..and on the morning after the third day of the London riots, the British Prime Minister finally spoke to the nation. This should have been the moment to say the right words, healing words, reassuring words to a country shocked by the apparent discent into lawlessness.
It is at times like these that our leaders have a special job to do.
Winston Churchill, during the Second World War, knew the importance of the right speech at the right time. As did General De Gaulle when Paris saw scenes of similar disquiet in the late 1960s, and even the much maligned Tony Blair, after the death of Princess Diana, had a nation-uniting knack of saying the perfect phrase to quieten troubled minds.
OK, David Cameron says he came back to chair the emergency meeting of COBRA where it was decided, three days late, that London would be flooded with extra policemen whilst the rioting ran riot in other parts of the country. OK, they discussed how the perpetrators of these riots would be arrested and punished. OK, they debated how to reinforce law and order on the streets of Britain and if they should recall Parliament. Obviously, if as people are saying, the rioters were using social networking sites to communicate, they were doing a better job than the Prime Minister who should have been having these conversations from his holiday home in Tuscany.
It would have been difficult, I suspect, to hold that meeting whilst the riots were at their height because the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London were all away on holiday.
Whilst London burned, David Cameron dithered in Tuscany and only when most of the damage had been done, three days after it had started, did he finally decide to fly back to his Monday morning emergency meeting.
Before he went on holiday his office said that it was not a problem him being away from London because he was being kept in regular contact with events. Why then did he not make a statemanly statement from Italy when the trouble first broke out? Why did he not make a statement before leaving for London? Why did he not have anything better to say yesterday than to merely trot out the much repeated phrase about “criminality” and bringing the law breakers to justice. He ended his brief statement with an apology that he had to go because there was a lot of work to do. He looked like a man confused; like a man who doesn’t know what to say.
The job he failed to do was to fulfill his role as the nation’s leader by saying healing and inspiring words to a country in shock.