David Cameron has described the riots which took place in the streets of English cites in August as being – ‘about behaviour’, ‘people showing indifference to right and wrong’, ‘people with a twisted moral code’, ‘people with a complete absence of self-restraint’. He has reaffirmed his belief that the riots were symptomatic of moral decline in Britain and suggested they were gang led.
He is quoted as saying, ‘Now, I know, as soon as I use words like behaviour and moral people will say what gives politicians the right to lecture us? Of course we’re not perfect. But politicians shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality has actually helped to cause the social problems we see around us. We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong …. and sometimes there are just human reasons. We’re not perfect beings ourselves and we don’t want to look like hypocrites’. “The greed and thuggery we saw during the riots did not come out of nowhere,” he said. “There are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else.”
Tony Blair said the riots were primarily caused by a minority of disaffected and alienated young people who were outside the social mainstream and who constituted “an absolutely specific problem that requires deeply specific solutions”. He added, the rioting was mainly caused by “a group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour”. He said that his government developed specific policies to deal with these people and that they required intervention “literally family by family and at an early stage, even before any criminality had occurred”.
Yet is there much difference between these riotous activities and the following?
Almost all the glass of the lights and 468 windows of Peckwater Quad Christ Church were smashed, along with the blinds and doors of the building.
Police arrested all 17 of the members of the ‘gang’ for wrecking the cellar of a 15th Century pub by smashing more than a dozen bottles of wine into its walls.
After damage to a country house the perpetrators received an Anti-Social Behaviour Contract from the Thames Valley Police.
The ‘gang’ walked through Oxford when one threw a plant pot through the window of a restaurant. The burglar alarm was activated and police descended with sniffer dogs. Six of the group were collared and spent the night at Cowley police station before being released without charge.
The ‘gang’ enjoyed a famously explosive dinner at the White Hart near Oxford in 2005. “All the food and plates had been thrown everywhere and they were jumping on top of each other on the table like kids in a playground,” recalled the pub’s landlord Ian Rogers.
On one occasion the ‘gang’ hired a string band to play at a garden party and ended up smashing up all the instruments, including a Stradivarius.
This brand of self-destruction led to headlines worldwide, and was even reported in the New York Times, which described students as being guilty of committing an orgie (sic) of destruction that went into the early hours of the morning.
However, these are not the activities of a gang of the suburbs of London or any other large city in the UK but they are those of the Bullingdon Club. A club comprised of selected students of Oxford University. Young men who have enjoyed a privileged upbringing and expensive education (around 60% are ex-Eton scholars – the rest went to really posh public schools), they are largely solid high-achievers who see this kind of thing as a ‘social networking experience’. The cost of buying the Club’s uniform, at around £2,000-£3,000, clearly indicates the members are extremely wealthy.
The reasons given for the causes of the riots – social deprivation, financial hardship, poor education etc – do not apply to members of the Bullingdon Club. So what is the explanation? Mr Cameron, one of four people who escaped a night in the Cowley police cells after the ‘plant pot incident’, has refused to comment, saying merely: “Like many people, I did things when I was young that I should not have done, and that I regret.”
Clearly riotous behaviour is not restricted by social class and therefore the investigations into the August riots perhaps needs to consider the activities of the Bullingdon Club to gain a more complete picture of what motivates young people, in particular, to behave in an anti-social manner.