David Cameron, returning from his holiday in Tuscany earlier this week, declared a “fightback” against the rioters in England, vowing he’d do “whatever it takes” to restore order to the streets after four days of rioting and looting. He had to respond decisively – for there were significant questions over his leadership after he seemed more concerned with his choice of tennis coach than the state of the nation – and so he cast himself in the manner of Churchill, the brave and wise leader confronting the evil at our door. And yet this evil was not the threat posed by a powerful foreign entity, Nazi Germany, but rather by a weak domestic one, the rage of an underclass for which we are all responsible.
Melanie Phillips, however, believes that she and her biblical, orthodox, conservative and right-wing friends are not responsible, the blame resting solely with the former Labour government and the liberal intelligentsia. And so she, the grande dame of the Daily Mail, wrote yesterday, with all the demented glee of a fanatic, that the riots were “the all-too-predictable outcome of a three-decade liberal experiment which tore up virtually every basic social value.” She concluded with great hyperbole – Phillips’ forte, the lady clearly a frustrated novelist – that “within the smouldering embers of our smashed and burned-out cities, we can only look upon the ruins of the Britain we have so dearly loved: the Britain that once led the world towards civilisation, but is now so tragically leading the way out.”
These rioters were a ragtag army at best, and hardly wreaked the level of devastation which Phillips’ incendiary, and might I say irresponsible, journalism proclaims. But then, for her, it appears to be less about the search for, and portrayal of, truth – her journalistic mandate is increasingly unclear – and more about the enforcement of her irrepressible moral agenda. Perhaps alongside her Orwell prize Phillips ought also to be awarded the prize of ‘High Priestess of Fire and Brimstone’, and worshipped as such. And her closing statement about Britain as it once was, leading “the world towards civilisation”, though it panders perfectly to the readers of her rag, a daft nationalistic bunch, is deeply subjective. Many Africans and Indians saw, and continue to see, Britain less as a bringer of civilisation during colonialism and more a purveyor of greed and barbarism, though the committed Judeo-Christian Phillips is unwilling to acknowledge this darker aspect of her kind and creed, which included the use of a “metal castrating instrument” to cut off the testicles and fingers of the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s and the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters including women and children in Jallianwala Bagh, India, prior to Independence. Where is the civilisation here, my dear Melanie, in this “most civilised, most gentle and law-abiding” of countries?
Phillips goes on to turn her maniacal zeal to “fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them.” This would seem to imply that boys with fathers cannot suffer from such rage, which makes me something of an oddball, as I carried bundles of it and still do, in fact frequently share it – this existential rage – with my father. For this is what makes me human, this sometimes rageful search for meaning. Phillips sums up this theme of “fatherless boys” by calling “lone parenthood a tragedy for individuals, and a catastrophe for society.” And yet I see nothing tragic in my ex and her son, whom she brought up predominantly on her own, she a wonderful and loving single mother and he a great young man with a good heart. In fact, I see something rather more tragic in parents who, despite hating one another, stay together for the sake of the children, this arguably a far greater recipe for future violence and rage.
The Mail’s grande dame believes that the youths who went ‘on the rob’ are not victims of poverty but moral collapse. All of us are on the brink of moral decadence and savagery, our natural state an Hobbesian one, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and hence the only thing which will keep us in check is a regular dose of “moral concepts that underlie our civilisation”, in Phillips words, preached to us on high from the pulpit. Will this, I wonder, therefore include instruction on how to operate the metal castrating instrument and how to massacre innocent women and children? Phillips is convinced that we need saving and only her God can provide this. Yet her God has had his time – he failed us long ago – and that is why we turned away from him, embraced liberalism and chose to live in a Godless country. Why should his reinstatement be successful now? What Phillips proposes represents little more than the perpetual delusion of a religious mind that is so entrenched in its own belief and dogma that it is incapable of seeing another away of living and being. I’d be inclined to look, rather, to the work of John N. Gray for our salvation. In his work, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he argues that our salvation perhaps lies in learning to see that, far from being the centre of the world, we humans are just other animals, albeit deluded ones, part of a self-regulating system, Earth, that has no need of humanity, does not exist for the sake of humanity, and will regulate itself in ignorance of humanity’s fate.
Phillips posits that “welfare dependency created the entitlement culture that the looters so egregiously display. It taught them that the world owed them a living. It taught them that their actions had no consequences. And it taught them that the world revolved around themselves.” She forgets quite how and why this entitlement culture came about – she would do well to read Orwell – the postwar British government finally acknowledging the terrible class inequity and social injustice in Britain, the rich having exploited the poor for far too long, which led to the formation of the welfare state and a redistribution of wealth, both of which were, and remain, right and proper. There remains some way to go, of course. We must still endure the likes of Philip Green, whose greed and tax evasion has no bounds, and numerous footballers and other celebrities who hoard their coppers, but then, at least Mr. Green and many of his millionaire chums are working class folk. Perhaps Melanie believes that the unfairness of prewar Britain made for a better society, the underclass she so despises subjugated to such an extent that it dared not even suggest that it might be entitled to what the rich are. Because this is the crux of it, you see – poor, unemployed and marginalised angry youths looting, stealing goods which the rich do feel entitled to, which the rich do take for granted. How dare they rise up? I hear Phillips cry. Their oppressed ancestors would never have done.
I am neither a “left-wing politician” nor a “middle-class ideologue”, but rather someone who believes in a fair and compassionate society and will fight the likes of Melanie Phillips and her hard-hearted, hateful and hypocritical Conservatives to the very end. Her spiteful wrath even extends to the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking derisively whether, “Anyone care to guess what he will eventually say about them [the riots]? Quite.” How ironic. For Rowan Williams possesses what Phillips so desperately lacks, a quality which will heal any sickness in society – namely love. Feel the love, Melanie!