Weak on crime, weak on the causes of crime
There is no problem. Go back to bed, Britain. We have enough police, and we’re freeing them from paperwork! They’ll be out on the streets in no time. That’s if we haven’t taken an axe to their jobs.
So goes the new rhetoric on police cuts. Strange though it may seem, the Conservative Party are now losing their all-important mantle as the party of law and order. And if they are no longer the party of law and order, it really does beg the question, what are they for?
Of course, I can already hear the screams of ‘it’s the deficit!’ and ‘this is the mess Labour left us in!’ It seems that every policy announcement and every cut made by the Tory-led government begins with a sentence starting ‘difficult decisions’.
This week Theresa May visited the Police Federation conference in Bournemouth and made a speech to 1,200 police officers, trying to defend the government’s 20% cuts to the police budget. There is a fine line between bravery and madness, but I commend Mrs May. It takes a lot to face down a room of 1,200 angry coppers. I guess that now she knows how the students feel.
But this is a crisis of the government’s own making and it has shown a complete lack of foresight and concern for consequences. The decision to cut the police budget by 20% has far-reaching implications. Latest statistics have shown that at least 5,000 police officers have been taken off emergency duty in the last year. This figure looks set to rise.
Paul Mckeever, head of the Police Federation, made a 40-minute speech at the conference with the Home Secretary sat listening close by. In it he said “This is a bad deal for police officers, it’s a bad deal for the service and most of all it’s a bad deal for the British public.” If his views are strong, the views of ordinary police officers were indignant. ‘20% cuts are criminal’ read the banner, a banner that would have been behind the Home Secretary during her speech had it not been for some last minute stage dressing.
The whole line of argument from this government is based on crass assumption. The lack of evidence in their policy making betrays a fundamental flaw in their political ideology. There is a basic rejection that anything other than the flawed moral character of an individual can be responsible for crime. Again and again it is drilled into us- it is their fault, society has no responsibility.
This is a perverse ideology and it stems from a whole host of new right ideologies and theories that spawned from America and to a lesser extent, Britain, in the 1980s. Society has no responsibility, and taken to its logical conclusion, there is no such thing as society at all.
The Prime Minister who made this last saying famous at least had a slightly more nuanced approach to shrinking the welfare state. She understood that the cuts she was embarking on were going to wreak havoc and shake the social foundations of Britain to the very core. She knew that there would be a number of years of trouble, violence and turmoil. And so, when the cuts were to be made, she left the police alone.
Yet this government lacks the political nouse to push through these cuts. The causal links between poverty and crime are so staggeringly obvious to the majority of people, but instead this government wants to bury its head in the sand. We saw this with last summer’s riots. David Cameron proclaiming ‘this is criminality, pure and simple’. Subsequent reports have shown the strong role played by poverty in rioting in inner city areas.
Morevoer, this government seem to have completely rejected any idea of being tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime. Tony Blair made this a key plank of his policy on crime and policing and it worked. It is what people want. They want help to tackle the root causes of crime such as poverty and poor education, but they also want to have a police force that is there to protect them, and can effectively do so. This government is providing neither.
If these problems continue, with the possibility of summer rioting in inner-city areas becoming a mainstay of the British social calendar, then we have a serious problem on our hands. With a police force cut back to the bone, with a strong privatisation agenda sneaking in, these problems have a potential to spiral quickly out of control. The police service is essential to any country and having a force which is well-staffed, well-paid and generally happy about their conditions of employment is of paramount importance.
Labour should have no angst about taking up this issue and making sure that the government knows that it is making a grave mistake. The police service are after all a public service, and the employees public sector workers. This is part of a whole narrative that seeks to demonise public sector workers as a drain on our economy. Labour has nothing to fear in taking up the cause of police cuts any more than it does cuts in other parts of the public sector.
The Conservative Party could soon be losing its crown as the party of law and order. As the cuts really start to bite in subsequent years, the police service will become all the more important. To purposefully antagonise the police force is a dangerous game for the Conservatives, and they may well soon find that if you do play with fire, you will get burnt.