Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Is Cameron feeling vulnerable on crime?

24/02/2012, 02:44:15 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The lead story (£) in today’s Times tells us that David Cameron is feeling stung by the accusation that his government lacks a coherent policy on crime and law and order. This accusation will be familiar to Labour Uncut readers, for example this piece last year, and more recently after the latest set of crime figures here.

Cameron’s response, we are told, is a new policy of “virtual prison” for offenders on community sentences, tagged and placed under curfew for up to 16 hours a day. But while “virtual prison” is an evocative new label, the policy itself is not new: it was announced in August.

On the inside pages, the Times home affairs expert Richard Ford does a better job of putting the story in context, reminding us that this is “yet another attempt, by yet another government”, to strengthen public confidence in alternatives to prison (similar attempts by the Brown government, for example, can be seen here and here).

The other element in today’s story is No 10’s apparent unhappiness with the Ministry of Justice, and speculation that it may be broken up – based on an article earlier in the week by the Times’ Rachel Sylvester, picked up today by ConservativeHome. Contrary to Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman, I think this is very unlikely – though we agree that “there are few less futile Whitehall activities than merging and unmerging Departments” (as I argued in relation to the plan announced earlier this week, to split up the UK Border Agency).

Structural reforms won’t do anything to help Cameron’s fundamental problem on crime and law and order, which is a lack of ideas. This was disguised temporarily by his ability to strike the right tone over the riots (as far as the majority of the public was concerned), after an initially sluggish response.


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Labour can punish the government’s complacency on crime

19/01/2012, 01:24:23 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The latest quarterly crime figures were published today. They include figures for recorded crime, and for the British Crime Survey (BCS), covering the 12 months to September 2011.

Recorded crime showed an overall fall, and a fall in most crime types – apart from robbery and theft, which rose by 4%. Robbery with a knife rose by 10%.

However, it is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which gives a more accurate picture of crime levels and trends, because it includes crimes not reported to the police, and has used the same methodology for thirty years. (The UK Statistics Authority impressed this point on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted it.) Today’s BCS figures estimate that overall crime rose by 4%, but this is not found to be statistically significant. The figures also show increases in all BCS categories, except vandalism and bicycle theft – but again, these are not found to be statistically significant.

The most important BCS finding, and the most important in today’s figures as a whole, is for the sub-set of “personal crime” – which includes violence, robbery and theft, and other “personal acquisitive crime”. This rose by 11% – a finding which is statistically significant.

Another notable point is the continuing trend of increasing public confidence that “the police and local council are dealing with the anti-social behaviour and crime issues that matter in the local area”. The trend in public confidence was rising for several years before the election, on the back of Neighbourhood Policing and other initiatives, and confidence is now at 57%. This directly refutes ministers’ repeated assertion that confidence in the police is falling – an assertion which has formed a large part of their justification for introducing elected Policing and Crime Commissioners.

Today’s statistics also include more detail on last summer’s riots, and on knife crime. They confirm that despite the high visibility of the riots, there is little effect on overall crime levels. Even in the areas concerned, looking only at the month of August, the share of total recorded crimes was relatively small: highest in Croydon and Haringey, at 14% of total crime, and between 5% and 10% in other affected areas. This equates to 1.5% of total crime in England and Wales in August, or around one tenth of one per cent of crime for the year. (more…)

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By all means let’s be tough on crime, but let’s also be principled

04/11/2011, 01:00:40 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

During my years working on prisons policy, I used to think that if the government was being attacked at the same time from left and right, that wasn’t a bad place to be (at least if we were being attacked from the right for being too soft, and the left for being too hard, rather than from both for being incompetent). When I see the new government finding itself increasingly in this predicament – attacked from the right wing media, former home secretary Michael Howard and Conservative backbenchers for being too soft, and from the Guardian and the left for being too hard – I am instinctively inclined to sympathy.

