Cameron denounces UK rioters as 'immoral.' But he's under fire, too.

A week after a murder sparked riots and looting in London and beyond, Prime Minister David Cameron addressed Parliament for nearly three hours today. Here's how Britain responded.

By , Staff writer

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    Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (c.), flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (l.) and Finance Minister George Osborne, speaks during an emergency session of parliament in central London in this still image from a video Aug. 11. Cameron, grappling with what could prove a defining crisis of his premiership, told parliament on Thursday rioters behind Britain's worst violence in decades would be tracked down and punished.
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British Prime Minister David Cameron cut parliament's vacation short to discuss the riots that have rocked London and other English cities in the past week.

He spoke and fielded questions for close to three hours. Guardian columnist Julian Glover called it "a parliamentary form of kettling: keep the trouble makers in one place and keep them talking." ("Kettling" is a tactic used by the British police to diffuse angry crowds. Officers surround the crowd, allowing people out gradually.)

According to Telegraph political correspondent James Kirkup, Cameron "cast this week's events as a 'deep moral failure': the people responsible have done bad things and should be punished, he said. Not only have the rioters been immoral, he said, in many cases so have their parents… The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken." He promised "a more moral Britain, a country where people behave better."

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Here's Cameron in his own words:

We need to show the world, which has looked on, frankly, appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country – nor of our young people.

We need to show them that we will address our broken society, we will restore a... stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.

Lawmaker responses hinted at a stark divide between two prevailing opinions on the cause of the riots, Mr. Glover writes. According to Cameron and many others, a lack of responsibility is to blame. "Young people smashing windows and stealing televisions is not about inequality," Cameron said. "When you have a deep moral failure you don't hit it with a wall of money."

On the other side was Labour leader Ed Miliband and many other Labour politicians, who argue that there is a link between "inequality and social order" and that the riots are a result of a deep disparity between Britain's upper and lower classes.

The past week could have been "disastrous" for Cameron, but he managed parliament well today, Glover writes. But those on both sides of the political spectrum need to tread carefully, he says.

Stray too far into condemning what he called "phoney human rights concerns" and Cameron will damage his claim to be a different kind of Tory. Harp on about the possible victimhood of criminals, and Miliband would lose voters to the right. That is why both converged today on the word responsibility. Now they need to define it.

However, there are others who thought that Cameron's speech was "below par," like John Harris, another Guardian columnist.

But think about it, and you may agree that [Cameron] has not played the most brilliant of games. He may have been to Croydon, but (as) today's invitation to visit Tottenham from David Lammy pointed up, he has yet to visit any of the areas of London that have been so ripped apart. As Jack Straw said, he still sounds like he's spouting precooked Treasury lines about police cuts, taking refuge in specious claims about "visible policing" (expect at least a modest U-turn on this). And as his statement proved, he sounds rather wooden and hemmed in: a man dutifully reading a script, as opposed to speaking to and for the country.

But today, presumably thanks to being plucked from his holiday and thrown into a whirl of Cobra meetings and visits to the Midlands, he was below par. "Absolutely no excuse… we will not put up with this in our country… more robust and effective policing… more discipline…" These are mostly things than any mainstream politician has to say right now, but they sounded Dalek-esque.

Mr. Harris thought that Mr. Miliband, while hitting the right notes, had to be careful about taking it too far. "He is in a delicate position, trying to point out that the riots say something about such themes as the 'take what you can' aspects of modern Britain and the dearth of 'hope and aspiration' in too many parts of the country, without succumbing to the leftie behavioural tic whereby everything is traceable to either Margaret Thatcher or the cuts (or both)," he wrote.

Cameron's talk of responsibility is a reiteration of an old theme from his days in the opposition party that has faded into the background since he took power, Mr. Kirkup writes. His revival of that theme is "ambitious" and sets him up for a momentous triumph – or flop.

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