It is hard to overstate how wrong Ken Livingstone has been getting his response to the riots. This was what he told the BBC News Channel last night (about 1 minute 33 seconds in to this clip):
“A lot of these young people, they are criminals, yes, but there’s a disengagement – they feel no-one at the top of society, in government or City Hall, cares about them or speaks for them.”
I spent most of yesterday in Tottenham, talking to Londoners who have lost their homes and everything else they own in the riots. They want politicians to care about and speak for them, not make excuses for the rioters who destroyed their lives.
Later, on Newsnight, Ken described the riots as a “revolt” against the cuts. He said: “If you’re making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt against that” (bout 22 min 28 seconds into this clip).
Nor can any tragedy, however huge, be allowed to stop Ken working his way through his election talking points. Here’s what he told the News Channel:
“We got police numbers up to 32,000, and we thought that would cope. But the Government’s going to have to review the policy of cutting. They’re planning to cut almost 2,000 police in London…When I was elected Mayor, we only had 25,000 police… The police have got to be confident the Government stands behind them, and the Mayor stands behind them, and when you’re cutting 2,000 police they don’t feel that….
“You can’t just be a mayor when you’re opening fetes and doing charity performances. You’ve got to be a mayor when it’s going wrong…. What people need is the reassurance. What I did when I came back from Singapore [after 7/7], I was on London’s tubes and buses, I was meeting the victims. It’s that reassurance.”
And to Newsnight:
“You’ve got to crack down on this, and I got 7,000 extra police in London. If we hadn’t got those, this would be out of control tonight.”
Lip visibly curling, his fellow guest, Shaun Bailey, the black former Tory candidate and youth worker, said:
“It’s quite horrible to watch people try to make some mileage out of this for their own political thing. It’s not about Ken, it’s not about 7,000 police. These are young people who are not scared of the police, not concerned about the police. It’s a set of kids picking a nice place to riot. To try and link this to the cuts is just electioneering.”
There is, of course, a time and a place for electioneering. But last night, with the city on fire, wasn’t it.