Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bashing the City Won't Heal the Scars of the Riots

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bashing the City Won't Heal the Scars of the Riots

Article excerpt

Byline: Anne McElvoy

[bar] O RIOTERS run amok because bankers are irresponsible or newspaper hackers hack? Comparisons that would have struck many of us as being ludicrous before last week are being rolled out with wearisome frequency. Ed Miliband is the lead apostle, promising to root out "irresponsibility, wherever we find it in our society... we've seen in the past few years MPs' expenses, what happened in the banks, what happened with phone hacking."

To continue Ed's point ad absurdum, we have seen it everywhere and in everything we do not like. Personally, I discern social collapse in people barging me with trolleys in supermarkets and irresponsible Labour politicians who overspent without reforming -- but it would be odd to blame the riots of Woolwich, Tottenham and Peckham on them.

Others draw even more punitive parallels than Mr Miliband: what do we expect, they suggest, when bankers still get mega-bonuses after driving the economy over the cliff and rogue tabloid editors are treated as socially desirable at Chipping Norton parties? Even the sportswear companies targeted by the looters, whose favourite apparel is the baggy nylon excrescences of JD Sports, are in the firing line for daring to run profitable businesses.

The view that a great many other miscreants are to blame for what happened in London and elsewhere last week is seductive and widespread, as we sweep up the fractured arguments and piecemeal responses. It is also wrong. Not everything is about everything else. We have quite enough on our plate dealing responsibly with the aftermath of our own social Vesuvius in London without the illusion that it must be the fault of everything that annoys us.

So far this week I have heard Iain Duncan Smith talking a lot of sense about projects that help the dispossessed of Glasgow which should be copied elsewhere. Like David Cameron, though, he was on far flimsier ground when discussing a "moral collapse" into which just about every category of errant behaviour can be shoehorned.

For a start, we rarely agree on who is doing the collapsing. Many still blame the bankers for starting it and want a suitably "moral" punishment meted out for their failures. Really, though, we need bankers to clean up their act, stay in London rather than Zug or Hong Kong, be better regulated -- and then continue to make money for the benefit of our tax-take, pensions system and prosperity of the capital.

Rioters are not the same as bankers.

We want them to stop trashing things and to be taught, encouraged and sometimes prodded by a responsive welfare state, to lead lives which are less hopeless. To do that, we should look at many examples from outside Britain, where the public policy debate is limited by narrowmindedness and a parochial desire not to listen to what others do better. …

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