Children of the Welfare State
August 11, 2011
For the last two nights, like many other Londoners, I have stayed up late watching clashes outside my window between Police and rioters. After seeing the burned out flats of Tottenham I wanted to make sure I could go to sleep safely.
What I saw, a Police car being trashed and a baton charge on Sunday and fighting again last night, was rather subdued by the standards of elsewhere in the capital. Following on from the arson in Tottenham, buildings were burned in Hackney, Croydon and Ealing.
There was always the danger that people on the left would seek to use this unrest as a vehicle for their own pet causes. Ken Livingstone proved again just what an irrelevant lump of 80’s nostalgia he is by blaming, not the current government, but that of Margaret Thatcher. Others have consulted their A level Sociology textbooks and pinned the blame on the rioting youths' “disenfranchisement” or “deprivation.”
None of this third rate Marxist rubbish holds up if you leave the lecture hall and come face to face with the rioters. It is almost impossible to think of a way these people are disenfranchised. Each and every one of them has the franchise. When they reach 18 they will have the right to vote. They may choose not to use it, but that’s up to them.
Neither did the rioters I saw look particularly deprived. The closest thing they have to a uniform are Franklin & Marshall jumpers which retail for about £60 each. Most of them were filming their rampages on iPhones which can retail at over £400.
The poverty these kids have is moral, not financial. Many of them come from broken families which derive most of their support from the state. Neither they, nor their parents, have ever had to face consequences or take responsibility in their lives. If a girl gets pregnant the state pays. If they’d rather pose about like a gangster than get a job, the state pays. And if they commit a crime state punishment is often a joke. So, they behave as they please.
It is true that they have no hope or aspiration but this is not a question of “exclusion.” They are forced by law to attend state schools.
White, black or whatever else, it is because many of them come from a culture which places no value on education. They would rather emulate some dim witted "music" star than knuckle down to school work. This accounts for much of their poor educational performance which adversely affects their prospects later in life.
And why should they value education and hard work? People who are used to having money thrown at them by the state have seen that you can be rewarded for doing nothing.
Happily, the sociological nonsense has been less widespread than it could have been and than it once would have been.
Tottenham MP David Lammy’s reaction was solid and unspectacular but after the disgusting response of the late, unlamented former Tottenham MP Bernie Grant after the brutal murder of PC Keith Blakelock (“What the police got was a bloody good hiding” he crowed after the policeman had had his head hacked off by a mob during 1985’s riots in Broadwater Farm) we have come some distance.
Even Diane Abbot broke the habit of a lifetime this morning by saying something sensible and backing curfews.
Curfews should be an obvious start. Beyond that, the police should be more proactive, seeking to hit and disperse the rioters -- take the fight to them. They should be looking at a range of tools from water cannons to tear gas to rubber bullets. And this is a perfectly liberal response, if you know what true liberalism is about.
The first governments arose out of the need for mutual defence. Over time, particularly in the last century, governments have taken on more and more roles. The state now tells you how often to exercise and spies on your bin bags.
But whether you agree with the state’s new functions or not, it cannot be denied that one of its core functions, before anything else, remains the protection of the people from domestic and foreign enemies. If the state cannot do that then it is well and truly failing.
Even a small state can do this. All but the most fervent of anarcho-capitalist should agree that this protection is the one core duty of the state above all others. There is no reason why a strong government must also be a big government.
One of the defining characteristics of the modern state is its monopoly on violence. It is now time to assert that monopoly. The government needs to act, it needs to act hard, and it needs to act now.
John Phelan is a British Conservative party member with a liberal outlook on social and economic issues. He was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. He is a graduate of Birkbeck College, residing in east London. He maintains a website here.
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