David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed yesterday over whether the behaviour of politicians and bankers may have played a part in provoking this month's riots.
Downing Street played down the findings of an academic research project suggesting that lack of trust in politicians was a bigger factor in people's willingness to riot than other explanations such as lax moral values or poverty and the Government's spending cuts.
But Mr Miliband and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear that they were open-minded about whether alienation from the political class may have played a role.
Mr Cameron, who regards the riots as a symbol of Britain's "broken society", yesterday began chairing a cabinet review of the Government's social policies to see what changes were needed as a result of the riots. It will include state benefits, schools, parenting, family policy and whether health and safety and human rights laws prevent "common sense solutions" to social problems. Commenting on the research by Essex University and Royal Holloway, University of London, Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "One can speculate but we are not necessarily going to know exactly what the causes were. We have to have a very strong response in the wake of the public disorder." The broader impact would be considered during the review.
The Liberal Democrats said the perception that politicians, bankers and others at the top were "getting away with it" may have been a factor in the refusal of rioters to ignore the "rules of the game" too. Mr Clegg is believed to be sympathetic to the academics' warning that depriving rioters of their state benefits could backfire, alienating them further.
Labour sources said the academics' findings, revealed in The Independent yesterday, should be considered by the panel being set up by the Government to look into the reasons behind the riots. Yesterday the Labour leader rejected Mr Cameron's claim that the riots were caused by a breakdown in values. "There are issues of values but you've also got to address the issue of the values at the top of society, because the top of society sets an example for the rest and it hasn't been setting a good example in the last few years," Mr Miliband said during a visit to Lewisham.
Mr Miliband promised to force a Commons vote on the cuts in police numbers. Nick Herbert, the Policing Minister, accused Labour of "hypocrisy", saying the previous government proposed to cut £1bn a year from the police budget.
Met pressuring media to hand over riots footage
Newspapers and broadcasters face growing pressure from the Metropolitan Police to hand over all footage and pictures relating to the London riots.
Scotland Yard has threatened organisations with a court order forcing them to pass on material that may show "crime in action" if they refuse to comply. Media groups have rejected the demands, maintaining that the press is an impartial recorder of events rather than an evidence-gathering mechanism for the police. The police would have to convince a High Court judge that the police request outweighs the public interest of having a free press.
Other forces, including Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, began approaching local and national media a fortnight ago. The demands come after David Cameron urged the media to act "responsibly" and hand over material which would help track down rioters and looters.