What a splendid editorial today about the London riots in the New York Times. With friends like the Gray Lady, Britain doesn’t need enemies; all of the Times’s pathologies and obsessions are on display in one handy, clip-n-save classic of moral relativism, tu quoque-ism, classism, tut-tutism, partisan point-scoring, handwringing, and just plain nuttiness. Behold “Wrong Answers in Britain.”
The perpetrators must be punished, the police must improve their riot control techniques, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s government must do all it can to make such episodes less likely in the future. We are more confident about the first two happening than the third.
Mr. Cameron, a product of Britain’s upper classes and schools, has blamed the looting and burning on a compound of national moral decline, bad parenting and perverse inner-city subcultures.
Would he find similar blame — this time in the culture of the well housed and well off — for Britain’s recent tabloid phone hacking scandals or the egregious abuse of expense accounts by members of Parliament?
Yes, days of violent, destructive riots are exactly the same as the phone-hacking flap. But don’t worry, it gets worse:
The thousands who were arrested last week for looting and for more violent crimes should face the penalties that are prescribed by law. But Mr. Cameron is not content to stop there. He talks about cutting off government benefits even to minor offenders and evicting them — and, in a repellent form of collective punishment, perhaps their families, too — from the publicly supported housing in which one of every six Britons lives.
He has also called for blocking access to social networks like Twitter during future outbreaks. And he has cheered on the excessive sentences some judges have been handing out for even minor offenses.
Such draconian proposals often win public applause in the traumatized aftermath of riots. But Mr. Cameron, and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, should know better. They risk long-term damage to Britain’s already fraying social compact.
Ah, the “social compact” so beloved of the neo-Rousseauian Left. It never seems to occur to them that one in six Britons did not land in public housing because of bad luck, or the machinations of evil capitalists, but because too often the state put them there. And you just know the Times would like to see that number go higher. Because, after all, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
No Times editorial would be complete without the obligatory, ideologically stuffed peroration that manages to work in “austerity,” the poor being hardest hit, the need for stimulus, shared sacrifice — oh, heck, you read it:
Britain’s urban wastelands need constructive attention from the Cameron government, not just punishment. His government’s wrongheaded austerity policies have meant fewer public sector jobs and social services. Even police strength is scheduled to be cut. The poor are generally more dependent on government than the affluent, so they have been hit the hardest.
What Britain’s sputtering economy really needs is short-term stimulus, not more budget cutting. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Mr. Cameron has figured that out. But, at a minimum, burdens need to be more fairly shared between rich and poor — not as a reward to anyone, but because it is right.
The extent of the tolerance of criminality and refusal to allow law-abiding people to protect themselves has led to an atmosphere where gangs can operate with virtual impunity. The recent, widespread riots, apart from their scale, are not radically different from the violence that has been occurring for many years.
Let us hope the English politicians so surprised and angry at the lawlessness in their cities realize it is time for change, time to permit people to protect themselves and to bring some rigour into the punishment of offenders.
Will there always be an England? I’m not holding my breath.