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Where have you been, ask shopkeepers as Boris joins clean-up

As he fought to be heard, there were cries of 'How was your holiday?' and 'Why are you here three days late?'

Boris Johnson faced furious heckling from residents clearing up wrecked parts of south London as he returned from holiday to try tosalvage his administration's battered reputation for competence.

Clutching a bright green broom, the Mayor proclaimed the "real spirit of London" during a walkabout in some of the worst affected parts of the capital. But he faced a barrage of angry taunts and questions from people helping the clean-up operation in Clapham. "Why are you here now," shouted one. "It's too late."

Standing next to him, the grim-faced Home Secretary, Theresa May, looked on uncomfortably – before eventually walking off and deserting the Mayor while he was still in mid-flow.

Fighting to be heard above a growing crowd demanding answers, Mr Johnson, back from his holiday in Canada after the first two nights of rioting, said: "I want to say first of all to everybody who owns a shop, to everybody who owns a business here, how very sorry I am for the loss and the damage that you have suffered."

Mr Johnson said he understood that there were questions about the police response, but promised that the perpetrators would be "punished".

"I also want to say to the people who have been involved in instigating these riots, those who've been robbing and stealing, that they will be caught, they will be apprehended, they will face punishments that they will bitterly regret."

Mr Johnson faced chants of "How was your holiday, Boris?" as he tried to condemn the violence. Others shouted "How did you sleep last night" and "Why are you here, three days late". Others wanted to know why there had not been a greater police response. "You talk about a robust police response but what does that actually mean?" asked one man.

Mr Johnson said it would mean a "huge number of police on the streets". But another member of the crowd shot back: "That's what we were told last night."

Mr Johnson's aides will be concerned that less than a year away from his re-election campaign his perceived lax response to the rioting has gone down badly with a key constituency.

At the last election, the Mayor received significant support from the business community and polled well in parts of outer London like Ealing which were badly hit by Monday night's riots. His Labour opponent Ken Livingstone was quick to make political capital out of his difficulties.

"The police have to be confident that the Mayor stands behind them," he said. "When I was in Singapore and we had bombs going off in London I wanted to be back immediately. You can't just be a mayor when you are opening fetes. You have to be there for the city when it's going wrong."

While the Conservative leadership need Mr Johnson to win in May there is increasing irritation in Downing Street over what they perceive to be his self-serving aggrandisement and his use of the Mayor's platform to attack his own party. No one in the Government came to Mr Johnson's defence over his reluctance to cut short his holiday and he was not included in any of the crisis talks between the Home Secretary and Prime Minister on Sunday and Monday.

"It used to be a case of 'Boris is Boris' but we've gone beyond that now," said one senior government source. "Relationships between Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron are at an all-time low."