Although I was faraway from the UK at the time, the riots did not go unnoticed. I have blogged in the past at what I consider to be 'broken elements' of our society (speaking as someone who has long worked at grassroots level with those people often labelled 'underclass') but never expected such an outpouring of anger - and greed, and malice.
Being in China whilst the violent disorder was taking place, a country we in the West so often view as somehow 'backwards', challenged me further. The Chinese state - for all the much-documented political, social and cultural issues - continues to place emphasis on education as a way of improving lives, the stability offered to society from stable families and the need to promote 'harmony' between different cultures and ethnicities.
Although often misdirected and exploited, seeing these distinctly Confucian values actively used to envision and shape society (new housing, public spaces for families to enjoy together, the restoration of minority city neighbourhoods, the active creation of jobs) got me thinking about the values we hold collectively in the UK. I don't believe the riots were simply about economic poverty - after all, most of the rioters have much more than the average Chinese, Indian, Latin American or African. What we are dealing with is a poverty of morals / ethics ("Who are we to judge?"), poverty of aspiration ("There's nothing out there for me..."), poverty of democratic identity ("I don't do politics. Politicians are useless and corrupt. Nothing will change."), poverty of trust in education ("School did me no good.") and poverty of hope ("Things are only going to get worse...").
And there is no quick-fix solution. More laws and police won't do it, nor will simply throwing more money at poorer communities (via incompetent Local Authorities and wasteful quangos) do it either. It ultimately comes down to better, braver education of young people, and where necessary, their families. It also comes down to re-establishing the principle of personal responsibility. And the big one - worthwhile jobs (which you cannot simply rely on the market to create).
I could go on but time constraints due to work, and the fact so many better words have been said and written by others already, leads me to leave it there - with one last note:
During the moments of despair we may enter when thinking about the situation, we have to remember there are grounds for optimism - seen in the people who worked hard to heal individuals and communities in the aftermath. Stephen Lingwood, a minister working in Bolton (near Manchester), is a fine example of this - "the broom is mightier than the sword..."