London, Aug 15: Britain must confront its “slow-motion moral collapse” Prime Minister David Cameron declared Monday, following four days of riots that left five people dead, thousands facing criminal charges and at least 200 million pounds ($350 million) in property losses.
Cameron said his coalition government would spend the next few weeks examining policies designed to tackle a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness.
He also pledged to toughen rhetoric from ministers and officials, whom he claimed had too often had shied away from promoting strong moral standards.
“This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England. “Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?”
Cameron insisted that racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity program—much of which has yet to bite—were not motivations for the riots across London and other major cities.
“One of the biggest lessons of these riots is that we've got to talk honestly about behavior and then act—because bad behavior has literally arrived on people's doorsteps. And we can't shy away from the truth anymore,” he said.
Standing in front of a backdrop of graffiti, Cameron said Britain's damaged society had for too long been one which “incites laziness, that excuses bad behavior, that erodes self-discipline, that discourages hard work.”
Cameron also acknowledged that all sectors of society had to share the blame, citing recklessness by bankers, a lawmakers' expense check scandal, and the media phone hacking saga.
“In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting,” Cameron said. “Moral decline and bad behavior is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society.”
In a rival speech, main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband planned to criticize Cameron's plans and demand that lawmakers focus less on blame, and more on delivering better opportunities for young people.
“The usual politicians' instinct—announce a raft of new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices and shallow answers—will not meet the public's demand,” Miliband said in his own prepared remarks.
Miliband was to speak at his former school in Camden, north London, half a block from the scene of rioting on Monday night, when shops were attacked and police came under attack.
“Does it matter whether young people feel they have a future, a chance of a better life? Yes it does,” he said in the prepared text. “Are issues like education and skills, youth services, youth unemployment important for diverting people away from gangs, criminality, the wrong path? Yes. They matter.”
Rioting began in London Aug. 6 and spread to several other English cities. Police were criticized for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.
The Association of British Insurers has estimated the cost from wrecked property and stolen property at 200 million pounds, based on submissions so far from insurance brokers, but expects the total to keep rising.
Britain's justice ministry says more than 1,200 people have been charged so far with riot-related offenses. Thousands have been arrested and courts are working overtime to process the riot cases. AP