MPs debate riots: Divisions on day of unity

David Cameron and Ed Miliband David Cameron and Ed Miliband were united in their condemnation of the rioters

Consensus, condemnation, criminality and cuts.

These were the four themes that dominated debate as MPs picked over the aftermath of the riots and looting that have swept England's major cities in recent days.

Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband made it clear from the start that this was not an occasion for party political point scoring. Heaven forfend!

One issue on which all sides could agree was that the rioters were a disgrace.

They should be condemned. There was no excuse for their actions. Their parents should be - well, better parents.

Those rioters who were parents were an outrage.

Victims must be helped, businesses compensated.

The bravery of police officers was universally praised - but the apparently slow response of the police to the breakdown of public order in some areas was criticised by MPs on all sides.

That these disturbances were caused by criminals - not protesters - was also an analysis which transcended the party divide.

The prime minister declared: "This is criminality pure and simple and there is absolutely no excuse for it."

His Labour opposite number, Ed Miliband, was equally forthright, telling MPs: "We stand shoulder to shoulder against vandalism and violence... there can be no excuses, no justification."

Political positioning

But the consensus in the Commons chamber did not hold for long.

What we witnessed in packed House of Commons chamber - where even some cabinet members could not get a seat - was an attempt by government and opposition to write the first draft of history, or possibly rewrite it.

For David Cameron the riots were about responsibility - or rather lack of it - and not about resources.

For Ed Miliband, resources - or rather, a lack of them - were the major issue.

Diane Abbott Diane Abbott was among several London MPs to have their say

He called for a rethink of the police cuts - as did at least 22 of his Labour colleagues, including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who talked of "deep concern across the country" about the scale of spending reductions, repeating the familiar mantra that the government was cutting "too far, too fast".

This particular piece of political positioning is seen as hugely important by Labour strategists.

If cuts are perceived by the public to be at least partially to blame for lack of effective policing, then the government would not just come under pressure to reverse them - their whole deficit reduction strategy would be undermined.

They would have demonstrated that they were not prepared to stand firm under pressure. the opposition believes.

So reversing police cuts would be, inevitably, followed by demands for other cuts to be halted, to youth services, for example, or social services in general. And certainly to the ministry of justice.

'Coalition unity'

So government spin doctors at Westminster were this afternoon dispensing the bitter pill that there would be no U-turn on police budgets.

There was, we were told, "complete coalition unity" on this - the Lib Dems, in other words, were fully on board.

But the firm words were sweetened with reassurances that a reduction in police numbers would not prevent the kind of substantial deployments of recent days recurring if necessary.

David Davies Former shadow home secretary David Davis also made his presence felt in the debate

So rather than simply defending the need for deficit reduction, David Cameron chose to emphasise a lack of individual responsibility, and a wider malaise in society, as a potential cause of the anarchy we have seen in recent days.

His own Big Society, along with welfare reform, is supposed to provide the cure.

The prime minister praised the volunteer "broom army" who are on the streets today, clearing up other people's mess.

Ed Miliband tried to man-mark him on this pitch, talking of the need for greater responsibility, while attacking from an unexpected angle.

Instead of sticking to the traditional left-wing territory of criticising cuts, he also advocated more populist measures on tougher sentencing and on greater use of CCTV.


In response, Mr Cameron - who not so long ago was happy to describe himself as a "liberal Conservative" - decided what was needed instead was the smack of firm government.

He was engaged in a "fightback". He would not "allow a climate of fear to exist on the streets".

He announced a raft of new, robust-sounding measures - though it soon became apparent that detailed discussions were yet to take place on how to implement them.

Injunctions on adult gang members would be extended to children.

But it was not clear whether that meant 14 to 17-year-olds, as originally intended, or whether even younger children could be subject to injunctions which could ban them from certain areas, or even from wearing certain kinds of clothing.

Police on the beat would have new powers to strip potential protesters of face masks - but that needs legislation, probably in the autumn.

There would be greater powers - and encouragement - for councils to evict their tenants if they have been looting and pillaging. But that idea is simply going out to consultation today.

The intelligence services are to be asked about how to disrupt social networks such as Twitter in some areas where riots might be about to occur.

'Getting a grip'

But - oops - the Lib Dems are not yet on board for this one.

And, as Home Secretary Theresa May herself suggested, it is not clear whether it is technically or legally possible to prevent social networks from being used to encourage anti-social behaviour.

One Conservative MP suggested it was better for the police to monitor social networks - to gain valuable intelligence - than to shut them down.

Overall, though, the government is now moving swiftly to give an impression it is "getting a grip" on a shocking situation.

On Monday, there were grumbles on the Conservative backbenchers about David Cameron continuing his holiday, but by the end of the week he appears to have been forgiven - by these critics at least.

But the wider arguments over police resources and how to restore a sense of responsibility in society will continue.

For all the talk by politicians today that there are "no simple solutions" to the cause of the disturbances, the party leaders are already developing their narratives.

