Notes From the Margins…

Cloud Cameron Land

  • August 13, 2011
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Remember that cuddly David Cameron, the photogenic face of the new caring Conservatism, who used to ride a bike and take his kids on the school run – just like us simple ordinary folk?   Not much of that was in evidence during his speech to parliament on Thursday.    Flanked by Osborne and Clegg ( a politician who seems to be positively writhing in his own skin whenever he appears in public) and still emanating a faint Tuscan glow, the old Bullingdonian was the perfect incarnation of Lord Byron’s description of Lord Castlereagh as a ‘cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant’ as he delivered a speech on the riots that had an unmistakeably Georgian flavour with its fear and moral horror of the turbulent underclasses who had interrupted his Italian idyll.

The most striking feature about Cameron’s speech wasn’t just his stunningly maladroit suggestion that the police were partly responsible for the riots ( not because of the killing of Mark Duggan, but because of their supposedly soft tactics) even as he praised them.  Nor was it the announcement of baton rounds, water cannons and Internet censorship, and his promise of even tougher contingencies to deal with similar events in the future, including the use of the army.

What was really alarming – if not at all surprising – about Cameron’s speech was its moralistic, shallow and utterly self-serving analysis of why the riots had occurred.   First he denied that there was any ‘justifiable causal link’ between the riots and the Duggan killing,  and insisted that the looting and rioting ‘ had nothing to do with politics and protest,  it was about theft’.

Whether looting and rioting are ‘justifiable’ activities does mean that such actions have no social and political causes or context, as Cameron well knows.   And the old Bullingdonian, still gazing dimly down at the teeming masses from the playing fields of Eton circa 1800, does in fact see a context:

Responsibility for crime always lies with the criminal. But crime has a context. And we must not shy away from it. I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is not about poverty, it is about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.In too many cases, the parents of these children if they are still around – don”t care where their children are or who they are with; let alone what they are doing.  The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.

And what action does Cameron propose?

we need a benefit system that rewards work and that is on the side of families.  We need more discipline in our schools. We need action to deal with the most disruptive families.  And we need a criminal justice system that scores a clear and heavy line between right and wrong.  In short, all the action necessary to help mend our broken society.

Some might question the ability of Britain’s sleazy and mediocre ruling elites to distinguish between right and wrong, in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal, the banking crisis and Hackgate.  Others might wonder whether  the divided and unequal society that Britain’s politicians have overseen during the last three decades has had something to do with the events of the last week.  In Cameron-land however everything is always someone else’s fault – the police for not being tough enough, parents for not being tough enough, and schools ie. teachers for not being tough enough, the underclass for its absent moral compass.  Only inbreeding was missing from this fatuous analysis.

How is evicting people from ‘social housing’ ie. enforced homelessness going to help incorporate marginalised, unemployed and disenfranchised young people into the ‘decent law-abiding majority that plays by the rules’ as Cameron puts it?  How will people survive if their benefits are taken away from them and there are no jobs to go to?

If hatred of the police and a lack of communication between police and local communities helped cause the violence – as only the dimmest of reactionaries would deny – then what good will it do to give the police even more repressive powers?  Does a country that prides itself on its democratic institutions really want to use the army on a regular basis to police its own population – as the government is now suggesting?

Neither Cameron nor the ‘opposition’ has much interest in answering these questions. The government knows full well that its ‘austerity’ programme is unjust and unpopular, even though it has been rocked on its heels by the scale of the recent violence.  But it clearly has no intention of changing course – and nothing to offer the country more repression, discipline and surveillance.

Unfortunately opinion polls indicate that too many people support this direction – for now.  But when the heat of the moment has worn off, some of those who would like to see, for example, the army using live ammunition against rioters, should really wonder whether – as in the case of the ‘war on terror’ – the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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