Where does Labour stand? When the sentencing bill was first published in June, Labour was very critical – and justifiably so. This was the Cameron government at its worst: the familiar pattern of early nonchalance, followed by last-minute panic, with a hasty, botched result. Not for the first time the mess was covered up by a bravura performance from David Cameron, good enough to fool the media on the day, but merely delaying the unravelling – as some of us predicted at the time.

In contrast to this, last week’s final changes to the sentencing bill looked like government, if not at its best, then certainly in decent working order. A substantial disagreement between two ministers, May and Clarke, each with a legitimate stake in the policy, was carefully brokered by Downing Street into a coherent and balanced package. Media coverage predictably focused on the Cabinet “split” and the “humiliation” of Clarke, who was seen as the loser – gleefully by the right wing media, sorrowfully by the left. In fact, this was a genuine compromise. Clarke lost some battles, but won others, more than his disillusioned liberal friends gave him credit for. He successfully defended the distinction between adult and youth sentencing for knife crime, even if at a lower cut-off age, and insisted that new mandatory life sentences for second convictions for the most serious violent and sexual offences – the so-called “two strikes and you’re out” sentences – would be very tightly defined. The main reason Clarke was seen as the loser was because he was so unguarded about his bargaining position; in other words, because he showed the kind of honesty the media say they want from politicians, but tend to punish when they get it.


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The government’s complacency about rising crime will hurt them in the end

22/10/2011, 04:00:55 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The government must have been grateful for the news of Gaddafi’s death this week, not just for the symbolic ‘closure’ of the Libya campaign, but also for distracting the media pack from a troubling set of quarterly crime figures, and from their own clumsy response to them.

When the previous set of quarterly figures came out, ministers tried to spin them as a ‘vindication of their reforms’, despite those reforms having hardly started – and despite the figures themselves being mixed at best. This time, ministers are trying to spin the figures as mixed, when in fact the bad news clearly outweighs the good.

The figures cover the year ending in June – so not including the riots – and show overall recorded crime down, though there were rises in recorded instances of serious sexual crimes, in some categories of theft, and in knife crime (though provisional figures for knife homicides are stable, at just over 200 per year). But – as the UK Statistics Authority impressed on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted – a far better guide to crime trends is provided by the British Crime Survey, which has used the same methodology for thirty years. The latest BCS results, published at the same time, estimate a 10% rise in burglary, a 7% rise in household acquisitive crime, a 7% rise in theft from the person, a 3% rise in robbery, and a 3% rise in violent crime. They also estimate an overall rise in crime of 2%, with the proviso that this overall rise, along with the apparent rises in several of the individual categories, is ‘not statistically significant’ – the phrase which a Downing Street spokesperson rather unfortunately seized on in trying to play down the figures.

It remains true, as I wrote after the last quarter’s results, that it is too early to be sure about the nature of the trend. This might be a blip, of the kind we saw in 2008-09 when the recession began, and when Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by predicting a ‘recession crime wave’ – which actually turned out to be a rise of 1%, followed by a resumption of the falling trend. Or it might be a sign that the long downward trend since 1995 is flattening out, to be replaced by annual fluctuations. Or, the bad scenario, this might be the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy, of the kind we saw in the early 1990s. (more…)

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Memo from Croydon to Westminster

12/08/2011, 11:08:21 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Walking down, past Reeves Corner in Croydon on Thursday evening, one thing was crystal clear.

The government doesn’t get it.

Cameron’s proposals in the parliamentary statement didn’t come near addressing the reality of what has happened.

And while Labour did slightly better, particularly on police numbers, the response didn’t give a clear sense of an alternative.

When David Cameron talks of a sick section of society and the need for a moral fightback, he sounds like an opposition politician.

‘Broken Britain’ was a decent routine two years ago, but he’s in power now. Government’s job in this situation is to identify what failed and fix it – not opine impotently on social morality.

Instead, the prime minister’s parliamentary statement gave us some irrelevant commentary, a pointless inquiry on gang culture and a re-heat of existing plans.

