The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appeared on Radio 4 this morning (10 August) and was asked about the underlying causes of the recent riots. He attributed them to a “sense of entitlement” among young people who were showing the effects of a lack of discipline in school.
When Johnson was a young person, he attended Eton, the most elite school in the UK, before making the natural progression to Oxford University. At Oxford, he was part of the Bullingdon Club, a gang of upper class yobs. Other members included David Cameron.
For Johnson to criticise young people who have a “sense of entitlement” shows either a staggering lack of realism about his own past or a reckless level of public hypocrisy.
Blaming a lack of discipline conveniently ignores the realities of economic and social injustice. The gap between the richest and poorest has got gradually worse over the last forty years and Britain is now more unequal than any other western country, with the exception of the USA and Portugal. The coalition government is slashing services on which the poorest members of society rely, while managing nothing more than feeble criticism of bankers’ bonuses and corporate tax-dodging.
None of this excuses the violence, intimidation and looting that have taken place over the last few days. None of it should stop us condemning the horror of ordinary people suffering the effects of riots that have seen small businesspeople’s shops burnt down and their livelihoods potentially destroyed. To tackle this situation effectively, we need to look at root causes.
Boris Johnson prefers to criticise a “sense of entitlement” while being part of a party, and a political trend, that has spent the last three decades destroying any sense of social solidarity and defining success in terms of possessions and personal status. He condemns a lack of restraint while calling for a cut in the top rate of tax, which applies only to the richest one percent of the population. He attacks thuggery, but supports a government that consists of a gang of thugs launching a daily assault on the poorest members of society.
Next month, Boris Johnson will welcome one of the world’s largest arms fairs to London, where representatives of some of the world’s most brutal regimes will stroll round the Docklands viewing sophisticated weaponry. Then we will see the reality behind his condemnations of violence.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia.