Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, rejected criticism of police tactics in this week’s disturbances last night, saying politicians were “irrelevant” when it came to discussing how best to bring rioters under control.
That’s the view shared by the force, judging by a police officer I was talking to earlier this morning. (He pointed out that many of David Cameron’s measures from yesterday are irrelevant; eg, police are already allowed to remove facemasks from youths in a riot situation, even if they are not at the actual riot.)
Will history judge that the prime minister’s return flight from Italy saved the day? Who knows. In reality, by the time Cameron unveiled his prescription the disturbances had already died down. And it is hard to see how any of his plans would have any immediate effect if trouble blazed up again.
So what caused the riots to die down – at least for now? We can make any educated guess:
1) Police presence: the knowledge of 16,000 police on the streets of London alone (authorised by the coalition) must have deterred all but the most brazen rioters. This must surely be the most compelling factor. Meanwhile a thousand arrests will have had a similar impact. Is this only a temporary effect, however?
2) Shame: Britain no longer has public stocks, where medieval folk hurled rotten fruit at miscreants. But we have the modern equivalent. They say newspapers are in decline: but millions will have seen photos of some of those involved, amplifying any sense of shame a hundred-fold. (The 18-year old on the front pages today would not have had a fraction of this publicity had she carried out conventional shoplifting a month ago). Ditto online, where the public have condemned and ridiculed the looters in equal measure.
3) Rain. Scallies who relish ‘box-fresh’ trainers are usually averse to muddy puddles. Perhaps Steve Hilton used his beloved cloud-busting technology to prompt heavy showers in some areas in the last few days?