I think someone earlier in the thread said that perhaps the post sickening thing about all of this is the sight of various politicians seeking to make political capital out of the disorder and I have to say that I agree with them. The sight of Diane Abbott on Newsnight claimimg that these riots were the natural result of having a Tory government was a particularly vile piece of opportunism. While it was true that the last rioting comparable to this were the riots of 1981, the fact is that summer rioting has been a fact of life in Britain for many years, including when Ms Abbott's party were in power.
Such riots may not happen every year but they do occur with a depressing regularity and, to be perfectly honest, the only thing about these riots that has surprised me is the fact the didn't occur last year or the year before. Basically, there are a whole number of factors that have contributed to the outbreaks of rioting across Britain and while some of those are economic and political, others stem from more basic social issues.
One of the things I have noticed, teaching in designated "London overspill" schools is how the attitudes of teenagers have changed over the last six or seven years. Pretty much the attitudes have been changing over the last quarter century but in the last few years the rate of change has increased dramatically. The reason for this is the fact that school discipline has become increasingly toothless: when the most severe sanction you can apply to disaffected students is to give them time off school, you have to wonder what that teaches them. When that is linked to the fact that teachers who raise their voices to students can now end up being looked at as being overly harsh (it happened to me five years ago and all I did was raise my voice to be heard over the class) then we have a recipe for disaster.
Such a policy base has been pretty well eviden in schools in England for the last 15 years or so. However, like a lot of things, it takes time for it to filter through so that the students realise it. Moreover, one of the ways parents learn to control their children is to apply the controls that were used when they were children. In part this will be by emulating their own parents and in part this will be by emulating their teachers. When teachers' discipline is toothless, so to will parental discipline become. So in the last seven years or so, we have children coming through whose parents were ineffectually disciplined and are thus ineffective in disciplining children themselves. This has resulted in the current dramatic increase in school disorder.
The current child protection climate, in which the allegations of a child supersede the natural law of "innocent until proven guilty" and the hair trigger with which social services gets involved means that children learn that they are pretty well untouchable. Now, I've got no beef with the idea of child protection, indeed, I an vehement in chasing down cases of abuse and neglect when I discover them. However, there needs to be a proper balance which, unfortunately, has been lacking for decades.
So both the lack of school discipline and the focus on children's rights has created a cohort of teenagers who are primarily focussed on their own rights and their own needs and who think that any form of authority is a joke. The one thing that schools do well in regard to controlling kids is to keep them in school. Indeed, it is one of the prime foci in any school improvement plan. Sowhat tends to happen is that, during term, these unruly teens are at least kept off the streets.
During the long summer holiday, however, that doesn't happen and when you couple this with long hours of daylight, the beginnings of the current situation become apparent. It's no surprise that most civil disorder in the UK occurs in the summer; there is more time for it and the streets are flooded with disaffected teens. One of the great successes of the last Labour government was to label such unrest as being a result of binge drinking. So the periodic seasonal disturbances in English town centres were seen as being individual incidents of drunken yobbery. The problem became one of drinking culture as opposed to one of civil order. This change in government emphasis occured in 2004 after the Leeds riots (then and in 2001), which the Kaiser Chiefs immortalised in their song. When the summer riots that occured were too large to be discribed as being the result of drunkenness, they were described as being anticapitalist in nature.
The Labour government weren't alone in doing this. The previous Tory administration linked Summer disorder in the nineties to "New Age Travellers". While the initial sparks that caused the disorder might have been the police wanting to move new age travellers on or a demonstration about a G-whatever-number-it-isat-the-moment summit or whatever, the majority of such violence is unlinked to that initial cause and is the result of conditions that politicians of all parties have fostered.
I accused Diane Abott of political opportunism earlier and while that's accurate, it doesn't mean that there isn't a kernel of truth in what she said. The cuts imposed by the coalition have acted to make a breakdown into disorder more likely. However, they are, believe a contributory factor rather than the uderlying cause. The main cause is a social one and one that British society does not want to face, that we are all responsible for the problems. Until we face up to the fact that sometimes we need to be hard on our young to ensure that they respect the fabric of society, all that will happen is that the politicians will play football with the situation, relabel it as a different problem or merely deal with the symptom, not the cause, and claim victory when the cold and dark of autumn and winter cause the disorder to dissipate.