UK riots: The views of MPs

In his Conference speech earlier this week, David Cameron spoke about the public’s lack of surprise surrounding the riots this summer – the need for speedy justice, for greater police powers and a stronger society, in which parents take responsibility for their children.

 
These are certainly messages that resonate in Westminster, and not just among the Conservative Parliamentary Party, but among MPs across the House. In a ComRes poll of more than 150 MPs this September, many Members attributed the August riots to ‘a lack of a sense of responsibility for one’s actions’, and a disregard for both ‘authority’ and ‘the consequences of criminality’. However, ahead of all of these factors is ‘greed and opportunism’, with fully six in ten MPs selecting this as one of the most significant explanations for the civil disorder. This is particularly true of Members of David Cameron’s own party, with 71% attributing the riots to greed and opportunism, compared to 54% of Labour and 46% of Liberal Democrat MPs. 

Greed and opportunism 61%
Lack of a sense of responsibility for one's actions 48%
Disregard for authority 39%
Disregard for the consequences of criminality 39%
Poor parenting 27%

 1.1: Top five most significant factors in explaining the English riots

Base: All MPs (151) in September 2011

With much media coverage of 24-hour courts ‘processing’ alleged rioters in the weeks following the disturbances, there is no doubt of the emphasis on ‘speedy’ justice. However, on sentencing, the Coalition is split down the middle. While almost all Conservative MPs believe that the punishments given to those convicted of offences relating to the riots are either ‘fairly’ or ‘perfectly proportionate’ (96%), just two in five Liberal Democrat MPs share that view (39%). Interestingly, Members with London constituencies are more likely to feel satisfied with the rioters’ punishments (94%), compared with those representing the North (64%) and the Midlands (75%).

However, in the aftermath of the riots, MPs tend to view the summer’s events as having been more damaging to the reputation of the Metropolitan Police than of the Prime Minister. Some two thirds of MPs (64%) disagree that the failings of the police during the riots were more down to a lack of political leadership outside the force, rather than a lack of operational leadership from within. This is in harsh contrast to the view of the majority of the British public that Cameron failed to provide the necessary political leadership to take control of the riots in London early enough (54% said this in a ComRes poll for the Independent in August 2011). Labour MPs are alone in mounting this criticism of the Prime Minister in any great number: 53% agree with the statement.

In further bad news for law enforcement agencies, four in ten MPs believe that the English riots undermined their constituents’ confidence in the police (40%). This, added to the phone hacking scandal, which 45% of Members say undermined their constituents’ confidence in the police, provides a significant challenge for the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner and indeed for forces across the country.

With most MPs - and the public - concerned about the risk of further civil disorder on the same scale as the riots, policing, sentencing and a ‘stronger’ Big Society all look destined to stay at the heart of government policy in this Parliament.

  Agree Disagree
Recent events have shown that the culture in the Metropolitan Police is insufficiently robust in weeding out corruption 58% 33%
The failings of the police during the riots were more down to a lack of political leadership outside the force rather than a lack of operational leadership from within 31% 64%
There is a significant risk of further public disruption, on the same scale as those seen last month, occurring over the course of this Parliament 55% 36%
The phone-hacking scandal undermined my constituents’ confidence in the police 45% 48%
The riots in London and in other cities in England undermined my constituents’ confidence in the police 40% 52%

1.2: Agreement with statements (agree strongly + agree)

Base: All MPs (151) in September 2011

Methodology: ComRes surveyed 151 MPs on the ComRes MPs Panel between 1st and 23rd September 2011 by online and paper self-completion questionnaire. Data was weighted to be representative of the House. ComRes also surveyed 2008 GB adults online between 10th and 11th August 2011. Data was weighted to be demographically representative. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
 

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