It was a stronger and more confident David Cameron who addressed the press outside No.10 this morning. “We needed a fightback and a fightback is underway,” he declared, highlighting, with no little relief, “a much quieter night across the capital”. But he added there was “no room for complacency”, and, significantly, announced that contingency plans were in place for water cannon to be available at “24 hours’ notice”.
He resisted the temptation to reference “the big society” but clearly had it in mind when he praised “the million people who have signed up on Facebook to support the police” and the communities “coming together in the clean-up operations.”
As I noted earlier today, Cameron’s initial response to the riots was remarkably simplistic. “This is criminality, pure and simple,” he argued. The analytical moment, it seemed, had been indefinitely postponed. But today, in his own words, he began to grapple around for “the root cause” of the riots.
“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick,” he said. “For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I have spoken about for years. It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society, people allowed to feel that the world owes something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities, and that their actions do not have consequences.”
Cameron is still largely identifying the symptoms, rather than the causes, (why do people feel a complete lack of responsibility?) but he has put some distance between himself and the likes of Kelvin MacKenzie, who, when asked on Newsnight if he wanted to “understand” the riots, simply replied: “No”.
What the riots have shown is that Britain’s profoundly unequal society is one in which many, particularly young men, feel they have no stake. As The Spirit Level showed, the most violent societies are also the most unequal. Unless Cameron recognises the need to dramatically reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, he has no hope of mending what he calls our “broken society”.