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Sunday 14 August 2011

Two fingers from a society of babyfathers and child mothers

The liberal elite is being forced to face the fact that there is a lot more to clear up than the streets, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I love London -- its architecture, its history, its parks, its energy and its cosmopolitanism. Too big to be a coherent whole, it's made up of villages. People cleave to the bits they know: I've known Londoners who have never ventured more than a couple of miles from home.

Although until recently I've mostly lived on the outskirts, I've always either worked or had friends in central London. These days I live in Covent Garden and love its liveliness.

When last weekend the violence started, human nature dictated that -- while any attacks on our city trouble us (remember the 52 victims of 7/7?) -- Londoners were most concerned about the neighbourhoods and people they knew.

On Monday evening, I was with three friends. One, a Spurs supporter, was talking about what had happened in Tottenham on Saturday, where it all started. Another, who lived in Walthamstow, described staying up until 3am watching rioters: for fear of arson he didn't go to bed until the police car beneath his window had burned out and all was quiet. As the third -- a neighbour from my previous village -- was leaving, I said to her breezily, "Well, at least Ealing is safe." For Ealing is so leafy and refined that it's known as the Queen of the Suburbs.

Then I sat down to watch the 24-hour news and saw Ealing -- where I'd lived for 30 years -- in flames, as was Croydon, where I'd lived for the second half of the Seventies. I found terribly affecting the interview with the owner of my favourite Ealing wine bar --peaceful because it's so uncool -- who was describing her sheer terror as she saw burning shops and heard people kicking in her windows and looting bottles. She had not been so frightened since 2001, when an IRA bomb went off a few yards away.

However, Londoners -- like residents of the other affected cities -- have to avoid becoming bores about their own experiences. What matters is the picture overall and what lessons we learn. Here are some of the contributory factors, which have been known to the man and woman in the street for a long time, but which only now are the liberal elite being forced to confront.

The children most at risk in society today are those with no family structure: at the bottom of the heap in terms of aspiration or achievement are Afro-Caribbean and white boys with no father. The pendulum has swung from stigmatising and punishing single mothers to a situation where a pregnant child can expect non-judgemental support from social services, adequate money and a council flat in which to bring up her fatherless child.

The babyfather, sauntering by en route to impregnate another mug without taking any responsibility for the result, will be admired by his peers. The other week, a tabloid featured a delighted 29-year-old grandfather.

Adults have ceded authority to children: parents are afraid to discipline their young; teachers are fearful of unjust accusations and have no sanctions except exclusion; child-centred education has produced all too many knowledge-free illiterates and innumerates; the police have been so brainwashed by political correctness they arrest householders who resist burglars; and the courts are reluctant to send the young to prison lest they become hardened criminals. So children view adults with contempt and delight in sticking two fingers up at them. "We're showing them we can do what we want," a girl told the BBC.

Primary schools have been dangerously feminised: a quarter of English primary schools have no male teachers, not least because the hysteria about paedophilia has frightened men off. Similarly, fewer and fewer men are prepared to get involved in organisations like the Scouts, which anyway these days is mixed-gender, and risk-averse because of health-and-safety considerations. So for many boys who want adventure, their role models are gangsters, drugs dealers and vicious, misogynistic rappers.

It is because children need boundaries and authority figures that many of them end up in gangs, where they feel part of a family and understand the rules. Indeed, for a scared kid in a rough estate, joining a gang may be necessary for survival. Police, charged with tackling a knife culture that has seen more than 20 Londoners dead in the last few years, leave the big guys alone but can be heavy-handed with the weak. Plenty of the recent looting was directed by gang leaders: children were stealing boxes of mobile phones to order.

It wasn't the young who invented greed, consumerism or the celebrity culture, but in the absence of decent values, it's all many of them have. England used to have too much deference towards authority: these days, there is little respect for any of the institutions that hold a society together.

The media have been assiduous in exposing the sins of politicians, police and the military and the church is regarded as a joke. And now the hacking scandal implicates journalists and further damages politicians and police. The kids look at TV, say "they're all at it", and use that as a justification.

Excessive immigration has been foisted on England by patrician politicians, EU laws and the human rights industry. Yet it is immigrants who revere traditional virtues who have provided many of the heroes last week.

In Birmingham, Tariq Jahan, holding a photograph of his murdered son Haroon, took a moral lead against revenge that moved us all. The Asians who stood by their gutted shops and spoke of the British neighbours who supported them gave hope. And the Archbishop of York, an East African Asian, after a robust defence of law-and-order, spoke for the vast mass of the British people when he said uncompromisingly: "Sadly, we have created an individualistic, disposable society, with weakened family and community structures, where the interests of me, myself and I have become paramount. In many ways, we have made a god of self and self-interest."

There is a lot more to clear up than the streets.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards