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Academic Word List: Exercise 46

Read the following text, paying particular attention to the highlighted words.

Economic and Social Policies

In terms of economic and social policies the impact of the 1980-1 riots was equally ambiguous and contradictory. Part of this ambiguity, as outlined above, resulted from the Government's strenuous efforts to deny any link between its policies and the outbreak of violence and disorder. This denial was particularly important, since at the time the Thatcher administration was going through a bad period in terms of popular opinion on issues such as unemployment, social services, and housing. While Lord Scarman was careful not to enter the political dispute between the Government and the Labour party on issues such as unemployment and housing, his call for more direct action to deal with these problems, along with racial disadvantage, posed a challenge to the political legitimacy of the policies which the Government had followed from 1979 onwards. It also posed a delicate problem for the Home Secretary himself, since Lord Scarman had been appointed by him to carry out his Inquiry. Having spent the whole summer denying any link between its policies and the riots, the Government had to tread warily in responding to the economic and social policy proposals of the Scarman Report when it was published in November 1981.

The parliamentary debate on the Report showed the Home Secretary adopting a two-pronged strategy in his response. First, he accepted many of the recommendations of the Report, particularly in relation to the role of the police. Additionally, he accepted the need to tackle racial disadvantage and other social issues. Second, he emphasised the Government's view that, whatever broader measures were taken to deal with racial and social inequalities, the immediate priority was to restore and maintain order on the streets. When the Home Secretary talked of the need for the Government to give a lead in tackling racial disadvantage he therefore saw this as in issue for the longer term. On the other hand, he was much more specific about the reform of the police and the development of new tactics and equipment for the management of urban disorder (Hansard, vol. 14, 10 December 1981).

In 1985, however, the Government specifically rejected calls for another inquiry like Lord Scarman's, arguing that since the riots were a "criminal enterprise" it was useless to search for social explanations or to have yet another report advising it about what to do. Implicitly, the Government was saying that it knew what the problems were, and how they could be tackled.

While some senior policemen, like Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman, wanted to stress the link between the police and other areas of "social policy" (Metropolitan Police, 1986), the official government response attempted to decontextualise the riots and see them as the actions of a small minority who were either criminalized or influenced by extreme political ideas. The dominant approach of the Government attempted to emphasise two main arguments.

  1. that the riots were "a lust for blood", an "orgy of thieving", "a cry for loot and not a cry for help";
  2. that the riots did not reflect a failure to carry out the "urgent programme of action" recommended by Lord Scarman in 1981, but were the outcome of a spiralling wave of crime and disorder in inner-city areas.

The logic of this approach, articulated by Home Secretary Douglas Hurd most clearly, was that the riots were both "unjustifiable" and a "criminal activity". In a widely reported speech to police chiefs at the time of the disorders Hurd made this point clear:

Handsworth needs more jobs and better housing. But riots only destroy. They create nothing except a climate in which necessary development is even more difficult. Poor housing and other social ills provide no kind of reason for riot, arson and killing. One interviewer asked me whether the riot was not a cry for help by the rioters. The sound which law-abiding people heard at Handsworth was not a cry for help but a cry for loot. That is why the first priority, once public order is secure, must be a thorough and relentless investigation into the crimes which were committed. (Daily Telegraph , 14 September 1985)

Such arguments resonated through the media and in the various parliamentary debates during September and October 1985. They became part of the symbolic political language through which the riots were understood by policy makers and by popular opinion.

Since the 1985 unrest, and particularly after the 1987 General Election, the Government has announced a number of initiatives on the inner city, and it has presented these as part of an effort to rejuvenate depressed areas on a sound basis. The evidence that has emerged since then, however, points to a major discrepancy between the Government's promises of action and the allocation of resources to implement them (Robson, 1988). It is perhaps too early to reach a conclusion on this point, but a repeat of the period of inaction between 1982 and 1985 seems to be evident, within the current political context. A number of local authorities have attempted to take more positive action to deal with the issues raised by the 1985 riots, but their experience has shown that such local initiatives are often severely limited by the actions of national government, the police, and broader economic and political pressures.

In the years since 1981 the one consistent response to urban unrest has been the provision of more resources, more training, and more equipment to the police. Instead of tackling the causes of urban unrest, the Government has built up force to deal with the manifestation of those root conditions.

Increasingly the most strident political voices are raised in the name of free enterprise and law and order, not for equity and social justice. For the New Right and other influential sectors of political opinion the attempt to achieve racial equality through legal and political means is at best narestriction on the workings of the market. The present political climate gives little cause for optimism that a radical change in governmental priorities in this field is likely (Solomos, 1989).

The Government's plan of Action for Cities (DoE, 1987), issued after Mrs Thatcher's post-election promise, says very little directly about racial inequality. It remains to be seen whether it will suffer the fate of numerous other initiatives on the inner cities and fade into obscurity. But one thing seems clear: during the past decade the Government has been more intent on reducing the powers of local authorities than on providing for fundamental changes in the social conditions of the inner cities.

(Tackling The Inner Cities By Susanne MacGregor And Ben Pimlott)

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