Prime Minister says British riots showed consequences of relativism

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Prime Minister David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron has renewed his commitment to healing a “broken society,” following recent riots that he described as a consequence of moral relativism.

“What last week has shown is that this moral neutrality, this relativism - it's not going to cut it any more,” Cameron said in an August 15 speech delivered at a youth center in his constituency of Oxfordshire. “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.”

Widespread rioting in London from August 6 through 9 left five people dead, and has resulted in the arrests of over 2,700 people. The days of chaos began after a 29-year-old Tottenham father of four, Mark Duggan, was shot and killed by north London police officers attempting to arrest him during an illegal firearms operation.

In his Oxfordshire speech, Cameron denied that the resulting wave of looting and burning was a form of social or political protest. He stressed that participants came from all racial backgrounds, and said the participants “targeted high street shops, not Parliament.”

And those attributing the violence to poverty, he countered, were insulting “the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.”

Cameron said the riots were ultimately “about behavior” – specifically, an “indifference to right and wrong,” “complete absence of self-restraint,” and a “twisted moral code.”

He placed heavy blame for this condition on “politicians shying away from speaking the truth about behavior, about morality,” saying their timidity had “helped to cause the social problems we see around us.”

“We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong,” Cameron declared. “We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said - about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.”

He described a political climate in which “you can't say that marriage and commitment are good things - for fear of alienating single mothers.”

“You don't deal properly with children who repeatedly fail in school - because you're worried about being accused of stigmatizing them. You're wary of talking about those who have never worked and never want to work - in case you're charged with not getting it, being middle class and out of touch.”

“In this risk-free ground of moral neutrality,” he lamented, “there are no bad choices, just different lifestyles.”

He went on to name many of the social disorders fostered by a morally neutral attitude: “Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline … Communities without control.”

The prime minister said the British “must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state.”

And the government, while not all-powerful, will have to play its part.

“People's behaviour does not happen in a vacuum,” Cameron pointed out. “It is affected by the rules government sets, and how they are enforced; by the services government provides, and how they are delivered; and perhaps above all, by the signals government sends about the kinds of behavior that are encouraged and rewarded.”

He promised a “security fight-back,” beginning with a “stronger police presence” made possible by internal reforms in the departments. But the prime minister gave equal time to proposals geared toward helping children succeed, and keeping them away from crime.

“Families matter,” he stated. “I don't doubt that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home. Perhaps they come from one of the neighborhoods where it's standard for children to have a mum and not a dad.”

“So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we've got to start.”

Cameron said he wanted a “family test” applied to all future domestic policies.

“If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn't do it.”

He also spoke of the need for welfare reform, and gave a summary of his plan for a “National Citizen Service” in which teenagers volunteer in their communities. Cameron hopes the project will teach youth that  “the real thrill is from building things up, not tearing them down.”

He closed by emphasizing that every sector of British society must examine its conscience in the wake of the riots.

“Government doesn't make the video games or print the magazines or produce the music that tells young people what's important in life,” he pointed out. “In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting.”

Cameron stressed that behavior at the top of British society showed clear signs of the same moral confusion found elsewhere.

“In the banking crisis, with MPs' expenses, in the phone hacking scandal, we have seen some of the worst cases of greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.”

“The restoration of responsibility has to cut right across our society.”

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