Amanda Harrison and A4E ‘fixing’ people … these just show up where all this is really going).

    As long as our great leaders rely on vague words we won’t have any solutions but will have more stigmatisation, which is hardly what we need at the moment.

  2. spot on, Fighting Monsters and Dougal.
    Has anything changed since Charles Murray and ‘the underclass’ (sigh).
    Have an unsightly image of David Cameron chaining reluctant men to the bedpost!

  3. Thanks for writing this. It’s really well done. I have been trying to keep up on all the riot news, but it’s sometimes hard to determine which sources are reliable. So much of what you wrote here applies to the US as well. It’s so easy to throw out those buzz words like “failing schools” and “single parent families,” that are meant to frighten people but really don’t have a lot of meaning in the greater debate.

  4. Thanks Dougal, Julie, SocialJerk – unsurprisingly I agree with you all..
    Depressing times but that’s why it’s so important to challenge some of the ideas that are becoming ‘conventional wisdom’.

  5. Excellent post, I agree with you 100%.

    As a single mother of a 13 year old, living not that far from Chipping Norton & about to start my Social Work degree in a few weeks, I can assure Mr Cameron that despite us being a family with no father, my son was at home, not rioting and is appalled by the riots.

    After all these years I really am very sick of the endless single mother bashing.

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