Belfast Telegraph

It'll be a long time before anyone will hug a hoodie

The PM was criticised for his sluggish response to the riots. But the political damage is harder to assess, says Tom Moseley

No one likes returning to work after a holiday - and yesterday Boris Johnson could be forgiven for wishing he was back in Canada. Touring riot-hit Clapham with Home Secretary Theresa May, the London Mayor looked visibly shocked and struggled to make himself heard as he was jeered by angry residents.

His eventual return from holiday followed those of the Prime Minister, who finally cut short his two-week break in Tuscany, May and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who had been in Spain.

The return of the Government's key players was not lost on those who had just seen their livelihoods disappear in smoke as anarchy spread throughout the UK.

When David Cameron finally took to the steps of Downing Street, all his customary self-confidence was on show. But he must have been shaken at what the Evening Standard called 'the worst scenes since the Blitz' - on his watch but not, for much of the catastrophe, under his watchful eye.

Because, as far as the public was concerned, Cameron was too busy wrestling with the issue of the size of tip to be left for a Tuscan waitress.

When to return from holiday in a crisis has long been a minefield for politicians, but this dilemma applies when problems are of an economic nature, amid the fear of spooking the markets.

Cameron and Johnson were, we were told, receiving 'hourly updates' on the violence. But that wasn't enough. It's hard to imagine Peter Robinson or Martin McGuinness receiving 'hourly updates' on last month's parades disturbances.

The sluggish response of the Government and London's mayor has drawn criticism. No doubt more attention will be paid to the holiday rota next summer. It's fair to say we won't see the leading lights of the Cabinet overseas at the same time for quite a while.

But, when Boris finally ambled into Clapham yesterday afternoon, that line of attack closed off.

We don't yet know how the Government will respond in Brixton, Hackney and Tottenham. After the 1981 riots, Michael Heseltine was dispatched to Liverpool, highlighting urban deprivation. Margaret Thatcher wasn't hampered by the disturbances when she won a landslide two years later.

The lasting impact could still come. As the Metropolitan Police Federation said yesterday: "The rioting of the past three days has demonstrated that the line between order and anarchy is a thin one, and it's coloured blue. Under Government cuts, it will get still thinner."

The Conservatives, outflanked by Tony Blair in the 1990s on law and order ("Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime") face losing ground yet again.

Last month, David Cameron intervened personally to reverse Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's sentencing proposals. He never actually said it, but 'Hug a hoodie' won't be a popular catchphrase in the next few months. And it would be a brave minister who linked yesterday's community clean-up with the Big Society.

Policing budget cuts of 20% will see reductions in frontline policing across the country, whatever ministers say about reducing 'back office' costs.

This doesn't bode well. Tonight's England's match against The Netherlands will not take place; the authorities admit they do not have the resources to police the streets.

That's a humiliating enough prospect for those in charge. But the Olympic Games are around the corner, a point not missed by the international Press, quick to highlight the anarchy in 'Olympic City'.

Theresa May insisted the police would have all the resources it needed to keep law and order during the games. But then, asked directly about the impact of 20% cuts to police budgets, replied: "The Government has had to ensure that it has a credible plan to deal with the deficit."

Cuts or no cuts, right now most Londoners would rather see a credible plan to ensure their safety.

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