Look South Column

Who is fit to lead the moral regeneration of a broken society?

Brandon Hamber
3 min readAug 25, 2011
Photo by Amber Kipp on Unsplash

If you are anywhere in the British Isles, it is difficult to think about anything else this week than the riots that flared up across England. The wanton looting and extensive property damage were not only ferocious, but pervasive, stretching across a range of cities, suggesting a deep-seated problem.

Explanations for the riots have varied. During the riots, Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed the riots were pure and simply criminality. However, in a speech after the riots, he backtracked slightly. Although he felt the behaviour of the protestors and the influence of gangs, particularly, were still the main problem, he acknowledged a plethora of other causes for a broken society.

These included problems in the education system and family breakdown, and, as a result, he promised to transform the lives of around 120 000 families and parents. He talked of a “slow-motion moral collapse”. He acknowledged the need to show higher moral standards across society, noting the banking crisis, the abuse of expenses by UK Members of Parliament (MPs) and the phone hacking carried out by journalists as examples of “greed, irresponsibility and entitlement”. In essence, he called for tougher security measures and a social fightback.

That said, he did not feel that race, government cuts or poverty were the main causal factors. In contrast, Labour leader Ed Miliband said inequality was a factor, and he, too, noted that rioters were greedy, immoral and selfish, much like some bankers, MPs and journalists. He felt a commission of inquiry and national conversation were necessary to address the issue.

Despite the eloquent words of both politicians, however, as I read through the speeches, I found myself feeling somewhat queasy. The reason for this was that I struggled to believe the promises implicit in either analysis.

Will the lives of thousands be turned around? Will the gap between the rich and poor narrow? Will bankers, who were bailed out, ever pay taxpayers back or have their bonuses curtailed? Would another commission uncover the truth? I doubt it.

Maybe I am cynical and my jaded view of the world is not fair on politicians who, in…

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Brandon Hamber

Hume O'Neill Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at brandonhamber.com