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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.