Politicians condemn Tottenham riots

David Cameron among those to denounce violence in north London, while local MP calls riots an attack on ordinary people

Westminster was largely united on Sunday as all three main parties condemned those who took part in the rioting and looting in Tottenham, north London.

Although the images of arson and violence were reminiscent of some of the worst urban disorder of the 1980s, Labour's parliamentary team made no attempt, as they did in the Thatcher years, to apportion some blame to the government.

After David Cameron spoke to Theresa May, the home secretary, and Tim Godwin, acting commissioner of the Metropolitan police, about the riot from his holiday villa in Italy, Downing Street issued a statement saying: "There is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property." May echoed the words from No 10, saying: "Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated."

She also paid tribute to the police officers who "put themselves in harm's way" to control the situation.

Labour's official response was delivered by Shabana Mahmood, a shadow Home Office minister and MP for Birmingham Ladywood. "This was appalling and unacceptable violence which put people's lives and safety at risk, and must not be tolerated," she said. "An independent investigation into the shooting of Mark Duggan had already begun last week. Unfortunately a small minority of people bent on violence responded in an unacceptable way."

But Ken Livingstone, Labour's mayoral candidate, struck a different note, suggesting that the government did bear some responsibility for what had happened. There was a "growing social dislocation in London", he said in a post on the website LabourList. "The economic stagnation and cuts being imposed by the Tory government inevitably create social division."

While stressing that there was "no justification" for violence, Livingstone also said it was "pure hypocrisy" for Tories to urge people to support the police when the government was actually cutting police numbers.

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, said: "I'm appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham. The events leading to these disturbances are rightly being investigated by the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission]. Harming people and property will do nothing to facilitate the investigation – it will only make the situation worse."

Kit Malthouse, Johnson's deputy, insisted the riot was not symptomatic of widespread breakdown in relations between police and the community.

"The mayor and I have been having conversations with people," he said. "One message people are saying again and again [is that] relations have significantly improved between the people and the police."

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the events were "an attack on Tottenham, on people, ordinary people, shopkeepers, women, children, who are now standing on the streets homeless as a consequence".

The MP insisted the situation was nothing like the one that prevailed at the time of the Broadwater Farm riot in Tottenham in 1985. Relations between the community and the police were now very different, he said.

But Lammy did suggest that the police could have handled the situation in Tottenham better. "There are questions about the nature of the escalation of this violence last night, and the nature of the policing that led up to it," he said. "I am concerned that what was a peaceful protest turned into this."

Jenny Jones, the Green party's candidate for London mayor and a member of the Metropolitan police authority, backed Livingstone in suggesting a link between the riot and spending cuts.

"The government must take some of the blame for what went wrong last night. Cuts in local services, especially youth services, played a role in fomenting tensions," she said.


Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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