Riots: Tony Blair warning over 'disaffected youth'

Tony Blair Tony Blair said the country as a whole was not in a 'moral decline'

The "big" cause of the riots in England was "alienated, disaffected youth... outside the social mainstream," former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

Writing in the Observer, he warned that "muddle-headed analysis" of the riots may result in wrong policy responses.

Mr Blair also dismissed claims the UK was in the grip of a "moral decline".

In the Sunday Express, PM David Cameron pledged a fightback against the "bureaucratic nonsense and destructive culture" which led to current problems.

'No moral decline'

In rare comments on British politics since standing down as prime minister in 2007, Mr Blair said the riots were "an absolutely specific problem that requires a deeply specific solution" by politicians.

He pointed to a group of people "outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour".

"Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution," he wrote.

"Elevate this into a highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work."


Some people have referred to the rioters as "Blair's children" but the former prime minister is certainly not taking the blame for any "broken Britain".

In contrast to David Cameron, Mr Blair does not see the riots as the symptom of society at large. He says what's required is a "deeply specific solution".

In some respects though, Mr Blair's analysis seems pretty similar to Mr Cameron's. Mr Blair writes about the "alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream."

Mr Cameron pointed to the same group when he identified the 120,000 "most troubled" families that the government would be targeting.

Revealingly, Mr Blair admits that he used "highfalutin" language about a moral breakdown himself, following the murder of the toddler Jamie Bulger. "It was good politics" he says, "but bad policy".

He added that politicians' responses to the four days of rioting and looting created a danger of the "wrong analysis leading to the wrong diagnosis, leading to the wrong prescription".

He went on to say: "The key is to understand that they aren't symptomatic of society at large. Failure to get this leads to a completely muddle-headed analysis of what has gone wrong. Britain as a whole is not in the grip of some general 'moral decline'.

"The truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.

"This is a phenomenon of the late 20th Century. You find it in virtually every developed nation."

Bulger case

He also said that, following the murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in 1993, he had "made a case in very similar terms to the one being heard today about moral breakdown in Britain.

"I now believe that speech was good politics but bad policy."

Mr Blair said that, in relation to the rioting and looting, it was essential that the police felt they had the backing of the government.

"The police need to know they have strong support. They need to feel it from politicians and public alike."

He also said that towards the end of his term in office he realised that society needed an "intervention family by family, a reform of criminal justice around anti-social behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs".

He said those ideas were not carried out after he left office.

Mr Blair said: "The agenda that came out of this was conceived in my last years of office, but it had to be attempted against a constant backdrop of opposition, left and right, on civil liberty grounds and on the basis we were 'stigmatising' young people.

"After I'd left the agenda lost momentum. But the papers and the work are all there."

Police presence

But in the Sunday Express, Mr Cameron bemoans the culture that has led to the "twisting and misrepresenting of human rights".

Start Quote

We need a stronger police presence on the streets, deterring crime and catching criminals instead of filling in forms or wasting time on phoney targets”

End Quote David Cameron Prime Minister

He writes: "There are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else.

"So though it won't be easy, though it will mean taking on parts of the establishment, I am determined we get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights."

Mr Cameron said the government was looking at creating a British Bill of Rights and would attempt to change the way the European Court functions.

He said a planned scheme for National Citizen Service, a non-military and voluntary scheme available for teenagers after they finish their GCSE exams, would be expanded in the wake of the riots.

This would see youths involved in projects that benefit the community such as sports coaching or helping the elderly.

The prime minister also said that his commitment to tackling the "greed and thuggery" seen during the riots and episodes of looting would be backed up by "the full force of the law".

"We need a stronger police presence on the streets, deterring crime and catching criminals instead of filling in forms or wasting time on phoney targets," he said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    I wonder why 'Mazzas' letter was an Editors 'pick', was it the mention of the TV being stolen or the Duck house, a sign once again of the BBCs so called impartiallity. I am waiting for the new series of Question Time when they invite David Starkey on the panel along with their usual Rent a Mob lefty audience. BBC you are so transparent you are unbelievable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    348. minsa - Totally agree with you. Blair should hang his head in shame for allowing himself to be the public face of the illegal disaster that was\is the war in Iraq. It obviously wasn't his agenda - he was just carrying out orders, but if he had any morality he would have resigned as prime minister instead of seeing it through. I can't listen to a word he says - he disgusts me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Lee Mess 368 .. please understand
    Its mass uncontrolled immigration ( NU Labour policy decision )
    That folks are complaining about.
    Along the way some immigrants DO break the law, perhaps disproportionally AND take our jobs.
    If we aren't allowed to MAKE that observation whats the country come to ?? ( rhetorical ) You have a left wing mindset in the way you interpret these comments

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    We had many long years of preaching, over-spending and ill-conceived actions, without any appropriate plans to tackle social problems. Let us turn that page, and begin a new chapter!

