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Cameron and Miliband both spoke well, but vulnerabilities for the government lie ahead

Posted on 11 August 2011 | 2:08pm

I thought both David Cameron and Ed Miliband spoke well in their statements to the Commons today. They both got the tone right, and had the right mix of rhetorical condemndation of the present and recent past, and analysis of what needs to be done for the future.

Ed Miliband rightly made the judgement that today was not the day for the leaders to go head to head and heart to heart, but he did signal some of the areas where policy differences will emerge as the immediate heat cools and a calmer debate begins.

I think there are several areas where Cameron is vulnerable. He was not convincing is his attempts to say that cuts in police numbers will not have an impact on crime. Today of all days was not the day to be so categoric about that, and he should have left the door open to a review of cuts in police numbers, because it will come, He was also too dismissive of the links between economic factors such as recession, and crime.

Also, we heard much of the broken society but little of the Big Society. I have pointed out before that there is a tendency for coalition policies to cannibalise themselves. So an economic policy largely focused on cuts eats into the resources charities and community groups need to deliver the Big Society, if by that we mean non-state bodies picking up the strain of the State. He rightly spoke of the need for early intervention when kids are going wrong, but services needed for that are being cut. Resources are an issue, and he was too adamant in the other direction.

I didn’t see the later statements and debate, but would be interested to hear if people were particularly impressed by backbenchers or points they heard.

— to enquire about signed copies of Alastair’s diaries, email

  • Cudwell

    Yvette Cooper is far more commanding and effective than Theresa May.

  • ambrosian

    For the sake of my health I have had to switch off the debate. A number of Tory backbenchers appear to believe that the Human Rights Act was one of the principal causes of the riots. I have to question these people’s sanity.

    The UK Human Rights Act was passed in 1998 but prior to that we were signatories to, and bound by, the European Convention on Human Rights (largely drafted by British lawyers) which became effective in 1953. So not only did the riots of the 1980s take place whilst we subscribed to the European Convention, but so too did the Mods and Rockers riots of my childhood which wrecked the centre of my provincial town. (The Mods and Rockers riots in Brighton were celebrated in a famous film: ‘Quadrophenia’).

    Picking up on my comment yesterday, Cameron in the Commons today again implied that he had given instructions to over-ride the Human Rights Act in allowing the publication of suspects’ photos. The Human Rights Act has never prevented this. Indeed, the Human Rights Act impinges very little on the activities of the police. They are far more restricted by legislation passed by our Parliament, much of it arising from past police abuse of power and miscarriages of justice.

    I said that Cameron ‘implied’ this because he is a master of weasel words that convey a message that close textual analysis does not support. He got big coverage for his mention of the availability of water cannon and plastic bullets. But Hugh Orde had told him in the COBRA meeting that the police did not want them and Orde strongly believes that they would be totally inappropriate. With Cameron it’s all smoke and mirrors, the substitution of PR for statesmanship.

    One crazy suggestion coming from some Tory MPs and Councillors is that if a member of a family is convicting of rioting/looting, the family should be evicted from social housing. Imagine the scenario (not uncommon) of a law-abiding family that has one child who has gone off the rails. Why should the entire family be punished? And since local authorities have an obligation to house the homeless, the family would have to be re-housed in a bed and breakfast or hostel at public expense, unless it’s proposed that they live on the streets.

    As Alastair says, the debate began reasonably well (apart from a typically barking intervention from Sir Peter Tapsell) but then rapidly went downhill as Cameron became increasingly tetchy in defending cuts to police numbers and the more Neanderthal Tory MPs began outbidding each other in macho posturing which had much in common with the competitive bravado of the hooded youths who squared up to the riot police.

    • Tapsell’s contribution regarding the U.S VIETNAM PROTEST WAS LOONEYhe was on the verge of being sectioned!
      As for Osbourne’s statement. his assertion of the uk as an oasis of calm
      was breathtaking in it’s complacency.with growth forecasts cut to an optimistic1.4% doubtless to be later downgraded and inflation on it’s way up to 5% and beyond the tax take will decline as a result of poor growth, which in turn willl result in more public borrowing to pay for the growing unemploymentbenefit bill and to fill that tax take gap.
      probably in his millionaire buble all in the garden is rosy but he is totally unrealistic to be viewing our economy through rose coloured spesaver glasses

    • Gillian C.

      Excellent and well observed post, if I may say so ambrosian.
      For me it was educational also.  I’m referring to the Human Rights Act.
      I knew something about this act before, but now I know a little more.

