Britain’s middle class has been traumatised by the sudden eruption of violence and looting by a generation reared on the notion of entitlement. Not for them a “chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” – the epitome of western attainment identified back in the late 1920s by American president Herbert Hoover. In the nihilism of modern Britain, it’s a smart phone to organise a riot, a newly purloined pair of runners to evade the police and an ipod swamping the senses with whatever cacophony happens to be the latest accompaniment to mayhem.
What are the underlying causes of the disturbances in London and a string of cities in northern England? The predictable hand-wringing has begun in earnest. With all the perspicacity of the newts that he famously keeps as pets, the former London mayor “Red Ken” Livingston blames reductions in government spending as the Conservatives strive to cut the modern British suit to fit the cloth of Europe’s new economic paradigm. Yet blind Freddy – never mind the Pearly King – can see that these random outbreaks aren’t based on need. A lifelong friend of Grubsheet despairs about the destruction wrought on her childhood home – Hackney in London’s East End. “These bastards are marshaling themselves on smart phones! I can’t afford a smart phone!”, she wails.
Nobody in Britain is starving. The “hoody” thugs may be less cushioned than they were under Labour but are still being succored on the public tit. So let’s ignore the bleeding hearts of Britain’s left and their constant cries of victimhood and hone in on some unpalatable truths. For this is all about personal responsibility or, more pertinently, the lack of it on the part of a generation reared to believe that every problem is someone else’s fault but their own. Margaret Thatcher may have ignited the flame of enterprise among elements of the middle class but the “eff the lot of you” attitude we’re now witnessing on the streets is deeply rooted in the welfare state.
The comprehensive schools in which Britain’s problem children get their less than comprehensive education are part of the problem. The daughter of a friend happens to be teaching at a comprehensive school in London and is appalled at the absence of even the most basic discipline. One of her pupils was discovered with a knife hidden in her braided hair. What did the principal do? Nothing. Another pupil was assaulted by a group of classmates when he tried to extinguish a fire they’d started in a wastepaper bin. Again, no punishment whatsoever. These schools long ago spared the rod and spoiled the child. So much so, that no amount of policing when they grow up can contain their contempt for the law and the conventional codes that govern personal behaviour. Their idea of civility is a headbutt, respect a “yo man” but only for their peers, each unbarred window an invitation for a brick, any person with something they covet a legitimate target for instant gratification.
In 1962, soon after former prime minister Harold MacMillan – “Supermac” – declared that Britain had “never had it so good”, Anthony Burgess wrote his dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange. Eventually turned into a celebrated film by Stanley Kubrick, it depicts Britain as a wasteland, its elderly citizens terrorised by gangs of youths. Its “hero”, Alex Delage – played brilliantly by Malcolm MacDowell – is so malodouress that the government is eventually obliged to subject him to a form of experimental aversion therapy. It was all meant to be fiction but now resonates loudly on the streets of Brixton and Salford.
A hundred years ago, legions of British youth fanned out across the empire on which the sun never set to tame the savages. Now they stay at home and indulge in savagery themselves. For more on why it’s happening, we’re providing links to some of Britain’s finest writers: