What the UK Riots Mean
As Premier I remember one evening touring public housing estates. I ended up at Coogee talking to a youngster who growled and snarled about the need for a basketball court. I told him he might have a case, but in the meantime he was living within walking distance of Coogee and Maroubra beaches, people would pay a lot of money for such a location and if he liked sport he ought to think about joining one of the surf clubs. “No,” he growled. “They make you go on patrol.” And he continued to spit anger and resentment, and whinge.
I saw that exchange as confirmation of the welfare dependency that sometimes goes with public housing. Sometimes – not all the time, I should stress. It’s my starting point for considering what has been happening in Britain.
I can’t go along with the facile response that the violent attacks on people and property are occurring because of the Conservatives cutting “youth services.” How many of the rioters would be rolling along to “youth services” anyway? There was a riot in public housing estates near Liverpool in Western Sydney. This was in the context of strongly funded youth services and abundant local sporting facilities. “Services” had nothing to do with it. As Premier I was quick to point out the offenders would not be getting anymore as a result of attacking police and damaging property.
Despite Conservative governments, Britain has remained a welfare state, and the welfare state has got to be considered a large part of the problem. That’s why I like the reforms of the Gillard government designed to get people off disability pensions and into the workforce. Pause for a moment and think about the view of the world absorbed by kids growing up in households where nobody has ever worked, where every adult lives on a benefit, where housing is a gift of the state. They never see a Dad getting up when an alarm clock rings and heading off to work.
On what’s happening to Britain, I find myself drawn away from the liberalism of the Guardian to the tough commonsense of the doctor turned journalist Theodore Dalrymple, whose columns in The Spectator were once the best dose of radicalism in the British media. He observes today in his column in The Australian:
British children are much likelier to have a television in their bedroom than a father living at home. One-third of them never eat a meal at a table with another member of their household — family is not the word for the social arrangements of the people in the areas from which the rioters mainly come.
His observation on young women in Britain is deeply offensive. It also has the ring of absolute truth:
For young women in much of Britain, dependence does not mean dependence on the government: that, for them, is independence. Dependence means any kind of reliance on the men who have impregnated them who, of course, regard their own subventions from the state as pocket money, to be supplemented by a little light trafficking.
Finally, Dalrymple celebrates the popular culture that is part of the life of these rioters:
Perhaps Amy Winehouse was its finest flower and its truest representative in her militant and ideological vulgarity, her stupid taste, her vile personal conduct and preposterous self-pity.
Yet not a peep of dissent from our intellectual class was heard after her near canonisation after her death…
Canonisation. Exactly how this pop icon was treated.
Hearing Will Hutton on the ABC’s PM last night I just couldn’t buy the soft centred Guardian-line one bit. Dalrymple makes far more sense. His is the radical and refreshing critique; the conservatives are those on the left who call for more of the same old approaches to welfare. It isn’t working, and more of the same is not the answer.