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Post-Riots Speech on UK's 'Sick Society' August 15, 2011

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David Cameron addresses what he feels is the true root cause of the riots that swept London in the summer of 2011 - bad behavior caused by the slow moral collapse of the UK's society. The speech caused a strong reaction throughout England.


Print transcript

I do believe that it is time for our country to take stock. Last week we saw some of the most sickening acts on our streets. Ill never forget talking to Maurice Reeves, whose family had run the Reeves furniture store in Croydon for generations. This was an 80 year old man who had seen the business he had loved, that his family had built up for generations, simply destroyed and burnt to the ground. A hundred years of hard work, burned to the ground in a few hours.

But last week we didnt just see the worst of the British people; we saw the best of them too. The ones who called themselves riot wombles and headed down to the hardware stores to pick up brooms and start the clean-up. The people who linked arms together to stand and defend their homes, their businesses. The policemen and women and fire officers who worked long, hard shifts, sleeping in corridors then going out again to put their life on the line. Everywhere Ive been this past week, in Salford, Manchester, Birmingham, Croydon, people of every background, colour and religion have shared the same moral outrage and hurt for our country. Because this is Britain. This is a great country of good people. Those thugs we saw last week don't represent us, and they don't represent the young people in our country either and they will not drag us down.

But now that the fires have been put out and the smoke has cleared, the question hangs in the air: Why? How could this happen on our streets and in our country? Now of course, we mustnt oversimplify. There were different things going on in different parts of the country. In Tottenham some of the anger was directed at the police. In Salford there was some organised crime, a calculated attack on the forces of order. But what we know for sure is that in large parts of the country this was just pure criminality. So as we begin the necessary processes of inquiry, investigation, listening and learning: lets be clear. These riots were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian. These riots were not about government cuts: they were directed at high street stores, not Parliament. And these riots were not about poverty: that would insult the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.

No, this was about behavior

people showing indifference to right and wrong

people with a twisted moral code

people with a complete absence of self-restraint.

Now I know as soon as I use words like behavior and moral people will say what gives politicians the right to lecture us? Of course were not perfect. But politicians shying away from speaking the truth about behavior, about moralitythis has actually 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. We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.

Sometimes the reasons for that are noble we dont want to insult or hurt people. Sometimes theyre ideological we dont feel its the job of the state to try and pass judgement on peoples behavior or engineer personal morality. And sometimes theyre just human reasons were not perfect beings ourselves and we dont want to look like hypocrites.

So you cant say that marriage and commitment are good things for fear of alienating single mothers. You dont deal properly with children who repeatedly fail in school because youre worried about being accused of stigmatising them. Youre wary of talking about those who have never worked and never want to work in case youre charged with not getting it; with being middle class; being out of touch. In this risk-free ground of moral neutrality there are no bad choices, just different lifestyles. People arent the architects of their own problems, they are victims of circumstance. Live and let live becomes do what you please.

Well actually, what last week has shown is that this moral neutrality, this relativism its not going to cut it any more. One of the biggest lessons of these riots is that weve got to talk honestly about behavior and then act because bad behavior has literally arrived on peoples doorsteps. And we cant shy away from the truth anymore.

So this must be a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Now, just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our streets; so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.

Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback. We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state. We know whats gone wrong: the question is, do we have the determination to put it right? 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?

Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control.

Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged sometimes even incentivised by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.

So do we have the determination to confront all this and turn it around? I have the very strong sense that the responsible majority of people in this country not only have that determination; they are crying out for their government to act upon it. And I can assure you, I will not be found wanting. In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society.

That passion today is stronger than ever.

Yes, we have had an economic crisis to deal with, clearing up the terrible mess we inherited, and we are not out of those woods yet not by a long way. But I repeat today, as I have on many occasions these last few years, that the reason I'm in politics is to build a bigger, stronger society. Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger society. This is what I came into politics to do and the shocking events of last week have renewed in me that drive.

So I can announce today that over the next few weeks, I and ministers from across the coalition government will review every aspect of our work to mend our broken society

on schools, welfare, families, parenting, addiction, communities

on the cultural, legal, bureaucratic problems in our society too:

from the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights that has undermined personal


to the obsession with health and safety that has eroded peoples willingness to act according to common sense.

We will review our work and consider whether our plans and programmes are big enough and bold enough to deliver the change that I feel this country now wants to see. Government cannot legislate to change behavior, but it is wrong to think the State is a bystander. Because peoples behavior does not happen in a vacuum: 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.

So yes, the broken society is back at the top of my agenda.

First and foremost, we need a security fight-back.

We need to reclaim our streets from the thugs who didnt just spring out of nowhere last week, but whove been making lives a misery for years.

Now I know there have been questions in peoples minds about my approach to law and order. Nothing in this job is more important to me than keeping people safe. And it is obvious to me that to do that weve got to be tough, weve got to be robust, weve got to score a clear line between right and wrong right through the heart of this country in every street and in every community. That starts with a stronger police presence pounding the beat, deterring crime, ready to re-group and crack down at the first sign of trouble.

