Britain's Cameron vows to confront 'moral collapse'

15th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday a sweeping review of government policy to reverse a "slow-motion moral collapse" that he blames for last week's riots that left five people dead.

He also pledged an "all-out war" on street gangs as Britain struggles to find answers to its worst civil disorder for decades, which tarnished the country's image abroad just a year before London hosts the 2012 Olympic Games.

"This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face," Cameron said in a speech at a youth club in his affluent rural constituency in Witney, central 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?" he asked, against a backdrop of colourful graffiti at the club.

Children as young 11 joined the four-day frenzy of looting, arson and violence which spread from London to other major English cities including Manchester and Birmingham, leaving dozens of homes and businesses in flames.

The Conservative premier has flooded the streets with police to prevent further unrest while more than 2,300 people have been arrested, but Cameron said that the "security fightback must be matched by a social fightback."

He said the coalition government -- which came to power in May 2010 promising austerity measures to cut a record deficit -- would in the coming weeks review "every aspect of our work to mend our broken society."

A day after he controversially hired US "supercop" Bill Bratton to advise the government on tackling street gangs, Cameron said there should be a "concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture".

"Stamping out these gangs is a new national priority," Cameron said, describing them as a "major criminal disease that has infected streets and estates across our country."

Cameron said the government would look at toughening conditions for those who receive unemployment and other benefits, trying to improve parenting skills and schools in deprived areas.

He said Britain would use its current chairmanship of the Council of Europe to seek to push through changes to the European Convention on Human Rights, saying it had "undermined personal responsibility."

Addressing calls for the reintroduction of national military service, Cameron added that he was introducing a programme of "National Citizen Service" to get 16-year-olds carrying out voluntary work.

In a taste of harsher measures to come, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith separately told the BBC that people convicted of being involved in the riots could lose their benefits even if they do not receive a custodial sentence.

Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband was reportedly to accuse Cameron of "knee-jerk gimmicks" in a rival speech on Monday.

Cameron's speech came a day after he faced criticism from police chiefs who opposed his decision to hire Bratton, who is credited for tackling gang violence in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Police chiefs say Britain needs home-grown policies.

Top police officers and the opposition have also called on the government to reverse its plans to slash police budgets.

Interior minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of the government's COBRA security committee on Monday at which it is expected to decide whether to scale down the surge of officers on London's streets, currently at 16,000.

Courts in England have been working through the night and, in a first, on Sunday to clear the massive backlog of cases from the riots.

Three people were due to appear in court later Monday over the murder of three men who were hit by a car while defending their neighbourhood against looters in Birmingham, Britain's second city.

More than 5,000 people observed a minute's silence at a peace rally for the victims in Birmingham on Sunday.

Tariq Jahan -- who is the father of one of the victims and emerged as a heroic figure with his calls for peace after his death -- told the gathering that the display of unity gave him "strength in my heart".

A 16-year-old boy was also arrested on Sunday on suspicion of the murder of a 68-year-old man who was attacked as he tried to put out a fire in the west London borough of Ealing.

© 2011 AFP

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