After the Midlands riots comes the political fall-out

Rioters at Birmingham shopping mall Image copyright bbc
Image caption Rioters loot a shop in Birmingham following the riots in the city

I suppose it was inevitable that after the riots would come a political version of the blame game.

Police leaders were clearly needled by David Cameron's criticism that they had initially seen the rioting too much as a public order issue and not sufficiently as one of 'pure criminality'.

From chief constable Chris Sims came a pointed reminder that he answered above all to the people of the West Midlands and that it was not his job "slavishly to follow hollow slogans".

Over 500 arrests by his force alone spoke volumes about the robustness of the police response, he told us.

Topsy turvy politics

Am I the only one who sees something curiously topsy turvy about the political fall-out from the horrors of last week?

Backing-up David Cameron's view that the police had been slow to grasp the true nature of the riots, the Cannock Chase MP, Aidan Burley, said it could surely be no coincidence that after three days and nights the police finally scaled-up their response following the political intervention by ministers articulating the public mood.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption After three days and nights the police scaled-up their response to the riots

But the Shadow Home Office Minister and Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood, who witnessed the disorder in the city herself last Monday night, said the Prime Minister would be making a mistake if he was "picking a fight with the police".

Traditionally it was the Conservatives, 'the party of law and order', who were instinctively closer to the police than Labour, whose relationships with them had sometimes appeared clouded in a certain ambiguity.

But it is now the Conservatives, as senior partners in the coalition, who are driving the debate about what they see as this country's last great unreformed public service, obsessed with its own internal processes and insufficiently concerned with the outcomes it delivers to the public.

Riot training

Ministers often point out that only about 12% of police officers are deployed on what they call 'front line duties' at any one time - and urge more to be freed-up from the fabled 'back office'.

(Police officers tell you privately that if you factor in leave and other issues as well as the requirements for in-service training, that 12% figure is not bad at all).

Remember too that only about 20% of police officers are riot-trained.

Those officers were allowed to intervene in the disturbances only when they were equipped with their riot gear and deployed in sufficient numbers with the required level of back-up.

Gradually perhaps we begin to see why it would take three days for the police to scale-up their response, with or without the observations of senior politicians.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption A burnt-out car - the aftermath of the Birmingham riots

So David Cameron is setting a considerable challenge, not just for the police but also, politically, for his own ministers still determined to press ahead with their plans to cut police budgets.

But let's leave the final word with that famous son of Tamworth, Robert Peel, the father of the modern police service.

Protecting everyone's lives and property must, he said, be a team effort by citizenry and constabulary alike:

"The public are the police and the police are the public."