Letter from Simon Kelner


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The Independent Online

No wonder David Cameron is angry.

There he was, enjoying a nice bowl of linguine al vongole and a glass of vino rosato in a 15-bedroom villa in Tuscany, reminiscing about the times when he used to create mayhem with his host, also an Old Etonian and a former member of Oxford University's notorious Bullingdon Club. "We used to have such a riot," someone might have said. And then, sooner than you can say al dente, he's back in Britain, surveying scenes of devastation on our streets, and having to respond in Prime Ministerly fashion to the genuine riots that blighted our cities last week. For all of us, it takes a little time to switch our brains from holiday to work mode, but if you're the PM, you're not allowed the luxury of easing yourself back into the office, particularly if you're told that half the capital is on fire and the streets are full of gangs of feral youths and anarchists. Of course, it wasn't Cameron's fault that he was on his hols when trouble struck, and he came back as soon as it became clear this was a national emergency. So perhaps we should forgive some of his more knee-jerk authoritarian responses to the disturbances (of which the threat to curb the reach of social media was the most risible) and the fact that he has casually fallen out with the police and the Mayor of London (who must have been miffed not to be invited to the Bullingdon reunion). Cameron was still adjusting from Tuscany time. I fully understand this predicament: I went on my honeymoon on the early morning of 11 September, 2001, which, as a national newspaper editor, was not the most perfect timing. I returned as soon as was practicable, but, to me, the attacks on the twin towers had an almost mythic quality. I hadn't experienced it in real time - I was travelling when the planes struck - and it was difficult immediately to comprehend the true magnitude of these events. Cameron deserves credit for picking up the pace so quickly, but I find it hard to get behind his thesis about Britain's "moral collapse". It plays well with his core constituency, and makes a few headlines, but as Peter Oborne pointed out in a magnificent column (which has gone viral: look it up) there is moral collapse at the top, as much as at the bottom, of society. I doubt that would have been a dinner-table topic in Tuscany.