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Can economic policies explain the social unrest?

The political argument over whether Government cuts fuelled the violence seen in London and across the country in the past few days has begun in earnest.

In a heated exchange on Newsnight last night, deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told Education Secretary Michael Gove that “short-sighted” Government policies like “cutting” the Education Maintenance Allowance, the trebling of tuition fees and closing job centres were adding to a situation where young people feel they are not being listened to.

Gove said it is “ludicrous” to claim people looting shops and burning down buildings were concerned about the “reform” of the EMA. He accused her of “speaking out of both sides of her mouth” for blaming Government policy after saying she wanted to elevate the debate above party politics.

Harman said: “The truth is the Government should be on the side of young people. And you are not…We want people to have opportunities although nothing justifies people who have not got opportunities taking and robbing.”  

Gove responded: “I do not want any more of your double dealing, out of one side of your mouth saying you are going to show solidarity with the Government and with legitimate forces of order and on the other side try to make partisan points.”

There was widespread rioting, looting and arson in London on Sunday and Monday night and while 16,000 police on the streets last night meant the city was relatively quiet, trouble flared up in Manchester, three men died in Birmingham and a police station was fire bombed in Nottingham.


In his statement yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron said the “sickening scenes” were “criminality, pure and simple”. During the election he spoke about failures in education, political disenchantment and social breakdown leading to Britain’s being a broken society, although he dropped the leitmotif over fears the negative message would turn off voters.

Alongside Cameron’s strong rhetoric against the rioters, he has today also acknowledged that social problems have played a role in creating the violence that has exploded over the past few days. “There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but frankly sick,” he said. An interesting map on the Financial Times’ website contrasts the areas of London that have seen the worst violence with youth unemployment figures and high deprivation levels.

Nobel Prize winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz was among the first to wade into the debate in an interview with Channel 4 news. He said when people see nothing but long term unemployment they lose faith in society. He suggested that while a contributing factor, the picture is more complex than simply cuts leading to violence.

He said: “Our market economy is not working and our Governments are not succeeding in helping the market do what it has to do. In too many countries they are going in the opposite direction showing very little compassion. I worry the UK is one of those countries and that is very much connected to some of the scenes in London.”

On Thursday, a recalled Parliament will be the stage for a tussle for the public’s hearts and minds over links between economic policy and social unrest. The civil disorder will be debated and George Osborne will give a statement on the economy in the midst of volatile stock markets, falling growth projections, the Eurocrisis and the US credit rating downgrade.

The Government’s understandable hard-line could give way to ’Broken Society’ thinking if and when the violence recedes. Neutralising Labour’s line of attack will not be easy without finding other factors to pin the violence on, whether that is dissatisfaction with the police, poor discipline at home or other long-term social problems. But as a political historian, Cameron will know that a Prime Minister not in control of the streets does not remain PM for long, so for now he is showing his teeth. His top priority is ensuring and convincing people they are safe in their communities.

Gove told Harman the argument she was making was below her and the Labour Party. If Labour are careful, they could capitalise politically. But the party must be sure that in looking to explain the violence it is not accused of political opportunism with even Labour bloggers on Labourlist calling on the party to put politics aside and get behind Cameron until order is restored.

If the party can convince voters Government policy has in any way contributed to the violence, the days of the nasty party could return to haunt the Conservatives, adding extra stress to the coalition. But it will be a very difficult political move to get right.  With emotion running high, get it wrong and the wrath of Michael Gove will be the least of Ed Miliband’s worries.

Steve Tolley is a political reporter at Money Marketing – follow him on twitter here


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There are 16 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. We should ask the FSA to regulate the looters. Very soon they would lose the will to live and leave the country.

  2. You can always trust Harridan Harmon to come up with some twaddle or other. As for Stiglitz, these people would certainly riot if they thought they would have to get a job.

  3. “Government cuts fuelled the violence seen in London and across the country”

    What absolute balderdash.

    Just listen to residents comments. It was pure criminal thuggery.

    Where this and other Governments are to blame is in the establishment of the PC society in which we now find ourselves.

    Parents can’t give their kids a clip round the ear; policemen are tied with PC nonsense and ridiculous Health & Safety rules. No one even today is prepared to come out and state that the vast majority (as evidenced by TV and newspaper photos) are of Afro Caribbean ethnicity. Some of the rioters interviewed can hardly sting a coherent sentence. This evidences a sub culture (if culture is the right word) unimaginable to many. This needs to be addressed – without PC handwringing.

    If these youths are unemployed put them into work gangs. There’s plenty to do and the discipline may work wonders.

    The courts are hamstrung with derisory sanctions and Judges seem more concerned with ‘Human Rights’ than natural justice. The rights of the victims are rarely mentioned.

    I guess this all sounds like Col. Blimp, but I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that there are aspects of the modern world that really are not very appealing and it is more than evident that the modern ‘professional politicians’ still wet behind the ears, are manifestly not up to the job.

    It is also articles like this (regrettably not unique) that just adds to the already banal and pathetic excuses for this sort of behaviour.

  4. It is obvious that tripling the cost of a university education has angered all these rioters. Now they won’t be able to afford that philosophy degree.

