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The Peckham peace wall

Check out this great zoomable picture of the post-riots Peckham peace wall (click on the image to go straight to the BBC zoomable image portal).

Suit or civvies?

The riots of recent days have been pretty scary for those of us lucky enough to be watching on the TV, or listening to the helicopters overhead and sirens in the distance. But they’ve been downright harrowing for anyone personally caught up in the violence, theft or arson. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods and trust in their fellow Londoners and Britons.

Over the last few days I’ve found myself being angered by various tangentially related themes – the style of some (they shall remain nameless in this post at least) broadcast reporters and anchors, the stupid and thoughtless comments of some politicians, and the repetitive use of the phrase ‘mindless thuggery’ (apparently if you’re asked to comment by any reporter, it’s obligatory to use the phrase ‘mindless thuggery’).

But David Cameron (and Boris Johnson) have peed me off even more. Both of them were away on holiday when the crisis started. Neither of them got back quick enough. Neither of them showed the situation or the affected individuals the respect they deserved. But also, they both missed a major trick (both for helping their own images and for helping to soothe us – the wounded masses).

Appearing in formal (in Boris Johnson’s case, characteristically ill-fitting) suits, they set themselves apart from us. Perhaps Cameron wanted to present a good impression in his high-powered meetings at COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A – it’s a location not a type of meeting – see I’m getting annoyed again already…). Perhaps he wanted to appear professional during his press conference/statements.

But actually, he’d have got an easier ride from us if he’d been in jeans and an open-necked shirt. It would certainly have made me more empathic to the fact that the rioters have bolloxed up his holiday (I assume he works hard the rest of the year – doing what I don’t know – but he surely deserves a holiday). I would have thought – ‘oh, he’s off duty, but he’s made the effort to come to our aid’.

And surely, for heaven’s sake, if he wanted to appear like one of us, have us feel he was really on our side, he would have made the effort to go more au naturel when he was out meeting people on the streets. After all, the firefighters and exhausted policemen weren’t in suits. They were in work clothes (well protective uniforms).

And the countless kind and warm-hearted individuals who turned out to help with the clean up certainly weren’t in suits. Now I’m not saying that Cameron needed to push a broom around, but he could have appealed to our innate sense of belonging and joined the crowd.

Instead he kept himself apart. How can this help to bridge the gap between those that think he’s working for this country and our welfare, success and future, and those that think he’s some high-powered, know-it-all, up-himself politician, sitting in his ivory tower (or Tuscan villa) keeping himself to himself, helping out his cronies, and forgetting about the everyman (or every-youth) out there in the real world.

I’m just saying. Jeans and an open necked shirt would have gone a long way. Well, it would have saved me a rant and a half anyway. And it has been got right by greater men than him in the past.

Photograph: Win McNamee/pool/EPA