Neither British prime minister David Cameron (Conservative Party) nor Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou should be considered worldly innocent. But there is something they seem to have in common – being directly or indirectly elected officials, they seem to be unusually disconnected from the people of their countries. Ma’s confucianist platitudes and his lack of information when it came to farming this summer (and previous disasters), could cost him his re-election. Cameron is still at the beginning of his term, unless his coalition splits, or if he wants to turn to the country for other reasons.
But anyway – let’s talk about Cameron.
Cameron’s switch from “hugging a hoodie” to “all-out war” can’t be explained with the state of British society. The state of British society now isn’t really that much different from what it was prior to the days of rioting and looting earlier this month.
Talk that suggests restrictions on access to social media, and the existence of an “all-out war on gangs” suggests that there was a civil war going on, rather than the search for restoring law and order. More than that, it suggests that Cameron feels humiliated by the pictures of burning buildings and vehicles in English cities. For a while, many British citizens may share that feeling.
But then, they may remember the parliamentary expenses scandal. Those past failures within all political parties in parliament don’t bar top politicians from the right – and duty – to lead, to help rebuilding a “broken society”. But the British government needs to demobilize in terms of big – and hypocritical – words and token gestures, and back up announcements of “righting the wrongs” with substantial steps.
Leadership and authority don’t need to suffer from a more thoughtful approach. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked a question which may not be smart, but much more useful than all of Cameron’s “answers”:
Nobody can credibly claim to know for sure, at this early stage, the precise reasons for the various acts of disorder, to have perfectly discerned the motives of the criminals on our streets.
We need to know who did what, and why they did it. We need to understand. I don’t mean ‘understand’ in the sense of being understanding, or offering even the hint of an excuse. I mean understand what happened, to get as much evidence as we can. Then we can respond, ruthlessly but thoughtfully.
That is why we are commissioning independent research into the riots. Of course we don’t need research to tell us that much of this was pure criminality, but the more we can learn the better.
Why did some areas and people explode and others not? What can we learn from those neighbourhoods and young people who remained peaceful? After all, it is worth remembering that the rioters were the exception, not the rule.We need to know what kind of people the rioters were, and why they did it. That is also why we are looking into gang culture, so that we can combat it more effectively. In policy-making as in war, it is important to know your enemy.Our policy response will be guided by our values of freedom, fairness and responsibility. It will also be based soundly on evidence, not anecdote or prejudice. Kneejerk reactions are not always wrong – but they usually are.