There’s nothing new in the police being able to force people to remove facemasks or in social landlords evicting tenants found guilty of looting. Councils across the country are already pushing ahead on this front.

Ed Miliband was cautious in his response. He asked pertinent questions, but didn’t frame a narrative for how Labour would make a difference. The net result is a political vacuum from our leaders.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. All our leaders need do is to listen to their constituents. (more…)

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Rise in burglary illuminates the empty space where Cameron’s crime policy should be

29/06/2011, 08:24:09 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

A couple of weeks ago, the media were briefed to expect David Cameron’s first prime ministerial speech on crime. They are still waiting. Crime remains a top-five issue for voters, but Cameron’s problem is that he doesn’t actually have any big ideas on crime, besides cutting prison places (maybe, or maybe not, it’s not quite clear) and cutting police numbers (definitely), and these aren’t policies to which he particularly wants to draw attention.

He could talk about the development of online crime maps (though don’t expect him to admit that Labour introduced them), and of course elected police and crime commissioners, though he has talked about those quite a lot already. He’s in danger of looking like he believes these mysterious individuals will cut crime all by themselves; and, anyway, there isn’t much new to say about them, other than explaining how he proposes to stop the House of Lords scuppering the idea altogether.

He’s already used up a couple of crowd-pleasing pseudo-policies, on knife crime and “bashing burglars“, to distract the tabloids from the U-turn over Ken Clarke’s jail discounts for guilty pleas. There is nothing more to say about these either, and he might even face awkward questions about whether he was economical with the truth in how he presented them, as I set out here last week. (I pointed out that the “bash a burglar” policy simply restates the existing law, as Clarke confirmed yesterday in the Commons; and that the knife crime policy fell far short of Cameron’s pre-election promise, applying only to a small sub-category, and merely hardening existing sentencing guidance, as angry Tory MPs have started to realise).


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Wednesday News Review

22/06/2011, 06:57:54 AM

Please no return to the bad old days

Several hundred people gathered near interfaces close to the Newtownards Road. There were reports that three shots had been fired and a photographer had been shot in the leg. Michael Copeland, a member of the Ulster Unionist Assembly, said missiles had been hurled between the opposing sides. Police were also attacked with petrol bombs and stones. A major riot on Monday night in which police were shot at by loyalists in Northern Ireland was blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force yesterday, despite the paramilitary group being on ceasefire. Before last night’s violence, political leaders appealed for calm. On Monday, about 500 people were involved in disturbances when there was hand-to-hand fighting and petrol bombs were thrown. Police said there were gun shots from the republican Short Strand area, while loyalists also opened fire. UVF members were blamed for starting the violence by attacking homes in the Roman Catholic enclave. – Daily Telegraph

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have condemned the riots, as well as a separate bomb attack aimed at police in west Belfast. Mr Robinson said: “At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets. We have given clear commitments to continue to deliver progress for all within the community including in those areas most at need. This type of behaviour damages the local economy and unfairly mars the reputation of the community.” Mr McGuinness said: “A small minority of individuals are clearly determined to destabilise our communities. They will not be allowed to drag us back to the past. I call on all those involved to take a step back and to remain calm. I support the efforts of community leaders on all sides who have been working on the ground to restore calm in east Belfast.” The sudden upsurge in violence is being described as the worst the city has seen in years and loyalist community workers blamed simmering tensions at the notorious sectarian interface. – Belfast Telegraph

Cameron’s tough stance in tatters

Mr Cameron’s promise of automatic six-month sentences for anyone using a knife to intimidate or threaten also falls far short of his election pledge to jail anyone caught with a blade. But there was a bigger shock buried in the fine print of the reforms as it emerged that more than 3,000 criminals and suspected offenders will avoid jail each year as part of the Conservative-led coalition’s package. About 1,300 would have been jailed on remand but will now remain at liberty until their case is tried in a bid to save money. Around 250 ex-cons who would currently be put back in jail each year for reoffending or breaking the terms of their release will also be allowed to stay at large. Up to 800 foreign criminals will be freed early or let off with a caution on the condition that they go home, raising fears they could simply slip back into the country. Mr Cameron was desperate to talk tough yesterday after an internal Downing Street poll showed that the sentencing U-turn row has destroyed public faith in the Tories’ ability to tackle crime. – Daily Mirror