      On a lighter note ambrosian, I had to smile at your opening sentence!
      This taken together with similar remarks in your other posts this week,
      I think it would be fair to conclude that you have had a very stressful week
      all in all 🙂

      Incidentally, if you were still a child when the mods and rockers were around in the 1960’s, you can’t be as old as you’ve previously led us to believe!  I recall you describing yourself one time as “an old Labour softy”
      which made me think of someone in their 70’s or 80’s, whereas you must only be middle or late middle-aged!  You may even be younger than me!
      Surely you don’t want to be or appear to be old before your time ambrosian!  

      Please feel free to ignore my last paragraph, I’m just idly surmising and speculating.  No offence intended whatsoever.

  • Chris lancashire

    Ed Milliband has conducted himself well throughout this issue, has issued sound reflections and resisted the temptation to make any party political points whatsoever. Well done Ed and let’s hope it rubs off on his deputy, Ms Harman.

  • Yes, I was impressed by the tone and tenor of the rhetoric.
    Many London Labour M.Ps made Boris J.’s point well – the direct equivalance of the numbers by which police were on the streets of London and the number by which the police are to be slashed. The public does not want police numbers decimated. Cameron has painted himself in to a corner. As ever he is behind the curve of public opinion, catchup Cameron!
    Good point made too about the crucial work of “back room” staff – analysing CCTV, finger printing etc. yet these the livelihoods of these people are being sacrificed too.
    Youth services need to be a priority – precious little said re this.

    • politicians refuse to accept that the dreadful example of the exs scandal and the corruption of met police officers
      has been a  terrible example and the  common knowledge that tax payer paid bankers bonuses were doled out for utter failure does contribute to theatitude of the weak minded to say I’LL HAVE SOME OF THAT

  • ambrosian

    A period of silence on my part would probably be welcome. But, angered by the Commons debate, I forgot to make the comment I intended to earlier.
    Gathering old newspapers for recycling I found a report from the Guardian of 30th July which begins: “UK cities should brace themselves for a summer of gang and knife violence as the impact of cuts to youth services takes hold, experts are warning.”

    The report goes on to say that more than £100 million was removed from local authority services for young people up to March of this year. Budget cuts imposed at the start of the financial year averaged 28% but some local authorities cut 70%, 80% or even 100% of youth services. Almost 3,000 full time youth workers have been lost.
    No doubt the Government will deny any connection between such cuts and disorder on the streets, just as they deny that any cuts in police numbers will lead to increased crime. Yes, and I am Marie of Roumania (to quote Dorothy Parker).

    One more thing: the interview given by the Malaysian student Ashraf Haziq, who was mugged and robbed (now showing on all channels) was the perfect antidote to the righteous posturing of most politicians. Cheerful, charming, forgiving, non-judgmental. I don’t do God (as someone once said) but he exemplified the best Christian values. Oh, hang on, he’s a Muslim. Anyway, his family, country and religion should be proud of him.

  • Tauntoncider

    I think its true to say that Ed and Cameron spoke well, but I did not expect any less from them. Yvette Cooper was noteworthy too, but I didn’t get the feeling that any backbencher particularly stood out.

    I watched most of the debate, there were good points made, but very often when i watch things certain people stick out in my memory. This didn’t happen today. Towards the end, it all felt a little repetitive and increasingly the points made seemed a little pointless. Cameron did seem to get a bit tetchy towards the end. I think I would have been too, after answering the same old questions again and again.

    I realise that today was necessary, but I wasn’t left with the feeling it had had much impact, especially when compared to the hacking debate. 

  • Dave Simons

    Analysis of the riots should look not just at the places where rioting took place but at similar places where rioting did not take place. The three largest cities, London, Birmingham and Manchester were affected, but what about the fourth largest down? Nottingham yes, but ,as in 1981, I’ve not yet heard (touch wood) of any serious incidents in the conurbations of the former ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’ – Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. Could it be – dread thought for South Yorkshire-hating Tories to consider – that the various public bodies in this county are doing something right? There has never been a shortage of mindless thugs in any of those places, as I think anyone who grew up there would agree, so why hasn’t there been copycat rioting there? Not that I expect this relative ‘good behaviour’ will gain any accolades from the LibDem-supported Tory government – the policy of starving them into submission, as used by the Thatcher governnment, will continue in its vindictive way, a punishment for them being Labour strongholds.

