Prime Minister David Cameron is coming under pressure to review his policy of cutting spending on the police as he prepares to address an emergency session of Parliament today after Britain’s worst rioting since the 1980s.
Home Secretary Theresa May ordered the cancellation of all police leave yesterday to counter the threat of further unrest across England after Cameron said the government had begun a “fight-back.” London Mayor Boris Johnson -- a Conservative like Cameron -- and the main opposition Labour Party said the looting and arson in English cities showed the need for a rethink.
“The public need reassurance that the police have the resources and officers they need to keep the streets safe and maintain law and order not only now but through the summer and beyond,” Labour’s home-affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said in an e-mailed statement. “The scale of government cuts is making it harder for the police to do their jobs and keep us safe. The police need our support and our government should be first to provide it.”
More than 1,300 people have been arrested around the country since the disorder began on Aug. 6. The unrest has heightened security concerns a year before London stages the 2012 Olympic Games, as the deepest budget cuts since World War II cost more than 30,000 police jobs across the country. Cameron addresses the House of Commons in London at 11:30 a.m.
“If you ask me whether I think there is a case for cutting police budgets in the light of these events, then my answer to that would be no,” Johnson told BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning. “I think that case was always pretty frail, and it has been substantially weakened.”
The Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees the London force, forecasts officer numbers will fall to 31,460 by March 2014 from 33,260 last year.
The prime minister defended the spending reductions, which the government argues are an essential part of its deficit- cutting program.
“We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets. We won’t do anything that will put the public at risk,” Cameron told reporters outside his Downing Street office yesterday morning. “The last 24 hours has demonstrated we can get a lot out of what we currently have.”
There were only scattered reports of disorder yesterday around the country, indicating that police had succeeded in preventing a repeat of the four previous nights’ rioting.
May told forces throughout the country to adopt tactics used by the Metropolitan Police, who put 16,000 officers on the streets and restored calm to the capital two nights ago. Though London was quiet, violence escalated elsewhere, particularly in Manchester, the largest city in the north.
“We needed a fightback, and a fightback is under way,” Cameron said. “We will do whatever is necessary to restore order on our streets.”
Cameron said courts would sit through the night and water cannons have been put on standby. Police in mainland Britain have never used the vehicles for riot control. Officers were already authorized to use rubber bullets to curb disorder.
The unrest started in the north London suburb of Tottenham on Aug. 6 after a local man, Mark Duggan, was shot and killed by police who stopped his car intending to make an arrest. Police have said the violence since then is “copycat criminal activity.”
May held a conference call with police forces around England yesterday and “ordered all special constables should be mobilized, all police leave should be canceled, and the robust tactics used on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police adopted by all forces dealing with public disorder,” according to a statement released by the Home Office.
The prime minister said the scenes of looting and arson this week showed parts of society were “sick,” presenting police and politicians with a new challenge. “It’s as much a moral problem as a political one,” he said.
Cameron, who when in opposition said some young thugs needed “more love,” told reporters he wanted “stronger penalties” for wrongdoers, with people convicted of violent disorder jailed.
Chuka Umunna, a Labour lawmaker representing a south London district, said on his Twitter Inc. feed after a meeting with Home Office minister James Brokenshire that the government was completing work on plans to compensate victims of the unrest.
This week’s rioting has been the worst in London since at least 1985, when violence broke out in Tottenham and Brixton in the south of the city -- both areas with large black populations -- after the deaths of black women during police searches.
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