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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Jeremy Corbyn fares well in his toughest interview yet

Labour will be relieved that Corbyn's encounter with Andrew Neil was less painful than Theresa May's. 

Jeremy Corbyn's half-hour BBC1 interview with Andrew Neil was the toughest grilling he has faced since becoming Labour leader. Neil sought to cause Corbyn maximum discomfort by confronting him with his past views on the IRA, NATO and Trident (which he never anticipated having to defend from his current position). 

"I didn't support the IRA, I don't support the IRA," Corbyn said in response to the first. After Neil countered that Corbyn "invited convicted IRA terrorists to tea in the Commons a few weeks after the Brighton bomb," the Labour leader replied: "I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein" (a distinction without a difference, some will say). But after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Corbyn is aided by the reduced toxicity of the subject (New Labour dealt with terrorists) and the fact that for some voters, the young most of all, "the troubles" are a distant memory.

NATO, Neil recalled, had been described by Corbyn as "'a very dangerous Frankenstein of an organisation', 'a danger to world peace'. Two years ago you said it should be 'wound up'." It is to Corbyn's credit, in some respects, that he struggles to disguise his sincere views, and he did on this occasion. "NATO exists," he observed at one point, eventually conceding after much prodding: "I will be a committed member of that alliance in order to promote peace, justice, human rights and democracy". But nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the subject will seem esoteric to many voters.

Trident, however, is another matter. "My views on nuclear weapons are well-known," Corbyn correctly noted, making it clear that the Labour manifesto committed to full renewal against his wishes. "I voted against the renewal," he said. "Everybody knows that because I wanted to go in a different direction." That the opposition is divided on such a profound issue - and that Corbyn's stance is at odd with the electorate's - is undoubtedly a drag on Labour's support.

But under forensic examination, Corbyn emerged stronger than many predicted. There were few moments of intemperance and no disastrous gaffes. Corbyn successfully dodged a question on whether Labour would cut immigration by replying that the numbers would "obviously reduce" if more workers were trained. Indeed, compared with Theresa May's painful encounter with Neil last Monday, Corbyn's team will be relieved by his performance. Though the Labour leader cannot escape his past, he avoided being trapped by it tonight. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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