Speaking outside No 10 today, David Cameron stressed that he had come from his second Cobra meeting of the week keen to prove that the government and police have a plan of action to tackle the ongoing problem of rioting.
He begun with rather vague rhetoric, promising more police on the streets, that more arrests would be made and more people would be charged and prosecuted. Highlighting the fact that there had been a relatively calm night in London last night for the first time since the riots began on Saturday evening, he championed the effect of increased police numbers on the streets. In particular, he praised the efforts of the 16,000 policemen and women who patrolled the streets of the capital last night, as well as commending the bravery of all members of the emergency services during riots throughout the UK.
Yet, as it was put to him during questioning afterward, for many Londoners the atmosphere last night felt uncomfortable and daunting with the large numbers of police on the streets, making it feel as though London was ‘under siege’. While Cameron was insistent that the situation was not a permanent one, many continue to question whether the government and the police failed to act quickly enough given the seriousness of the events, as the riots have continued to spread. Given that a police investigation is currently under way on the murder of three men in Birmingham last night, which is believed to have been connected to last night’s activity there, perhaps it is justified to suggest that rather than simply having ‘lessons to learn’ over the riots, the police and indeed the government have in part, failed.
While Cameron champions the 750 arrests which have been made in London, with 160 people charged, most people will be more interested in the fact that he has finally greeted the possibility of using water cannons - a measure many have called for before now - confirming that they will be made available on 24 hours notice if necessary. This is a bold step for the prime minister, as the cannons have never been used during riots in England and suggests he is serious about taking firm control of the situation.
Cameron claimed the riots were an example of ‘irresponsibility’ within society as a whole, labeling parts of Britain as ‘sick’. Certainly, the images of a wounded young man being robbed by those who were pretending to help him paints a worrying portrait of values in society today. However, it will be interesting to see how Cameron proposes to remedy this issue, as his stress on penalties seems to address consequences rather than root causes.
He added Cobra will meet again tomorrow, and he will also make a statement to the House of Commons, where the issue of riots will be debated and proposals for measures to help the businesses, shops and homes damaged or destroyed in the riots will be laid down. Cameron expressed that a fight-back was underway, but for those who have already suffered as a result of the riots, this will be too little too late.