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Winners and losers after the riots

By Paul Goodman
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Winners

David Cameron: Some of his new initiatives were questionable, others mistaken.  But an indispendable requirement of being Prime Minister is to look the part, be seen to possess authority, speak for the country, and not shirk the language of remoralisation when demoralistion is taking place.  Cameron did all these, which is why he is - on balance - a winner from last week's events, although he is in a hard place on police cuts, an impossible place on prison ones, and open to the charge of putting presentation before substance.  In today's Sunday Telegraph, he champions zero tolerance.  This week, he's to set out his plans to do so in a speech.  But he must provide prove that he means it.  I'll explain how later today.

Iain Duncan Smith: Combatting gangs is primarily a matter for the Home Office, not the Department of Work and Pensions.  So the announcement that Duncan Smith is to share the lead in a cross-government programme to deal with gang culture left him a very literal winner - that is, a Minister who's been given licence from the top to muscle in on someone else's territory, namely the Home Office's.  This reflects less the expertise of his Department than his previous work at the Centre for Social Justice, drawn on in print as long as four years ago.  Then, Duncan Smith was writing in the wake of the murder of Rhys Jones.  Now, he is tasked with curing the problem he then diagnosed - as today's Sunday Times confirms.

Michael Gove: Bespectacled unsportiness can be balanced out by intellectual courage.  The Almighty didn't grant the Education Secretary the shape of a prop forward, but when it comes to a row he's up for any ruck going, assisted by an almost supernatural eloquence and a Manichean sense of conflict.  His Newsnight spat with Harriet Harman sparked lefty Twitter rage - but he, not Harman, cast into words the unarticulated feelings of the mute majority.  Gove projected confidence while the Home Secretary was emanating alarm, and it's significant that he was deputed to wind up Thursday's Commons debate.  Oh, and the specs were quietly replaced a while ago by contact lenses.

Ed Miliband: During the Thatcher years, Labour backbenchers placed themselves on the side of the mob, took their leaders with them - and damaged their party as a result.  (Lord Alton's comparison of the 1981 riots and this month's has extracts from Hansard which convey the flavour of the time.) Miliband's task this week was not to back the looters, not to have a Sharon Storer moment when out on the ground, and to lead his party in the Commons rather than follow it.  That he met this triple challenge is bad news for the Conservative Party but should be fairly reported. His biggest remaining challenge? Not to slip up in the aftermath.  His biggest opportunity? Exposing Coalition divisions on police and prison budget retrenchment.

David Davis: Like him or loathe him (I declare an interest: he's an old friend), one has to concede that Davis, Shadow Home Secretary for the best part of five years, knows his riot stuff and has views.  The most salient one of these is that Britain's police leadership isn't up to the job.  He was out and about this week, making his case on this site and appearing on Question Time while Ministers were absent. Downing Street takes Davis seriously on these issues, and were it to decide to take on the police establishment it could do worse than move him to the Home Office.  I doubt that this will happen - memories of that sudden by-election still linger - and see the muscle-flexing Gove as a more likely candidate.

Losers

Theresa May: Criticism of May has been harsh, and her defenders claim unfair.  Certainly, she broke her holiday promptly to return to Britain, and has been careful to praise the police as well as criticise them, thus showing that she appreciates the dangerous toil of the rank-and-file copper.  I suspect that she believes that given sharp reductions in the growth of the police budget, plus the introduction of elected police commissioners, she needs to keep the forces' leaders on-side - hence her resistance, reported by Charles Moore before the riots, to drafting in Bill Bratton.  But she is not the Minister to lead an institutional struggle.  And, charged with leading in Cameron's absence, she looked frozen in the headlights.

Boris Johnson: We all know that Boris reaches parts that no other Tory can reach, can pull off stunts that would defeat anyone else, and can get away with - well, not with murder, but with pretty much anything short of it.  But he is dependent on his first-rate team and has a compulsive urge to be loved.  I don't blame him for taking a different position on police budgets to the Government: after all, he's a Mayoral election to win.  Nor should a myth be allowed to grow that he was heckled last week everywhere he went.  But dump him in a crisis when snap decisions, sharp reactions and a grasp of detail are required, and he can fall short.  And while his chaotic air has its charms, turning up late for Cobra was literally untimely.

Rowan Williams: The right-of-centre press doesn't care for the Archbishop of Canterbury.  And he has made his own problems worse in the recent past by his vapourising on the pages of the New Statesman and off it.  The Daily Mail would have liked nothing better than to go for him over the riots.  Why, then, since he avoided hostages to fortune, and made some good points in the Lords, is he a loser?  Because he was nowhere to be heard at the height of the turmoil.  The Church of England is our national church.  Its clergy are among the last professionals living among the communities they serve.  The Archbishop's task includes trying to project it to the heart of our national life.  Which is why he should have spoken during the crisis, not after it.

Ken Livingstone: Has Livingstone been asleep since 1981?  Prodded into somnolence as the riots gathered place, he blamed Thatcher - sorry, Cameron - saying that “the economic stagnation and cuts imposed by the Tory Government inevitably create social division".  Who does he think has been running the country for the last 13 years?  At more or less the same time as suggesting that the wicked Tories were to blame, he also managed to clamber aboard the water cannon bandwagon (he was presumably waking up to the political danger of seeming soft on crime).  Imagine the problems for the party were Labour to be running David Lammy, or indeed ABL (Anyone But Livingstone) in London.  Boris is lucky in his main opponent.

Eric Pickles: I'm classifying Pickles as a loser on an admittedly narrow ground.  The Government's policy response to the riots will have a role for local government and should have one for localism more widely.  Michael Gove, on the other hand, will ask schools to do nothing more than they did before.  Yet it was Gove rather than Pickles who wound up for the Governent in the Commons on Thursday, in a task more departmentally suited for the Communities Secretary.  This isn't to say that the decision was wrong - Gove's eloquence was required for the Parliamentary moment - and Pickles will be a man to watch next month when his integration strategy is announced.

Finally: the police, collectively, are winners, because we've all been reminded that they do a difficult, dangerous job.  Polling suggests that police leaders are also a winner - more than any politician - though I wonder whether that rating is boosted by public backing for the bobby on the ground.

The biggest losers, of course, have been the shopkeepers whose livelihoods have been ruined, the victims who have been assaulted, and their families; the biggest winners, those who have got away with theft, arson, looting and thuggery.  But politics goes on at Westminster, and we must report it.

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