  • Stevethegreek

    The only MP who had the moral courage to break out of cross party fear of looking soft to the media was Caroline Lucas. I was embarrassed by our partys cowardice and seeming  acceptance that poverty and unemployment have nothing to do with the riots

  • Robert L Jackson

    Mr Cameron discussing broken society is like looking at craquelure on the face of Mona Lisa or on the fine old furniture so redolent of the Cotswolds and saying it’s worthless.

  • ambrosian

    Gilliebc, I am 60 but look 35. I am also seriously deluded.

    On a lighter note myself, I wondered if Cameron was aware that “sick” is a term of the highest approbation amongst young people.
    As I said to a friend the other day “that new JLS single is well sick, bro.”
    “Grow up, you silly old fart”, he replied.

  • MicheleB

    I’ve just received an email invitation to a radio discussion taking place tonight, asking me to pass it on to everyone I know that might be interested, especially yoof. 

    Obviously a last-minute idea, the audience is usually by application/invitation.

    Given the location I dread to think of what could happen if people invest their time and travel costs and are then turned away if the place is filled.

  • simon

    I’m not a great fan of Miliband, but I thought it was very bad on Newsnight how the presenter kept trying to put words into his mouth, and he coped with it well.

  • MicheleB

    I’m not a fan of Christina Patterson so was pleased to see her right-on posturing debunked :

    Violence began in Tottenham on Saturday after the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man.
    Christina Patterson of the Independent said the race factor could not be overlooked:
    “Too many black men have been killed by the police. Too many black men
    and women have been treated like criminals when they’re not. This is not
    the cause of these riots, but it’s there in the mix.”

    Police shootings are very rare, Prof FitzGerald notes.

    “According to IPCC reports in the last three years there have
    only been seven and all of those – including the shooting of Raoul Moat
    – were of white people.

    “The Met police has seen huge changes in attitude since the
    Macpherson report. That said, its use of section 60 stop-and-search
    powers disproportionately brought normally law-abiding young black
    people in particular into potentially confrontational encounters with
    the police.

    “However, this is not true of many of the other police forces
    who are now facing similar threats to public order – so it cannot be
    used as any sort of excuse.”

  • Gilliebc

    Nice one ambrosian,  made me lol !
    I thought I was more or less up to date with the latest street/young people speak, but I’ve not heard the word “sick” used in that way before.  So I guess sick has superseded the word wicked!  What a weird world we now inhabit.  On all levels.  At least our generation spoke English as it was intended.  I know language changes and evolves constantly, but not in an ass about face sort of way, when words become the opposite of their orginal meaning.  It’s all become a bit barmy and nonsensical.  I feel in need of a short lie down in a darkened room at times 🙂

  • Gilliebc

    I agree with you Dave, in that it seems to be vindictive on the part of this Toryled gov. The elite bozos on the front bench are clearly delighted to have the opportunity to (try) and put the working class back in their place.

    But, they rub the police up the wrong way at their peril.  The Police won’t stand for it and nor should they.  The same goes for the Fire Brigades.
    I feel an autumn/winter of discontent coming on.

    This Tory led Government will need to learn that they cannot rule by force.

  • MicheleB

    The resignations you have referred to have not happened as admissions of guilt, they have happened to allow calm to reign in an organisation that has an even more monumental job for the next year and needs no continuing controversy about their presence.

    I really don’t understand why anyone without pre-existing prejudice would take the word of NoW owners, NoW editors, NoW hacks, contract-out detetives or sub-contracted/convicted ‘investigators’ as reliable words against them.

    I also don’t understand why anyone without previous pre-existing prejudice would not anticipate that Police phones are just as likely to have been hacked as a kidnapped child’s or another’s mother’s was.

    Grow up (and fgs STOP shouting).

  • MicheleB

    Good reminders ambrosian and especially for those saying that cuts have had no impact yet.

    Camsham droning on about SureStart budgets being increased (while they are not ringfenced and signalled as such) is nothing less than cynical lying.

    One of my local libraries was always a little like a youth club every school hols, I felt sympathy for the staff who were lumbered with increased H&S responsibilities (while, I’ll admit, wishing that the kids/teens enjoying themselves on the IT facilities could be a tad less noisy  ……..  but the other aspect to their noise was that they were sharing ….).

    No worries about all that any more, it’s been closed for a few months.  As to what the kids are now doing with their days? 

    There’s a kind of ‘give with one hand and take with the other’ aspect to the types of govt; giving being investing..

  • Dave Simons

    In other words, everyone, take your caps off when you’re talking to MicheleB.

  • MicheleB

    He was posting to Duncan (so in other words …. ….. guess).