Expect the dividing lines to become even clearer when the Commons resumes - assuming no further recalls - in September.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    It was plain bullying. She said I had been with another girl, but she had no interest in asking her the same questions. A year later, she gave me a back hander for smiling when she was telling four of us off, for kicking leaves. We were then sent for a caning from the headmistress and this was at a Catholic primary school in the early 70s. We didn't question authority - we were just kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    A poster mentioned earlier, being slapped by a teacher for swearing, when he was not the pupil that swore and the teacher did not apologise when he found out who the culprit was. I was interrogated by a teacher over an afternoon playtime. Why did I walk towards her and then run the other way? Why was I there? I asked what time was this and she said I am asking the questions? Cont'd on next post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Cutting benefits will only create a bigger gap between rich and poor .What will happen rich? Nothing?
    I am sick to death of this stereotypical rioter poorly educated, broken home, council housing, benefits etc when reality is some of the rioters were from middle class homes a law student. We need to encourage our young people into further education where is the replacement EMA?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction by some politicians is not that unexpected.

    Has anyone thought what eviction would mean, for example? It might make a large number of innocent people (including young children and other vulnerable individuals) homeless, for no greater crime than being related to a rioter.

    Punish the rioters, of course, but don't extend this to innocents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I am hungry, I am loosing all I ever owned, I am unemployable. I am ill. I am needing healing. I am treated as Hitlers jew. My patron has become poor pitiful Job and I am cast off as if I were Cain.

    This is me and also too many of your own people in your own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Security must be restored but blaming parents, immigrants, etc. seems like passing the buck. What if EVERYONE took responsibility for youth? What if EACH adult took responsibility for speaking to misbehavior EACH instance from time youth was tot? What if kids couldn't get away with anything for the care takeing adults keeping an eye on their children? Privacy issue concerning you? What's cost?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Enoch Powell MP warned people of the situation several decades ago & was exiled for speaking his mind. Cameron will most likely start some of the usual community outreach programs that will fail to do anything. Mass immigration plus a freeloaders mentality will just cause the problems to grow over the next several decades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I listened today to a discussion of possible root causes of the chaos in some British cities.To me the influx of many people of various cultures and value systems has destabilized/eroded accepted social norms . Perhaps if we emphasize/ teach/reinforce etiquette and human worth, starting with small children, continuing through adulthhood, using many social vectors, mutual respect can be restored

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    For something that 'has nothing whatsoever to do with politics', Politicians are having an awful lot to say about it. Someone lying to cover their tracks then. A failure to nail the remedies is something politicians will live to regret. A failure to Listen is the most endemic currently. The words of one GB come to haunt T'dum and T'dee sooner than anyone thought. Yes draconian cuts y'hear!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Today on Radio 4 it was stated by a contributor that baton rounds could not be used on mainland Britain. As a UK citizen and former RUC officer I find it disgusting that this distinction is made and wonder if thi leniency encourages this behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Just seen the saddest thing, a black lad from Nottingham saying he feels English when seeing the cross of St George but when out especially regarding the police he felt like an immigrant. This disconnect between the young, both black and white, and general society is the sickness Cameron talks about and it's up to Government to heal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    the problem with this country is too many rights given to children, bring the cane back in schools after three warnings if you dont do as your told then they get the cane there is a difference in punishment and abuse when i was at school they had the cane, you wouldnt dare do anything wrong, i grew up law abiding and think of other poeple, getting rid of corporal punishment was biggest mistake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    and another thing stop encouraging teenagers to have loads of kids, stop giving benifits for kids unless you can prove you work, if you cant afford kids then dont have them im sick of paying for everyone elses kids in this country. yes there are many lovely children but half of the parents dont give a damm what there kids do some of the parents of the kids after the riots proved this

  • Comment number 82.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Seeing the local "civic leaders " pontificating and sucking up to politicians in an effort to get more public money handed over to these lowlifes is sickening. When these people show that their community , children , and grandchildren are fit to live in a civilised society , and make some contribution to it, then perhaps we'll listen to them. Meantime, let them stew in the muck heap they created

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Our present parliamentary system has proved over the years to be totally inept at government for the people, they spend too much of our time and money promoting foreign objectives, its time we all marched with "no confidence" banners and eject these clowns from government as once inside the H of P all promises and policies are reneged on and we end up with same old same old mantra, change required

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The Me First culture can be squarely blamed on the rich. It is their publishing houses that gave such fun titles like Hello - It is their Advertising agencies that gave us such a load of old rubbish none of us need but the rich have - The rioters are a disgrace but as has been appearing all over the media the lack of any social responsibility by the rich is a real factor, see Tax paid by the rich

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.


    I've seen this exact post on three topics here now, I suggest you get yourself on benefits if its as good as you reckon, are you a Tory politician disguising yourself as a worker, and, have your lot not blamed everything in this country on those unfortunate enough to be enduring long term unemployment that is directly attributable to government policies of the past 50 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    As many department shops were targeted by rioters wearing ‘hooded tops’. Will they now stop selling this style of clothing, or will they keep being ‘outfitters to the criminal classes’?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Some moron just said you reap what you "sew" and that the government deserves this... Tell that to the shop keepers around the country who had no involvement in Libya or anything else mentioned... Thank god liberals like this chap do not run this country - I'm not sure their sense of justice would be any sort of replacement for what we have today...


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