David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed yesterday over whether the behaviour of politicians and bankers may have played a part in provoking last month’s riots.
Downing Street played down the findings of an academic research project suggesting lack of trust in politicians was a bigger factor in people’s willingness to riot than other explanations such as lax moral values or poverty and the Government’s spending cuts.
But Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, made clear that they were open-minded about whether alienation from the political class may have played a role.
Prime Minister Cameron, who regards the riots as a symbol of Britain’s “broken society”, yesterday began chairing a Cabinet review of the Government’s social policies to see what changes are needed as a result of the riots. It will include state benefits, schools, parenting, family policy and whether health and safety and human rights laws prevent “common sense solutions” to social problems.
Commenting on the research by Essex University and Royal Holloway, University of London, Cameron’s official spokeswoman said: “One can speculate but we are not necessarily going to know exactly what the causes were. The Prime Minister has been very clear. We have to have a very strong response in the wake of the public disorder.”
The Liberal Democrats said the perception that politicians, bankers and others at the top were “getting away with it” may have been a factor in the refusal of rioters to abide by the “rules of the game” too.
Clegg is believed to be sympathetic to the academics’ warning that depriving rioters of their state benefits could backfire – alienating them further and making them more likely to break the law again. Tory ministers have backed benefit cuts, but Clegg is warning Cabinet colleagues against a “kneejerk” response to the disturbances.
Labour sources said the academics’ findings should be considered by the panel being set up by the Government to look into the reasons behind the riots.
Yesterday the Labour leader rejected Cameron’s claim that the riots were caused by a breakdown in values. “There are issues of values but you’ve also got to address the issue of the values at the top of society, because the top of society sets an example for the rest and it hasn’t been setting a good example in the last few years,” Miliband said.
Miliband also promised to force a Commons vote on the cuts in police numbers.
MEDIA RESIST FOOTAGE CALL
Newspapers and broadcasters face growing pressure from the Metropolitan Police to hand over footage and pictures relating to the London riots.
Scotland Yard has threatened organisations with a court order forcing them to pass on material that may show “crime in action” if they refuse to comply.
Media groups have rejected the demands, maintaining that the press is an impartial recorder of events rather than an evidence-gathering mechanism for the police.
The police would have to convince a High Court judge that the police request outweighs the public interest of having a free press.
Other forces, including Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, began approaching local and national media a fortnight ago.