Let me be clear: under this government we will always have enough police officers to be able to scale up our deployments in the way we saw last week. To those who say this means we need to abandon our plans to make savings in police budgets, I say you are missing the point. The point is that what really matters in this fight-back is the amount of time the police can spend on our streets.

For years weve had a police force suffocated by bureaucracy, officers spending the majority of their time filling in forms and stuck behind desks. This wont be fixed by pumping money in and keeping things basically as theyve been. As the Home Secretary will explain tomorrow, it will be fixed by completely changing the way the police work. Scrapping the paperwork that holds them back, getting them out on the streets where people can see them. Our reforms mean that the police are going to answer directly to the people.

You want more tough, no-nonsense policing? You want to make sure the police spend more time confronting the thugs in your neighbourhood and less time meeting targets by stopping motorists? You want the police out patrolling your streets instead of sitting behind their desks?

Elected police and crime commissioners are part of the answer: they will provide that direct accountability so you can finally get what you want when it comes to policing. The point of our police reforms is not to save money, not to change things for the sake of it but to fight crime. And in the light of last week its clear that we now have to go even further, even faster in beefing up the powers and presence of the police.

Already weve given backing to measures like dispersal orders, were toughening curfew powers, were giving police officers the power to remove face coverings from rioters, were looking at giving them more powers to confiscate offenders property and over the coming months youre going to see even more.

Its time for something else too - a concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture. This isnt some side issue. It is a major criminal disease that has infected streets and estates across our country. Stamping out these gangs is a new national priority.

Last week I set up a cross-government programme to look at every aspect of this problem.

Now the last front in that fight is proper punishment. On the radio last week they interviewed one of the young men whod been looting in Manchester. He said he was going to carry on until he got caught. This will be my first arrest, he said. The prisons were already overflowing so hed just get an ASBO, and he could live with that. Well, weve got to show him and everyone like him that the partys over.

I know that when politicians talk about punishment and tough sentencing people sometimes roll their eyes. Yes, last week we saw the criminal justice system deal with an unprecedented challenge: the courts sat through the night and dispensed swift, firm justice. We saw that the system was on the side of the law-abiding majority. But confidence in the system is still too low.

And believe me I understand the anger with the level of crime in our country today and I am determined we sort it out and restore peoples faith that if someone hurts our society, if they break the rules in our society, then society will punish them for it. .

But we need much more than that. We need a social fight-back too, with big changes right through our society.

Let me start with families. The question people asked over and over again last week was where are the parents? Why arent they keeping the rioting kids indoors? Tragically thats been followed in some cases by judges rightly lamenting: why dont the parents even turn up when their children are in court? Well, join the dots and you have a clear idea about why some of these young people

were behaving so terribly. Either there was no one at home, they didnt much care or theyd lost control.

Families matter. I dont doubt that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home. Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where its standard for children to have a mum and not a dadwhere its normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger. So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where weve got to start.

Ive been saying this for years, since before I was Prime Minister, since before I was leader of the Conservative Party.

So from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or if it stops families from being together, then we shouldnt do it. More than that, weve got to get out there and make a positive difference to the way families work, the way people bring up their children

and we frankly have got to be less sensitive to the charge that this is about interfering or nannying.

We are working on ways to help improve parenting well now I want that work accelerated, expanded and implemented as quickly as possible.

This has got to be right at the top of our priority list. And we need more urgent action, too, on the families that some people call problem, others call troubled. The ones that everyone in their neighbourhood knows and often avoids.

Last December I asked Emma Harrison to develop a plan to help get these families on track. It became clear to me earlier this year that as can so often happen those plans were being held back by bureaucracy. So even before the riots happened, I asked for an explanation. Now that the riots have happened I will make sure that we clear away the red tape and the bureaucratic wrangling, and put rocket boosters under this programmeI have a clear ambition that within the lifetime of this Parliament we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country.

The next part of the social fight-back is what happens in schools. We need an education system which reinforces the message that if you do the wrong thing youll be disciplinedbut if you work hard and play by the rules you will succeed.

This isnt a distant dream.

Its already happening in schools like Woodside High in Tottenham and Mossbourne in Hackney; many schools in this constituency.

They expect high standards from every child and make no excuses for failure to work hard. They foster pride through strict uniform and behavior policies. And they provide an alternative to street culture by showing how anyone can get up and get on if they apply themselves.

Kids from Hammersmith and Hackney are now going to top universities thanks to these schools. We need many more like them which is why we are creating more academies, and why the people behind these success stories are now opening free schoolsand why we have pledged to turn round the 200 weakest secondaries and the 200 weakest primaries in the next year.

But with the failures in our education system so deep, we cant just say these are our plans and we believe in them, lets sit back while they take effect. I now want us to push further, faster. Are we really doing enough to ensure that great new schools are set up in the poorest areas, to help the children who need them most?

And why are we putting up with the complete scandal of schools being allowed to fail, year after year? If young people have left school without being able to read or write, why shouldnt that school be held more accountable?