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    Tony, we're just reaping the rewards of cool Britannia .......

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    The wealthiest evade tax, the police take bribes and our politicians fiddle their expenses. Why am I not surprised that the poor want to steal too? Shame on all of them.
    I agree that tough sentencing should be applied to the rioters but it should be equally applied to the rich and those in authority who break the law.
    Discriminatory sentencing based on wealth is not indicative of a fair society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Bliar trying to avoid blame again!

    It was his appalling amoral government led to loss of prospects for these kids (trashed the economy & what few there are go to immigrants as most employers are brainwashed into condemning British candidates); &, loss of anything constructive that kids could do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Blair had 13 years to do something positive to help young people and to grow the economy to provide good jobs and opportunities for youngsters, Instead he created the biggest debt this country has ever had, created non jobs to make the statistics look good, started projects we could not pay for and took us into 2 wars we did not wish to eneter into and now he is telling us how to fix things .

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Everyone whose opinions are based on party politics is being myopic at best, tribal at worst. The problem here is the attitudes displayed by the hoodlums. They think it's their right to smoke drugs & take without giving. Probably the same people who thought Raoul Moat was a folk hero. The problem isn't political, racial or about whichever imaginary friend guides them, it's cultural.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    What world of fantasy does Blair live in to think that we (..nice honest British people...) would be a tad intersted in what he has to say. Blair should be expelled from the UK after serving a long sentence for his dishonest deeds in taking us into his war.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Best if Blair goes back to his Middle East peacekeeping role. Just as successful as his 12 years at the helm of UK PLC!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    What are saying Tony, after 13 years of Nu Labour it's all gone wrong in the last 12 months? come off it. You helped introduce a society where young people have to live on fresh air. Get back under the sun lamp.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    There's a saying I once read "When all is said and done, a lot more will have been said than done" We are governed by politicians who spout rhetoric to enhance their own reputations and keep themselves in a job. Nothing will ever change until we stop voting for professional politicians and start electing people with common sense instead of dogma and who have lived a life other than politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    We should listen very carefully to Mr Blair's warnings about the alienation and disfectation of youth. He is, after all, largely responsible for it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    Mr Blair has a nerve to say this after his Government handed out bucket loads of taxpayers cash in the form of benefits to a criminal class who outlook in life is not to work and if I can not buy it from my giro handout then steal it instead atititude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    The riots had many causes, mostly organised crime using youngsters who had nothing else to do. Too much coddling by the nanny state has left our kids with no sense of responsibility, no real idea of how they relate to the rest of society, few prospects and a complete failure to "engage brain".

    15 years of poor government is a prime cause. & MPs fiddling their expenses is not a good example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    Alienated, disaffected youth huh? So who exactly was in charge for the last, oh, 10-15 years or so while these youth were growing up?

    Who was it who made sure that kids knew every single one of their rights, even if they couldn't spell them? Who was it who gave one group all the rights and another all the responsibilities?

    Nice one Tony. You still can't get it right, can you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    When are the parents of these children going to be called to account? Children roam the streets late into the night, are dismissed by their parents as just being in the way followed with a softly softly approach from the Police. The progression of a child to develop into a well balanced, cared for person who can integrate into a decent society starts with proper parenting from day one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    How can you realized that after a decade that your policies didn't tackle things like anti-social behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs but yet you took your country to WAR and squandered money. Its sad when people like TB come out and try to give us political & society correctness when he created a far wider margin between the rich and poor to create a tier two society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Blair should remember who's 16 year old son got caught drunk and incapable just after he introduced on the spot fines for such yobs. He was not fined but driven home by the police, wasting their time. Blair should wind his neck in and look after his family instead of spouting to the rest of us how to do it.


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