British PM confronts 'moral collapse' after riots

15th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

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

But his bid to set a new course after Britain's worst civil disorder for decades, which came just a year before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, failed to impress a teenage audience invited to hear his speech.

"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 at a youth club in his affluent rural constituency in Witney, 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?" he asked, against a backdrop of colourful graffiti at the club.

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

The Conservative premier has flooded the streets with police while more than 2,300 suspects have been arrested, averting further unrest for now.

But Cameron said the "security fightback must be matched by a social fightback."

He said his centre-right 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 on tackling street gangs, Cameron said there should be a "concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture".

Addressing calls for the reintroduction of military service, Cameron also said he wanted to extend National Citizen Service, a voluntary scheme for 16-year-olds that started this year with 11,000 people, throughout the country.

However the youths who listened to the speech at the club were unimpressed.

"What he said didn't help," said Jesse Day, 19.

"He went on about people with broken families, but I've never had a mum, really, or a dad, really, and though I've been in trouble in the past, I've not behaved like that," she added.

Jake Parkinson, 17, who asked a question of Cameron after his speech, said: "He should stop blaming it on everyone else, he should stop living in la-la land. If he was doing his job right, this wouldn't be happening."

Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband -- who gave a rival speech at his former school in London just as Cameron finished talking -- accused the premier of proposing "knee-jerk gimmicks".

He blamed the riots on a crisis of values across society, linking them to the financial crisis and scandals over lawmakers' expenses and over phone hacking at media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper.

Cameron faced criticism at the weekend from police chiefs who opposed his decision to hire Bratton, who is credited for tackling gang violence in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

They have also called on the government to reverse its plans to slash police budgets.

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 appeared in court 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 the central English city on Sunday.

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

Police also arrested a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of murder over the death of a 68-year-old man during riots in Ealing, west London on Monday.

© 2011 AFP

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