Reaction to the riots ranges from the fire-snorting bring back birching and National Conscription brigade to hug-a-looter “we are all to blame” sympathisers. It’s early days in the debate into what sparked the nationwide confrontation between youngsters and the police on Saturday night beyond the shooting of Mark Duggan.
But it’s likely both extremes of opinion will agree ineffectual parenting is where the problem starts.
Conservatives will argue that tough sanctions need to be taken against parents (including efforts to discourage them procreating further) as well as demanding their wayward children be tamed.
Liberals will insist that understanding and support is applied both to redress the disadvantages of birth and an unfair society.
The worst outcome – and the one I fear the most likely – is that after a lot of huffing and puffing by genuinely concerned people little will change. Whether taking miscreant children off the streets or providing focused care in and outside school, they both cost money at a time of widespread cuts.
So what does the future hold for, say, a 16-year-old who stole a bike last night from a ransacked cycle store like the one pictured heading this post, which is 10 minutes walk from where I live in north-west London.
If he’s caught, it means a criminal record given he has managed to avoid one so far. Anyway the bike will probably be stolen from him; child-on-child crime is much under-reported.
His own parents (if the father is still around) were ill-equipped to bring up children. And he is now on the same road likely to be leaving school uneducated and only fit for poorly paid employment. A life on benefit and perhaps of petty crime beckons made only bearable by a retreat to drink or drugs.
It’s a big ask to expect parenting skills to surface when his girlfriend announces she is pregnant. So it goes; until somehow the circle can be broken. It’s a grim prospect made worse by the fact it has taken many years – and different governments – to get to this unhappy page in England’s history.