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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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.