Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
10 August 2011

Cameron searches for the “root cause“ of the riots

"Pockets of our society are not just broken but, frankly, sick," says Cameron.

By George Eaton

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

“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”.