England riots: Diagnosis time
- 11 August 2011
- From the section UK Politics
The situation is no longer critical. So, there should now be the time and space to come up with a diagnosis of what went wrong. Only then can the long term cure be agreed.
My hunch is that today's emergency parliamentary session is unlikely to move us far in that direction. The front benches will be inclined to unite in condemnation of the scenes on Britain's streets rather than to debate who was to blame. Cuts to the police may be the one issue where we see politics as usual.
The party leaders will soon, however, have to give us their verdicts. After today they will return to their sun loungers and begin to write or, probably, re-write their party conference speeches - their chance to add a political narrative to the images of burning shops, looters running amok and streets gripped by fear.
The prime minister gave us a sneak preview of his text yesterday when he declared that parts of our society are sick and were suffering from poor parenting, poor discipline in schools and a general lack of morals, ethics and values.
He will claim today that his school and welfare reforms will help cure this problem. Come October his conference will expect to hear much more than that or they will simply demand more police and more prisons to fightback against the hoodies who, they still remember, David Cameron once appeared to want to hug.
It was striking that Nick Clegg chose not to echo his boss's diagnosis on the Today programme. He spoke instead of the creation of a "smash and grab" society and highlighted not just looters but MPs behaviour. He might have added bankers to his list. At a time when the law and order agenda looks set to shift rightwards he must now decide how to add a distinct Liberal Democrat contribution to the debate?
Labour's Ed Miliband has been very, very careful this week to focus only on the need to restore order and to distance himself from those linking cuts to this week's violence. He, like the prime minister, has spoken about responsibility and better parenting. how he develops that theme will reveal a great deal about the direction he is taking his party.
Without a lead many at his party conference will simply want to condemn cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowance, youth services and job centres leaving them open to the charge - as Harriet Harman found on Newsnight this week - that they are giving looters an excuse for their criminality.
The prize will be great for the politician who can convince the electorate that in the face of what we have seen this week they are not merely impotent.