Labour's response to the riots has to be conservative and radical

The party must defend the integrity of family life and those institutions that promote the common go

Listen to the silence. The enormity of what happened across England last week has been slowly buried under acres of commentary and analysis of why it happened. But what did happen? What happened was the slow simmering, everyday brutality of life on the streets of our cities and large towns exploding and bringing us to the edge of the complete breakdown of civil order. As mobs steamed their way up high streets smashing and looting they gave clarity to the fear, casual violence and nihilism that has become a part of the fabric of our everyday life. This is England. Look at the destruction, feel the fear; this is what we have made of our country. The problem belongs to all of us, and no amount of retributive justice will solve it.

England has a long history of rioting during periods of economic distress. The events have elements in common with this history and others unique to modern consumer society. They would include: adolescent, exhilarating excitement; rage against the police; the summer holidays; the historical social predicament of unoccupied young men; an over-inflated sense of entitlement to have what one wants; parts of a younger generation detached from the moral norms and obligations of adult society; the experience of poverty, despair and hopelessness; and a deep sense of "I don't care". Above all the events combined the nihilism of the dispossessed and the narcissism of the consumer. Why have you done this? "Because we can".

Society in the big cities lacks neighbourly solidarity and adults are frightened of the young. Fear of crime is fear of youth. Watch Jo Frost on TV, a lot of parents are anxious about saying "no" to their own children. Market choice targeted at children is a direct challenge to the kinds of parental intuition and authority that creates the emotional boundaries in which children flourish. Adult society has abandoned young people in areas of our cities to a street culture of casual mugging, knives and at the extreme, guns. It has abandoned a small minority to an anomic existence of hopeless parenting, no jobs or rubbish jobs.

A small number are disconnected from family, social norms and adult authority. They are the dangerous ones. They have their own gang culture for mutual aid and their chief value is money. They will use violence to avoid the mortification of shame. The dangers of this nihilistic gang culture have been repeatedly voiced, particularly by black community workers, but they have been ignored by wider society.

The influence of this small core ripples out to terrorise and draw in a wider circle of young people in deprived areas who themselves hover between the social abyss and some sort of decent life. And the ripples extend further outward to other young people who are attracted to the glamour and excitement of the gangsta life. These concentric circles of fear and seduction, uninterrupted by adult and governmental authority, found a common activity and were a core around which swirled larger numbers of voyeurs and thrill seekers.

And as communities reeled under the impact of the violence they were impotent to respond. The police do not have the integration into localcommunities to ensure order. They are a state imposed force. Absolutely necessary yes, but without connections to forms of organised community authority, limited in what they can achieve. Where was the community out on the streets after night fall? Where were the civic leaders rallying the citizenship to bring their children and young people to order? Only in ethnic groups where there were strong family ties and kinship systems and often faith based networks did order prevail - amongst Muslims in Birmingham, the Hassidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill, the Turkish and Kurdish communities in east London. They came out onto the streets and ensured peace and safety.

And this brings us to the lamentable failure of our political class which is disconnected from the life of the people. The Tories were out of their depth. Cameron and Johnson are both revealed in all their mediocrity. They know nothing about the society they live in. Cameron's pro-social politics lie in tatters as he defends the neo-liberal status quo with bigger, more aggressive state intervention. The people who have talked the most sense are the community workers who work the street and their message is not one that Labour has always wanted to hear - it is about the breakdown of family life, the loss of social structures of authority, the absence of boundaries and discipline. It is a conservative message, but it is not a Tory one. It is half the issue in hand. The other half is the way the social and economic relations of capitalism, if left unchecked, destroys traditions and social authority and produces consumer narcissism and nihilistic cultures of violence. It is about the crushing effect of poverty and parents who have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet with no time for the children and no childcare. And as neuroscience is proving, it is about the emotional destruction of people's lives caused by childhood abuse, trauma and deprivation.

Labour has to own the conservative part of the story. The right cannot be allowed to bury the causes by framing the events as simply about moral decline and law and order. Labour has to be conservative in its defence of relational life, in its belief in the integrity of family life and in institutions that promote the common good. It must be for reciprocity - do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. It has to be willing to make judgements about people's behaviour. And it has to be radical as well as conservative. This means a longer term strategy to end the neo-liberal hegemony and create an ethical economy whose primary purpose is jobs and a common prosperity. Decent jobs on a living wage up and down the country to give people hope and to rebuild our society. It means building community organisation and deepening and expanding democracy and so enabling people to find their voice and take power and responsibility,including the disaffected. They too must sit at the common table.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”