Recriminations fly as ministers head home early from their holidays


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The Independent Online

Senior politicians from all political parties were scrabbling to cancel their holiday plans and find return flights to London yesterday in time for a symbolic emergency debate in the House of Commons on the London riots.

Several ministers faced the wrath of the public for not having better co-ordinated the police response to the riots on Sunday and Monday – with those shopowners who lost their livelihoods in the interim particularly scathing of politicians' refusals to return from their holidays. Boris Johnson and Theresa May faced an angry crowd in Clapham, scene of severe looting on Monday night, and David Cameron visited a police command centre in carefully choreographed scenes.

Speaking after a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency response committee, Mr Cameron announced that Parliament would be recalled tomorrow to debate the rioting. It is the first time in history that such a recall has been called to debate disorder on the mainland.

Alongside David Cameron, who was flown back to the UK at 3am yesterday from Italy by the RAF, Ed Miliband drove back from Devon to tour damaged shops and property in Peckham. Labour's shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper also returned to the UK, while the Chancellor, George Osborne, cut short his holiday in Los Angeles.

The parliamentary expenses watchdog confirmed that it would re-reimburse the cost of any MP returning early from their holidays.

Mr Cameron went on to meet fire fighters and Trevor Reeves, whose furniture factory was destroyed by rioters. He then spent the evening monitoring developments from Downing Street ahead of a second Cobra meeting due to take place this morning.

Nick Clegg went on a tour of damaged areas of Birmingham, and, like the London Mayor Boris Johnson, was heckled by locals angry at the lack of police response.

"You're a bit too late," said one.

Mr Clegg said it was important that everyone united to combat the violence.

"We've all got to work together to make sure what we saw last night and, indeed, the nights before that, doesn't happen again and that there's a very clear, simple message to the youngsters, to the teenagers who have been smashing windows, grabbing mobile phones and grabbing items of clothing, which is that if they do that, they will get arrested, they will get a criminal record and it will hit them hard for some time to come.

"I wonder whether some of the youngsters who were out on the streets last night have really thought through the consequences of what they did. That's why they shouldn't do it again."

Mr Miliband, who was surrounded by a crowd of more than 100 people in Peckham, said it was important to look at the wider issue s behind the riots.

"People have different views about the complex causes of what happened but there are no excuses for it," he said.

"The public safety of our citizens, the ability for them to go about their business in a lawful way, is an absolute priority for any government and for any country. That is what we need to see happen as soon as possible.

"The issue of deeper underlying cau- ses of some of the activity that we have seen, of why people indulge in this criminal behaviour, is something that, of course, needs to be looked at.

"We need to look at issues of parenting, aspiration, issues of prospects for people, but there can never be any excuse for the things we have seen."

Echoes of Bush's Katrina moment for PM

For days after Hurricane Katrina six years ago, normal civil order vanished from a drowning New Orleans with looting on the streets and chaos in its hospitals. Even its football arena, the Superdome, transformed into a squalid shelter for desperate residents. And what did George Bush do? He flew over in Air Force One. Few episodes in his two terms as president damaged Bush more than his faltering response to the crisis in the Crescent City, which seemed to be epitomised by published images of him peering down on the mayhem from the comfort of the plane and then flying home to Washington without even touching down in Louisiana.

"Huge mistake," he said of the snap last year. "It's always my fault. I was the one who should have said, 'A, don't take my picture; B, let's land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; C, let's don't even come close to the area. Let's – the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command centre.'"