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Cameron's London riots speech raises British ire

Prime Minister David Cameron's speech yesterday about the roots of last week's riots had no shortage of critics.

By Staff writer / August 16, 2011

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England, Monday, Aug. 15. In his speech yesterday, Cameron called London rioters the product of dysfunctional families.

Alastair Grant/AP

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A day after Prime Minister David Cameron called London rioters the product of dysfunctional families, the British press has seared Mr. Cameron for his speech on the riots, saying he is seeking political gain while not grasping the roots of last week's violence.

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Prime Minister Cameron "denied that racial tensions, poverty, or his government's controversial austerity cuts were to blame. He claimed there were around 120,000 problem families in Britain who had little respect for authority, singling out boys raised without a male role model as especially prone to 'rage and anger'," The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday.

“These riots were not about race: The perpetrators and the victims were white, black, and Asian. These riots were not about government cuts: They were directed at high street stores, not Parliament," said the Conservative prime minister. “And these riots were not about poverty: That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.

“No, this was about people showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint,” he said.

In the past 24 hours, opinion writers have weighed in.

The Telegraph's editorial board wrote that while Cameron's speech mentioned the areas that need to be addressed, it lacked specific recommendations and showed little understanding of what could be done to turn the "broken society" around.

One headline said that the Prime Minister was laying out plans to “fix society”, and that rather captured the all-embracing nature of his ambition – as well as its scatter-gun impracticality. For example, Mr Cameron said that the problem of police officers being snowed under by bureaucracy “will be fixed by completely changing the way the police work”.

More immediately pressing, however, is the need to deal with the levels of criminality that we saw last week. Two thirds of those convicted of looting had previous convictions – testimony to the failings of the criminal justice system. The Prime Minister said that he was determined to “sort it out”, but did not explain how.

Across the board, Cameron critics accused him of political expediency and of being unable to understand those not from his same socioeconomic background. Guardian social affairs editor Randeep Ramesh said he was "seeking opportunity in a moment of crisis."

The prime minister sought to identify "deeper problems" and came up with a sociological canard: the culture of poverty.

This analysis is one that regards the chaotic lives of poor people as cause, not symptom, of the collapse of their communities. For the prime minister, these families and their children simply chose to be feckless, indolent or on the wrong side of police lines.

Such talk will do much to harden public attitudes – helpful to a prime minister who wants to push draconian social policy through the Lords in the autumn. The rhetoric will profit the contentious welfare reforms, a policy built on the idea that poor people are "culturally" unique and dependent on welfare by their own design.

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