There were appalling scenes of violence again last night in London and other cities around the UK for the third night in a row. And there is no excuse at all for this violence – for all that Ken Livingstone tried to blame the violence on anger generated by government cuts, it is obvious to all who witnessed it that this was just criminal behaviour on the part of young men, some of them still essentially children in their early or pre-teens. Theresa May is right – this is pure criminality: no amount of anger about lack of fairness or opportunity in life justifies stealing and damage to the property of others. And if these young people do feel hard done by in life, they should go to East Africa, where they would be lucky to reach adulthood. People who are really suffering and in poverty do not have mobile phones from which they can organise flash mobs to loot and pillage. This is totally unacceptable copycat crime.
What makes these young people think that it is ok to take what isn’t theirs, to injure and destroy? What messages have they received in their lives that encourage them to feel that it is permissible to behave outside the bounds of rules and laws that are in place to help ease the workings of society? No system is perfect, and we have to keep working hard – oh, so hard – to find ways to engage all of our young people positively and fruitfully in society, for their long term wellbeing and happiness as well as the effective working of society – but we also have to be firm and strong in saying and showing that this kind of behaviour is entirely wrong. For this to happen, we must as an absolute priority make sure that we work together in schools and communities to support parents to learn how to parent and how to make sure their children have the boundaries they need to function in the world.
When boundaries are not enforced from an early age – and I mean by parents, schools and other adults in the community, and not the police, who should be the last resort to ensure law and order – then lawlessness is bound to ensue. It is never too late to start – parents, adults, members of the community all need to be clear and unequivocal in the messages they are giving out. Let’s not lose the moral high ground and express ourselves physically or verbally in anger and aggression – what message does this send out? – but let us ensure that we are crystal clear in our response, both in words and action.
If this violence doesn’t stop soon – now – then more livelihoods are going to be destroyed, more homes are going to be lost, families are going to suffer, and the chances are extremely high that people are going to be seriously injured and even killed. Parents – stop your children going out tonight. Families and communities – stand up and say ‘enough’. Citizens – follow the example of the people of Birmingham and help clean up your cities to show that togetherness and goodness will prevail. Speak out and stop this now.