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Riots not due to 'moral decline', says former PM Blair

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has attacked rhetoric that last week's riots were a symptom of "moral decline" on Sunday, saying that talk of a "broken society" could distract from the issues at hand and damage the UK's image abroad.


AFP - Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Sunday attacked claims that "moral decline" was behind this month's riots, warning talk of a broken society could ruin the country's reputation abroad.

In a rare intervention in domestic politics since leaving power, Blair also warned that flawed analysis by politicians risked producing the wrong policy responses to the violence.

The former Labour leader said the real cause of the unrest, which erupted in London before spreading to other English cities in four nights of mayhem, was groups of disaffected youths outside the mainstream.

"Britain, as a whole, is not in the grip of some general 'moral decline'," he wrote in the Observer newspaper.

"The big cause is the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour," he continued.

He added that many of those involved were "from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, middle class or poor."

Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly suggested a loss of morals fuelled the unrest. Last week, he vowed to confront a "slow-motion moral collapse" in parts of the country and said his priority was mending the "broken society."

Blair's remarks were not solely directed at the right, however, and he accused leaders across the political spectrum of failing to realise that the riots were not symptomatic of society as a whole.

"Failure to get this leads to a completely muddle-headed analysis," he wrote, warning policymakers may as a result come up with the "wrong prescription."

He urged politicians to "focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution.

"Elevate this into a high-faluting wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work."

Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, has largely kept out of British domestic politics since quitting power.

He has focused instead on a string of new roles, with the most high-profile one being as envoy for the diplomatic Quartet seeking to revive Mideast peace talks.

London police meanwhile said Sunday latest figures showed there almost 3,300 recorded offences linked to the disorder in the capital between August 6 and 9.

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