Now just as we want schools to be proud of we want everyone to feel proud of their communities. We need a sense of social responsibility at the heart of every community. Yet the truth is that for too long the big bossy bureaucratic state has drained it away. Its usurped local leadership with its endless Whitehall diktats. Its frustrated local organisers with its rules and regulations. And its denied local people any real kind of say over what goes on where they live. So is it any wonder that many people dont feel they have a stake in their community? This has got to change. And were already taking steps to change it.

Were training an army of community organisers to work in our most deprived neighbourhoods

because were serious about encouraging social action and giving people a real chance to improve the community in which they live. Were changing the planning rules and giving people the right to take over local assets.

But the question I want to ask now is this: are these changes big enough to foster the sense of belonging we want to see?

Are these changes bold enough to spread the social responsibility we need right across our communities, especially in our cities?

Thats what were going to be looking at urgently over the coming weeks.

Because we wont get things right in our country if we dont get them right in our communities. But one of the biggest parts of this social fight-back is fixing the welfare system. For years weve had a system that encourages the worst in people that incites laziness, that excuses bad behavior, that erodes self-discipline, that discourages hard workabove all that drains responsibility away from people.

We talk about moral hazard in our financial system where banks think they can act recklessly because the state will always bail them out

well this is if you like moral hazard in our welfare system people thinking they can be as irresponsible as they like because the state will always bail them out.

Were already addressing this through the Welfare Reform Bill going through parliament. But Im not satisfied that were doing all we can.

I want us to look at toughening up the conditions for those who are out of work and receiving benefitsand speeding up our efforts to get all those who can work back into work.

Work is at the heart of a responsible society.

So getting more of our young people into jobs, or up and running in their own businesses is a critical part of how we strengthen responsibility in our society.

Our Work Programme is the first step, with local authorities, charities, social enterprises and businesses all working together to provide the best possible help to get a job. It leaves no one behind including those who have been on welfare for years who are now getting the chance to work.

Now as we consider these questions of attitude and behavior, the signals that government sends, and the incentives it creates

we inevitably come to the question of the Human Rights Act and the culture associated with it.

Now let me be clear: in this country we are proud to stand up for human rights, at home and abroad. It is part of the British tradition.

But what is alien to our tradition and now exerting such a corrosive influence on behavior and moralityis the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights in a way that has undermined personal responsibility.

We are attacking this problem from both sides.

Were working to develop a way through the morass by looking at creating our own British Bill of Rights. And we will be using our current chairmanship of the Council of Europe to seek agreement to important changes to the European Convention on Human Rights.

But all this is all frustratingly slow.

The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility.

And it is exactly the same with health and safety where regulations have often been twisted out of all recognition into a culture where the words health and safety are lazily trotted out to justify all sorts of actions and regulations that damage our social fabric.

So I want to make something very clear: I get it. This stuff matters.

And as we urgently review the work were doing on the broken society, judging whether its ambitious enough I want to make it clear that there will be no holds barredand that most definitely includes the human rights and health and safety culture.

Many people have long thought that the answer to these questions of social behavior is to bring back national service.

Now in many ways I agreeand thats why we are actually introducing something similar National Citizen Service.

Its a non-military programme that captures the spirit of national service. It takes sixteen year-olds from different backgrounds and gets them to work together. They work in their communities, whether thats coaching children to play football, visiting old people at the hospital or offering a bike repair service to the community.

It shows young people that doing good can feel good. The real thrill is from building things up, not tearing them down.

Team-work, discipline, duty, decency: these might sound old-fashioned words but they are part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people.

Restoring those values is what National Citizen Service is all about. I passionately believe in this idea. Its something weve been developing for years - years before I became Prime Minister.

Thousands of teenagers are taking part this summer. The plan is for thirty thousand to take part next year. But in response to the riots I will say this. This should become a great national effort. Lets make National Citizen Service available to all sixteen year olds as a rite of passage. We can do that if we work together: businesses, charities, schools and social enterprisesand in the months ahead I will put renewed effort into making it happen.

Now today Ive talked a lot about what the government is going to do.

But let me be clear:

This social fight-back is not a job for government on its own.

Government doesnt run the businesses that create jobs and turn lives around.

Government doesnt make the video games or print the magazines or produce the music that tells young people whats important in life.

Government cant be on every street and in every estate, instilling the values that matter.

This is a problem that has deep roots in our society, and its a job for all of our society to help fix it.

So in the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting.

Moral decline and bad behavior is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society.

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 country.

Because whatever the arguments, we all belong to the same society, and we all have a stake in making it better.

There is no them and us there is only us.

We are all in this together, and we will mend our broken society together.

Thank you very much for coming and thank you for listening.

Courtesy of HM Government

Barack Obama: Addressing the Turkish Parliament

April 6, 2009 (about 11 years ago)

Barack Obama reaffirms the friendship and support that the United States holds for Turkey. He talks of the shared conerns of the US and the European Union and the struggle of each union to make a better and more peaceful world.

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Source: The White House

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Post-Riots Speech on UK's 'Sick Society'- August 15, 2011

- David Cameron
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