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Four ways for Cameron to stop Miliband stealing the moment

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2011-08-15 at 05.22.39 Last week, Ed Miliband would rather have appointed his brother as his deputy than get himself on the same side as the rioters and on the wrong side of the tabloids.  Now that this immediate danger has passed for him, he has the chance to open up some clear pink water between himself and the Government.  According to the Independent and Guardian this morning, he will make the most of it.

The former says that Miliband will -

"...suggest it is not just the bottom of society that is to blame, but examples set by people with money and power as well. He will single out bankers' pay and MPs' expenses as instances of the breakdown in standards which have seen "greed, selfishness and immorality" become the norm".

- while the Guardian reports that although the Prime Minister and Opposition leader will -

...make similarly emphatic condemnations of the rioters, but in a speech at his old school in Camden, Ed Miliband, the Labour eader, will denounce Cameron's ideas to deal with rioters, put forward over the weekend, as "gimmicks".

At first glance, the Prime Minister's pitch looks better placed than Miliband's to please the public.  He will denounce -

"Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged - sometimes even incentivised - by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised."

But second thoughts suggest that it's not so easy for Cameron.

  • Miliband's mingling-together of MPs, bankers and rioters may be more in tune with public cynicism, and thus win him a hearing.
  • And if he can make stick the charge that the Prime Minister's speech is all hot air - that the familiar mesh of health-and-safety laws, plus the human rights culture, will entangle any Government proposals from the start - the Labour leader may be able to gloss over his own lack of any practicable solutions whatsoever.

Here are four ways for Cameron to address the problem.

  • He must face the "Bratton test" on police reform.  Bratton has let it be known that he's willing to become a British citizen in order to lead the Met.  Appointing him could become a test of the Prime Minister's political virility.  The Prime Minister must decide fast whether he really wants major police reform.  If he does, he must signal today that police leadership will be opened up to outsiders.
  • He must understand the belief that Britain's as bad at the top as it is at the bottom.  No, I don't believe that the overwhelming majority of MPs and bankers are as wicked as the rioters. (Neither do Boris nor Tim.)  But quite a lot of people do, and our institutions are wracked by troubles.  If the Prime Minister doesn't acknowledge this he risks losing the right to be heard.
  • He should say that the cuts in prison places will be put on hold.  The Government may be able to persuade voters that cuts in police budgets doesn't mean cuts in front-line policing.  But it doesn't stand a chance of convincing them that cuts in prison places are right.  Cameron should send Ken Clarke back to the budgetary drawing board.
  • He must announce a closing date for the review of the Human Rights Act.  The act isn't a catch-all explanation for our woes.  But it's hard to see how some of the Prime Minister's ideas - such as benefit withdrawals - could survive the human rights culture.  The joint Conservative/Liberal Democrat review of a British Bill of Rights is stuck in the long grass: he needs to get it out, fast.


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