David Cameron and co have picked the wrong fight

The police have support. Cameron and Boris Johnson don't.

Thursday's Commons debate on the riots on England's streets was notable for the collective avoidance of any attempt to answer the "why" question. The left/right, austerity/broken Britain arguments that had played out in the papers and on our television screens since the weekend were deemed politically toxic by the time Parliament was recalled.

Instead, attention turned to the police and an apparent failure of leadership. The Prime Minister led the baton charge accusing police chiefs of using the wrong tactics and implying that the police accepted this analysis. David Cameron wasn't alone. Backbencher after backbencher, recalling events of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, demanded plaintively "Where were the police?"

Yet three opinion polls suggest that the public don't share the politician's discontent with the boys in blue, rather it is the politicians themselves that have come up short.

First a YouGov poll published on Wednesday asked how "well or badly" Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and the police had dealt with the "recent riots in London and other cities". Only the police received a positive net rating. If that support can dismissed as simply empathy for the "bobbies on the beat" in the same way that there is overwhelming public support for "our boys" even during unpopular military misadventures, consider an ICM poll for the Guardian.

 

ICM poll

 

While Cameron and Johnson again were given negative net ratings (-14 and -10 respectively), acting commissioner of the Metropolitan police Tim Godwin received a +18 rating. If the public share Cameron's view that the police chiefs handled last week's events badly you would expect a negative rating for the nation's most senior policeman.

 

ICM poll 

Finally, a ComRes poll in this morning's Independent underscores these sentiments. Asked whether they thought "David Cameron had failed to provide the necessary leadership to take control of the rioting in London early enough", 54 per cent of respondents agreed. And asked whether "cuts to police numbers nationally must be reversed by the Government in the light of this week's rioting", 71 per cent agreed.

Hugh Orde's withering attack on an impotent Home Secretary on Thursday night were only tempered slightly by his gushing words for Theresa May on Friday. It's clear that the police are furious that they are taking the blame. For now, public sympathy is with them.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame