CoffeeHousers have been generous in their response to my post on the need for an inquiry. I thought
I’d respond in a post, rather than the comments.
1) Why rush to think that poverty is the problem? Rhoda Klapp raises this very good point. In 1996, American academics looked at various riots round the world since the war –
I’d urge CoffeeHousers with a serious interest to read the report here). They found “little evidence that poverty in the
community matters” – ie, there are much poorer cities, where people don’t riot. Other factors matter, mainly risk versus reward. I used this study as when "http://www.spectator.co.uk/politics/all/7157438/leading-article-britains-riots-burning-issues.thtml">writing the leader for this week’s magazine. I trust that conclusion – drawn,
as it is, from studying several riots – rather than the general hunch of a politician, which is, right now, pretty much all we have to go on and it’s totally inadequate basis from which
to formulate policy. Perhaps the evidence has changed over the last 15 years: I’d like to find out.
2) Whatever you do, don’t mention race. I think that this is what Rhoda was trying to say: isn’t it funny how none of the newspapers dared mention that the rioters were black!
Denis Cooper says that an inquiry would be similarly purblind. It’s true that in Britain we are squeamish about talking about race, as if to do so marks one out as intrinsically racist.
It’s important that we overcome this, given that ethnicity certainly is an issue in most riots (see the study cited above). But I genuinely don’t think that race was a factor in the
recent riots. Studies on gangs found that, whether in London or Manchester, ethnic composition mirrors that of the local community. The pictures from the northern riots reflected this, as far as I
could tell. Look closely at the pictures, and you see an odd advert for Britain’s good race relations: whites and blacks, looting in perfect harmony.
3) Tariq Jahan, a British hero. When racial tensions did threaten to flare up – with the killing of those three Muslims by a car in Birmingham – we saw Tariq Jahan, who spoke
so powerfully after his son’s death. There were initial reports that the driver was black, and that the attack was racist. Such rumours, even if untrue, can have an incendiary effect. But Jahan,
who had rushed to the crash scene to find his son dead, said that as a Muslim he forgave the killer and appealed for calm. For me, the defining moment of the riots was here – 2’10 in at "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ1VjUSKevc&feature=related">this clip when Asian youths started to kick off, looking all up for a fight. "I’m mourning my son, and you lot are starting
off again. Why? Grow up, guys. Got nothing better to do? Go home,” said Jahan. If Cameron had said that, they probably wouldn’t have gone home. If there was a figure of national unity in
these riots, it wasn’t any politician but this extraordinary father – a true British hero. He spoke best in this clip.
4) America doesn’t take poverty seriously, says ndm. In Britain, we judge anti-poverty campaigns by their intentions rather than their results. Instead of fighting poverty, we have
sought to manipulate spreadsheets showing the number above or below an arbitrary poverty threshold. The Americans started measuring the efficacy of antipoverty schemes in the early 1990s and the
American left reached the conclusion Britain still hasn’t: that many of these schemes made poverty worse. This consensus – badly needed here – led to the 1996 Clinton/Gingrich
welfare reforms: the largest assault on poverty in American history.
5) And the conclusion will be ……Politically correct sociobabble. Dennis Churchill can be forgiven for his skepticism, but I’d like an inquiry not so much for its conclusions but
for the data, facts, figures and studies it would produce. We need tools, to help us understand. I suspect those tools will be used by different political parties in different ways, but they may
take all of us closer to the truth.
6) The dice will be loaded from the start. Publius says that matter what the question, the government machine will make sure the answer involves more tax money spent and more projects for
bureaucrats to oversee. Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre of Social Justice (which I’m involved with, for the record) has produced excellent reports on poverty which drew no such conclusions.
And set a template for how proper, open-minded reports can be conducted.
7) That was a terrible wishy-washy performance on QT. You had a great opportunity to spell out the truth and fluffed it. ButcombeMan, Publius and Frank P, it’s worse than that. I
didn’t fluff it. I meant what I said. The police got it right on Tuesday night, more on the beat is the answer, and I don’t think we should do a Blair-style kneejerk policy response on
this. We should all have a little humility and acknowledge that this took us all by surprise – we don’t have all the answers.
8) What poverty? Did you see the bling those looters wore? Viv Evans, I agree that poverty in Britain is a much-misunderstood word. The most serious TV programme I have seen about poverty
in Britain, The Scheme, showed the welfare-dependent peopel with appallingly dysfunctional lives all with flatscreen TVs in the house. Plainly, money might not be the answer. An inquiry could look
at whether work is the only cure for British poverty.
Like everyone, I have strong opinions on the riots. I have long been persuaded by the welfare problems identified by reformers across the political spectrum in Britain: John Hutton, James Purnell,
Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith. And I’m persuaded by the need for more police on the street, for more prison places (and longer sentences) to restore fear of incarceration. But I don’t see a
conflict between a robust law and order agenda and intelligent social policy. It is time to deliver what Blair promised. We should be tough on riots, and tough on the causes of riots. But to do so,
we need to know what the causes of these riots were.
PS: I looted the picture from http://photoshoplooter.tumblr.com. Another example of Britain at its best.Tags: Employment, Law and order, Poverty, Public service reform, Race, Riots, Social policy, Tony Blair, UK politics, Welfare