    Harman, you don’t deserve to be in politics – you’re a f&%$**g disgrace.

  5. If riots are the price of cuts then so be it. Harmen and her government spent the last 15 years pandering to this mob and their demands for rights whilst washing their hands of all responsibilities – especially parental responsibilities. They create the expectation that you can get something for nothing and now we are all suffering.

    Stop their benefits, take away their safety nets and start rewarding those who play by the rules.

    I believe that it management speak this is called expectation management and if this needs to be reinfornced by zero tolerance policing and water cannons then fine.

    Lets hope that Harman is on the front line protesting at the time 🙂

  6. I read in the Times today that police are reluctant to act because of the threat of court action against them if they do. The police have a point. If a policeman can be charged with manslaughter for pushing over a man who later dies then why should they try to prevent criminal damage? What they seem to be saying is – let the courts deal with everything. We’ll arrest the criminals from the photographic evidence. We can’t act to prevent the damage for fear of our own arrest…

  7. K Durkin
    Actually, if you look at the film evidence of the poor chap who was wantonly pushed to the ground by someone and the poor innocent bystander dies as a result of that person’s actions, then let that person face his just punishment. I don’t care if he’s a policeman or a parish priest, the law on manslaughter is the law on manslaughter – end of.

    If he gets off, fair do’s; the jury decides.

    Get him in the dock.

    Sadly there are far too many police, who joined the force to get a point of release for their aggressive tendencies. We don’t need them.

    And I can assure you I am a hardliner, not some sort of mealy mouthed do – gooder.

  8. It is the type of comments from Harriet Harman that we have been hearing from Labour since they lost power that has given these thugs the excuses they are using.

    I’m sorry but I think it is highly unlikely that the cuts in EMA or the increase tuition fees will be of any consequence to those rioting. They were either too young, too old or too stupid to be effected.

  9. It is always someone else’s fault. Feral “yoofs” breaking into stores, setting fire to vehicles and attacking the police. This is being blamed on the current economic situation when the real blame lies with a lack of parental guidance.

    As I said on a previous thread the suggestion that somehow respect is something that is given and not earned and that anyone has rights without responsibility is just so wrong as to be laughable if it were not so serious.

    Who is to blame? Fairly and squarely politicians of all parties (Labour being the worst culprit) who created an environment where work is considered a second class choice and where discipline does not exist. Parents give their children moral compasses and politicians are supposed to set the tone. Both seem to have abdicated their responsibilities in this current mess

  10. I am new here but Steve Tolley seems to have a slighly leftwards bent. There is plenty on how Labour can gain political capital but not on how the Coalition can.

    Am I correct?

  11. Thank God for Harriden Harperson and Ned Silliman. If they keep on like this, they’ll render Labour as unelectable as Neil Kinnock did.

  12. Sincere apologies to the Editor. Speed reading needs to be brushed up!

    Please substitute for that idiot Harman and her ilk.

  13. Michael Gove repaid £7000 he erroneously claimed during the MP expenses row. Presumably he’ll be happy if the looters simply hand back everything they stole.

    I agree with Boris Johnson – now is a stupid time to be cutting 20% off the police budget, not that there’s ever a sensible time in this day and age.

  14. Part of adulthood is the acceptance of personal responsibility and without this acceptance you never become an adult. Not only do you never become adult you enslave yourself to those who assume the role of parents i.e. the welfare state, social workers and politicians. The more your vote away personal responsibility the more they will remove responsibility from you. Yet even then we see these parent figures being rejected by their feral siblings as we have witnessed over the last few days.

    We hear it all the time, don’t we: I’m poor because of the rich or I have never had a chance or they made me like this. And yet in those same communities there are underprivileged migrants who accepted responsibly, started business and became business people and who in turn employed people. Many had come from societies of extreme depravation and brutality and yet because they accepted personal responsibility they became full and grown up human beings paying taxes and ultimately paying for the welfare benefits of those who later burnt down their businesses.

    Our refusal to act is evidence that British society has lost respect for itself and just like a drug addict that self harms and abuses itself, society allows its members to self harm the very fabric of society. As harsh as it seems like many addicts we now have a lost generation, perhaps even a lost two or three generations. Where were their parents, was the the cry!

    Didn’t you know many didn’t have parents and if they did perhaps they were an earlier lost generation spawning their seeds of irresponsibility -and joining them is their destruction?

    I fear they are beyond redemption and so the solution is not to join them in their cry of I’m not responsible – they must have responsibility imposed upon them because they will never accept it themselves.

  15. Media analyst: Who brought you up?

    Ali G:”It’s all about me nan”

    Media analyst: So what do you think about recent events Ali?

    Ali G: Its all about respek. West side.

    Media analyst: what about the riots?

    Ali G: what harm has violence ever done?

    Media analyst: Oh… death!

    Ali G: Yeah, but apart from that.

    Media analyst: So why take what is not yours, isn’t it better to work and buy things?

    Ali G: Yeah but me want to work when me want to work. Most of the time me want to just chill or whatever, or just hang with me beetches.

  16. See and hear Pat Condell’s views on these events at

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