Shorter David Cameron: Let them eat cake!
Damian I couldn't agree with you more. It's simply disingenuous for David Cameron to claim that this "isn't about poverty". Of course Cameron is anxious to preempt any suggestion that his government's draconian and ideologically driven cuts to the social safety net, in a country that is already second only to the US in wealth inequality, could have anything to do with peoples' behavior. People who are politically disenfranchised and ignored should just accept their lot in life and shut up so people like David Cameron can enjoy their Tuscan vacations.
I keep reading the same objections in commentary about the events in Britain: that wanton destruction of private property is wrong, that there is no clear program or leadership that would indicate political motivation, and that it would be far more constructive to organize peaceful protests. Even if one concedes that is all perfectly true (though protests by poor people are usually ignored by the media), it's also beside the point. The stability of any society ultimately rests on the willingness of its members to acknowledge a shared community of interest that entails some degree of mutual obligation to each other. The exact quality and degree of that obligation is the subject of constant negotiation, which is what politics is for. Recently the Conservatives drastically and arbitrarily rewrote the rules of those negotiations to favour the interests of the country's elite over its underprivileged. The natural reaction of those negatively impacted by these changes is to regard the political process as compromised and illegitimate. When people feel there is no hope for redress though socially sanctioned means -colloquially speaking, "playing by the rules"- they resort to extraordinary measures such as civil disobedience - and yes, I am suggesting that rioting is a form of civil disobedience, to the extent that it is motivated by the desire of people to contest their disenfranchised status by challenging civil authority.
It is of course profoundly unpalatable for the British establishment to acknowledge this dynamic because to do so would by to implicitly concede that the riots are at least partly motivated by their own policies. This isn't just a question of culpability, but of confronting the intellectually unacceptable possibility that their efforts to increase inequality in British society is inducing stresses that can no longer be mediated within constitutional bounds. Hence Cameron wants to talk about the "culture" rather than the circumstances of the poor, incidently reviving 19th century shibboleths about poverty being the mark of moral depravity, and reaches for the tools of repression to deal with the problem, for example by using social media to hunt down troublemakers -Big Brother is watching- and by threatening to call out the army. It's almost like watching the duke of Welllington fight the Second Reform Act -coincidentally, another instance in which political disenfranchisement was met with widespread civil disobedience, in that case amounting to a near insurrection.