PM 'fightback' met with chorus of disapproval


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David Cameron last night appeared increasingly isolated after senior police officers, MPs and even the Conservative Mayor of London united in a call for him to reconsider police cuts in the face of days of sustained rioting.

In an attempt to regain the political initiative the Prime Minister said that a police "fightback" was underway, and that water cannon were being made available at 24 hours' notice.

But senior police chiefs said these would be ineffectual and the real question was not whether they could cope with the current disturbances but whether they would be able to deal with similar civil disturbances in future with thousands of fewer officers.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, defied Mr Cameron's position and openly criticised the plan for 20 per cent cuts in police budgets. "The case was always pretty frail and it has been substantially weakened," he said. "This is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers."

Using stronger language than he has so far, Mr Cameron used a statement after yesterday morning's Cobra meeting branding pockets of UK society as "sick" and said officers would be given the resources and legal backing to use the tactics they felt were necessary to deal with the riots.

"We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets. Whatever resources the police need they will get, whatever tactics police feel they need to employ, they will have legal backing to do so." But asked about Mr Johnson's call for a rethink on police cuts the Prime Minister appeared dismissive.

"Mayors, local authorities, always want more money," he said.

Ed Miliband is expected to raise this issue of police cuts during an emergency debate on the rioting in the House of Commons today and senior Tories have privately expres- sed alarm that Mr Cameron has got himself "on the wrong side of the argument".

Last night a group of London Labour MPs including the party's deputy leader Harriet Harman met the Home Office minister James Brokenshire and called on him to rethink the scale of the cuts. "It is a big priority for Londoners," she said afterwards. "The police are much needed. We must not see the numbers cut."