Ed’s message to Murdoch

Ed Miliband has told business leaders that Labour wants a “strong relationship” with them but there must be “responsibility” on pay at the top. The Labour leader told the Times CEO Summit in London: “I want to celebrate wealth creation in this country.” But he said there was an “issue about rewards at the top” while people on lower incomes had seen wages stagnate. He also backed his shadow chancellor Ed Balls’s call for a temporary VAT cut to help boost the economy. But he said scrapping the 50p top rate of income tax – paid on earnings over £150,000 – was “not a priority for us”. Mr Miliband addressed an audience including News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executives of Goldman Sachs, Santander and Vodafone, among others. – BBC News

Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for “responsibility” on pay from those at the top of society as he addressed a summit of business leaders in London. Mr Miliband said Labour wanted a “strong relationship” with business and promised there would be “no going back to the penal tax rates of the 1970s” if he won power. But he warned that the credibility of the free enterprise system was under threat if middle and lower-income workers see their living standards stagnate while the richest continue to enjoy ever-increasing wealth. Speaking at The Times CEO Summit to an audience including News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executives of companies such as Goldman Sachs, Santander and Vodafone – as well as Lord Mandelson, who famously said New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” – Mr Miliband warned that there was “an issue about rewards at the top” in Britain. – Daily Mirror

Labour Lords take on Clegg’s plans

Nick Clegg’s plans to create an elected House of Lords suffered a big setback last night when Labour vowed to oppose the shake-up and peers from all parties lined up to attack it. Labour was accused of playing politics as it rejected Liberal Democrat pleas to set aside the differences between the two parties to force through Mr Clegg’s proposal for the first elected peers to be chosen in 2015. The Coalition Government wants the 828-member House replaced by 240 elected members, 60 appointed crossbenchers, 12 bishops and a small number of appointed ministers. But Labour favours a 100 per cent elected second chamber. The Deputy Prime Minister has led the charge for Lords reform. Although David Cameron has backed the change, there are doubts that the Conservatives will devote the energy and Parliamentary time needed to force through Mr Clegg’s Bill before the next general election against strong opposition in both Houses of Parliament. – the Independent

Mandelson shows his support

Ed Miliband needs to show more courage as a leader if he is to unite the Labour party behind him, Peter Mandelson has suggested. Speaking at a meeting of the Labour pressure group Progress, the former first secretary of state warned his party against returning to the infighting which characterised the Labour party during the 1980s. He said: ‘We need to take a few risks; talk more directly to the country; be more innovative and courageous. Our leader is a leader of the country, not of the party’s sections and factions, and it is to the country he needs to be given the space to prove himself.” Lord Mandelson’s support comes despite his backing of David Miliband during the Labour leadership election. –

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Khan is right: prison doesn’t work, but welfare does

07/03/2011, 05:36:49 PM

by David Talbot

In today’s Guardian, Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, signalled a shift in Labour’s approach to criminal justice. New Labour, Khan argues, made a mistake by “playing tough” on crime and allowing the prison population to soar to record levels during its time in government, instead of tackling sky-high reoffending rates. His central argument is that New Labour relied too heavily on hardline rhetoric and the supposition that rising rates of imprisonment were in itself a desirable policy. His welcome, and overdue, foray represents the first attempt by a senior Labour figure to detail the party’s new direction on penal policy.

No doubt part of the reason New Labour trumpeted this tough stance was the fear that rehabilitation and reoffending would be seen as “soft on crime”, which meant that New Labour did not do anywhere near enough to explore approaches which could have been more effective in reducing crime. First, it involves rejecting the idea of a simple equation between a rising prison population and lower crime; and second, looking beyond the criminal justice system is crucial to reducing crime. (more…)

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