England riots: Boris distances himself from government

By Ian Dunt

Boris Johnson has distanced himself from the government over the riots hitting England with a call for police numbers to be maintained.

In a move which will intrigue those who believe he is positioning himself for a run at the Conservative leadership, the London mayor told the Today programme that the riots had shown that police cannot suffer cuts to their numbers.

"If you ask me whether I think there is a case for cutting police budgets in the light of these events then my answer would be no," he said.

"I think that case has always been pretty frail and it's been substantially weakened.

"If you look at what's happening in Birmingham and Manchester and elsewhere – very troubling scenes.

"This is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers."

The Home Office quickly rejected the mayor's claims, saying: "The reductions in the police budget from the spending review period are manageable.

"The police will still have enough officers to deploy in the numbers seen in the last couple of days."

And prime minister David Cameron offered his own rebuttal as he gave a statement to journalists in Downing Street this morning.

"Mayors always want more money," he said.

"It's the government's job to give them what they need, and for them to make the most of what they get."

Police have been campaigning against cuts to their numbers as well as changes to their pay and conditions as part of the deficit reduction programme. Home secretary Theresa May has had a particularly torrid time at the hands of police unions.

The London mayor, who returned home from his holiday to booing and heckling from Londoners yesterday, also claimed that the violence was a consequence of a reduced respect for authority.

Some commentators have suggested that police are no longer confident enough to deal with widespread disorder after the row that followed the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests.

The police have very "heavy restrictions that surround their conduct", the mayor said.

"Here in London you had people behaving with a complete lack of restraint and a complete lack of respect for the police. It was chilling," he continued.

"The lesson is that over 20, 30 years we've got into a situation where we have allowed people an endless sense of entitlement. Give adults and give teachers back the right to impose authority.

"We need to give the police the courage of their convictions and get on and do what they signed up to do."

Mr Johnson has had a difficult time trying to appear on top of events since the outbreak of disorder started. His decision to return from holiday came too late for many Londoners who accusing him of relaxing while the capital burned.

His initial response, in which he repeatedly mistook the name of Mark Duggan, whose death triggered the riot in Tottenham on Saturday night, was also widely criticised.