Cameron under fire from all sides

2011-08-10 17:56
London - Prime Minister David Cameron has stepped up his response to riots sweeping Britain as he struggles to contain the unprecedented violence, which critics say is partly due to his government's spending cuts.

Cameron cut short his holiday to Italy to return home on Tuesday, promptly ordering 10 000 more police on to the streets of London where looters and arsonists ran riot largely unchallenged for three consecutive nights.

The action calmed the capital's streets on Tuesday night, but fresh violence broke out in the major cities of Manchester and Birmingham.

Parliament will return from its summer break on Thursday for an extraordinary one-day session on the crisis, when Cameron must show he is in control in the face of public outrage at the worst civil unrest since the 1980s.

Some left-wing commentators are referring to this as the prime minister's "Katrina moment", similar to when the failings of President George W Bush's administration were exposed by the damage wrought by a hurricane in New Orleans in 2005.

Authorised water cannon

Cameron has been under fire within his Conservative party for not being tough enough, and he hit back on Wednesday by announcing that police will now be able to use water cannons, which have never before been deployed in mainland Britain.

Ramping up his rhetoric on Wednesday, he strongly condemned the violence, saying it was the result of a lack of responsibility and morals among young people, fuelled by a welfare system that "rewards idleness".

He left no room for claims that the riots were happening because youngsters are marginalised by unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunity, nor that they could be linked to his Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's public spending cuts.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour party, has not sought to make political capital out of the riots, saying there are "no excuses", but other members of his party have been more forthright.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman condemned the violence, saying it could not be justified, but she also argued that "there is a sense that young people don't think they are being listened to".

Government must rethink

She listed policies to treble university tuition fees and abolish a grant given to teenagers to stay in school, and plans to shut job centres to save money despite high unemployment, saying ministers "should think again about that".

Ken Livingstone, the left-wing former mayor of London hoping to take back the office in next year's elections, said: "If you're making massive cuts, there's always the potential for this sort of revolt against that".

Newspapers have been cautious about making the link, and Nick Wilkie, chief executive of London Youth, a network of 400 community organisations in London, agreed that the cuts should not be blamed for the unprecedented violence.

"We do not believe closing youth clubs has caused this. Blaming events on cuts risks letting violent criminals off the hook," he said.

"Equally, the fact that there are large numbers of unemployed young people with nothing to do this summer won't help."

Police budget cuts

Cameron is also under fire from his own side for slashing the police budget by 20% by 2014-15, which will result in an estimated 34 000 jobs axed.

The current mayor of London, Conservative Boris Johnson, has demanded a rethink of the cuts following the rioting, which police chiefs admitted had left them stretched to breaking point.

"That case was always pretty frail and it has been substantially weakened. This is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers," Johnson told BBC radio.

Cameron promised on Wednesday that "a fightback is underway", but commentators say his leadership will be judged on how long the riots continue.

"He has to show that he is bringing the situation under control," said an editorial in the right-wing Daily Telegraph. "If Mr Cameron gets it wrong and the rioting is still in full spate at the weekend, he may struggle to recover."

Read more on:    david cameron  |  ed miliband  |  uk riots

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