Belfast Telegraph

David Cameron feels heat back home as London burns

By Lindy McDowell

As those scenes of looting show, the rioters of Hackney and Tottenham haven't so much been out for justice as for electrical appliances, smartphones and high-performance sports footwear.

Newspaper photographs of the aftermath of the violence - streets pocked with bricks and assorted missiles, the still smouldering hulk of burnt out vehicles and the charcoal skeleton of somebody's business - may look like a scene from here.

But there is a difference.

The rioting over there isn't what we'd call purely recreational. It's been targeted and professional. In some parts it looks less like insurrection, more like shopping early for Christmas. Without that tedious payment-at-checkout business.

The fear now for the Government must be that this could spread even more widely. At the weekend it was London's Burning.

Next up - Anarchy in the UK?.

The great unspoken thing about rioting (as we know from our vast experience here) is that the young, particularly, enjoy it. It's become almost a sport in some local interface areas.

The London version provides the standard adrenaline rush with the added bonus of looted goods. (It is no coincidence that many of the riots have started in areas close to major shopping centres.) There have even been reports of rioters breaking into a McDonalds and frying themselves burgers and chips.

Maybe it's apocryphal - but you can see how, to the impressionable, it will seem like recreational rioting super-sized.

And why the wrecking has spread like... well... wildfire.

An added gift for riot organisers/promoters has been social networking sites and smartphone rallying.

Nothing like a bit of Twitriol to inflame the masses. Or point them in the direction of the nearest electronics superstore.

The poor police officers and other emergency workers stuck in the middle of this mayhem are the ones who, as usual bear the brunt of the horrific violence.

They have been badly failed by their leaders. All their leaders.

While Hackney was kicking off this week, in the wake of the Tottenham mayhem, David Cameron was posing in a Tuscan café with the Italian waitress he had failed to tip last week.

Great you've sorted the coffee bill, Dave. But what about Armageddon in England?

Dave and his party are currently very much into what a leading political advisor terms the "wisdom of crowds."

What's happening on the streets has a whole lot more to do with the cunning of crowds. Or, to be more precise, the madness of the mob.

And tragically there hasn't been a whole lot of evidence of the 'wisdom of individuals' at the top showing the sort of leadership that's been needed.

The initial police response to Tottenham was cack-handed and ill-prepared. One police chief had jetted off on holiday just hours before the riot erupted - despite tension in the aftermath of the shooting of Mark Duggan. The mayor was also on his hols, the Met boss had stood down over Hackgate and, while his capital city was in flames, the British Prime Minister was sunning himself in Tuscany.

Everybody deserves a break. But overall it hardly promotes a picture of hands-on control.

Dave is now - belatedly - back at the helm. Extra resources are being drafted in, high levels meetings are held and there are public appeals for calm.

But the political elite were fiddling with their sun cream as the country was going to blazes.

They did too little, too late.

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