Cameron reads the riot act to Britain: We must tackle 'broken society' [VIDEO]

In a speech today, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that last week's riots were not the result of race, poverty, or his own austerity cuts but rather "people with a twisted moral code."

Alastair Grant/AP
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England, Monday, Aug. 15. Cameron vowed to tackle Britain’s 'broken society,' following four days of riots that left five people dead, thousands facing criminal charges and at least 200 million pounds ($326 million) in property losses.

Prime Minister David Cameron today vowed to tackle Britain’s "broken society" as police in London predicted the number of arrests from last week’s riots could top 3,000.

In a speech at a youth center in his Oxfordshire constituency, Mr. 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."

“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.

However the speech – which some criticized as outlining a "nanny state" approach – was short of specific policies, although Cameron said those would be revealed in the coming weeks. Both rivals and analysts cautioned against simplistic solutions to the complex societal issues spotlighted by riots that began in London and quickly spread around England.

“There is no easy answer to this because a lot of the problems are deep-rooted," says Ryan Bourne, head of research at the conservative-leaning Centre for Policy Studies in London. "You can’t just wave a magic wand and the issues are going to go away but you don’t need to interfere in people’s private lives to make a difference."

“We think the solutions lie in strengthening the family unit by changing the tax system to incentivize people to get married and stay married," says Mr. Bourne. "Too many children live without a strong male role model, which does lead to bad behavior."

He also singled out education, saying that schools should be allowed more freedom in deciding what to offer rather than being locked into a national curriculum. But Bourne also advocated tackling "shocking" literacy rates among minorities in inner cities and the influx of low-skilled immigrants into Britain.

Oppostion leader decries 'shallow' answers

Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband, speaking at his old state school in north London, characterized the riots as part of a larger wave of greed and criminality in Britain.

He cited bankers whose questionable practices led to the credit crunch, members of parliament who had cheated on their expenses, and News of the World journalists that hacked into the phones of British citizens to get sensational stories.

Mr. Miliband criticized Cameron for not properly evaluating the challenges at hand and soliciting input from a wide array of his constituents.

“Day by day the prime minister has revealed himself to be reaching for shallow and superficial answers, not the lasting solutions the country needs, based on the wisdom and insights of our communities," said Miliband. “Instant and simple judgments bring bad solutions. Of course, there is a demand for quick action but a new policy a day, knee-jerk gimmicks not thought through – they won’t solve the problem.”

Up to 3,000 people to be tried in court

The riots and their aftermath have taxed Britain's police forces, which face spending cuts that could result in thousands of police officers being laid off. Even members of Cameron's own Conservative Party have called for him to back off, but he rejected such calls in his speech today even as the scope of the disturbances became clearer.

The head of Britain’s largest force, acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin in London, said officers were still working round the clock sifting through CCTV images and following up inquiries to identify last week’s rioters.

On Sunday he told the BBC: “At the end of the day, if we are successful, I would imagine that we would be putting 3,000 or so people through the courts. That’s yet to be worked through but we have lots and lots of images, we have lots and lots of CCTV and there were lots of people involved.”

Up until today, 1,580 people have been arrested, 330 of them juveniles. Of that total, 923 have been charged, with some courts sitting through the night to deal with the caseload. A Met spokesman: “The figure is changing all the time as we gather more evidence. In the first few days we only arrested a couple of hundred but as things have calmed down we’re arresting more and more.

“At one stage we had to call on neighboring forces for cell space because we reached capacity in London.”

Measured praise for prison system

The Crown Prosecution Service, the independent body which takes suspects to court, said it was coping with the added workload.

“Some magistrates’ courts sat on Saturday and Sunday and had shifts during the night in London, Birmingham, and Manchester," says Spokeswoman Marie Meunier-Dominique said. “The willingness of prosecutors to volunteer for duties and help keep the criminal justice system moving in extraordinary circumstances is a testament to their professionalism and commitment to seeing that justice is done. There is undoubtedly a big caseload but the system is coping.”

Despite widespread support for the police crackdown and call for tough sentences, one penal group said prison wasn’t always the answer. Vicki Helyar-Cardwell at the Criminal Justice Alliance, which represents around 60 organizations, was quoted in Britain's Daily Mail today as saying: “Imprisoning young people could turn some opportunistic looters into hardened criminals.

“Clearly prison will be the appropriate response for those rioters who caused damage or serious harm, but it cannot be used as a blanket panacea.”

[ Video is no longer available. ]

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