31st July 2021
Dogged by controversy – Patel watches on as Johnson blusters
Having failed to convince even his own cheerleaders in the right wing press with his big set piece ‘levelling up’ speech, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this week fell back on a tried and trusted Tory reliable; law and order.
Flagging in the opinion polls, the vaccination bounce having deflated and ‘Freedom Day’ having flopped, amongst a myriad of caveats, Johnson was desperate to be seen to be setting the agenda. Flanked by his Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who had one eye on the media and the other on Johnson’s job, a package of measures amounting to little more than window dressing to placate the Tory faithful was revealed.
Johnson unveiled his plans to relax stop and search powers, allegedly in order to tackle knife crime; increase electronic tagging for released thieves; and make offenders clean the streets in hi-viz, so that they could be seen to suffer.
Writing in the Daily Mail this week Patel asserted that,
“Our Beating Crime Plan contains a range of measures to reduce crime and level up the country so that everyone has the security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home.
From day one as Home Secretary, I’ve made it clear that I will back the police. We have already recruited nearly 9,000 extra police officers as part of our unprecedented recruitment drive to bring in 20,000.”
With a passing nod to the ‘levelling up’ mantra, Patel then fails to acknowledge that the only reason the Tories have committed to recruiting 20,000 police officers is that this is the precise number cut due to Tory austerity measures since 2010. Having restored 9,000 is hardly a great achievement.
Patel demonstrates further sleight of hand by failing to recognise the fact that the same austerity agenda is the very reason that for many “having a safe street and a safe home”, or even any home at all, may be little more than a pipe dream. Best estimates suggest that for the last five years core homelessness has been rising year on year in England, reaching a peak just before the pandemic when the numbers of homeless households jumped from 207,600 in 2018 to over 219,000 at the end of 2019.
Those who are not actually homeless often live with housing uncertainty in the private rented sector. Others struggle to maintain a foothold in Council housing as the Tory Right to Buy policy continues to be a constraint on the ability of local authorities to retain quality housing in the public sector.
Security of health, housing, employment and the opportunities provided by education, are undoubtedly key factors in tackling the desperation, poverty and hopelessness which can be the breeding ground for criminals to exploit working class communities. That these social gains have been systematically undermined by Tory policy since the 1980’s and exacerbated by the past ten years of austerity is not a reality recognised by Johnson or Patel.
There was some recognition of this by Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy, who was critical of the government’s proposals stating,
“Delays in the courts are at a record high, while convictions for the most serious crimes including rape are at a record low. The government’s tinkering proposals do little to reverse the effects of the closure of 295 courts in England and Wales, or to deal with the massive cuts to drug treatment services, the police, the CPS and the whole justice system his government has made since 2010.”
Even police chiefs, usually bastions of support for Tory law and order measures have variously described the proposals as “weird…and a bit gimmicky”, that the proposals do “not address the big issues” and that “Its like there has been an explosion in a strategy factory.” Hardly ringing endorsements.
Patel had not endeared herself to the Police Federation a week earlier by announcing a pay freeze which the 130,000 strong federation saw as evidence that the government “could not be trusted” and warned “warm words are no longer enough”. The federation went on to support a vote of no confidence in the Home Secretary.
The realities ignored by Johnson and Patel include a 73% reduction in services for young people across England and Wales since 2010-11, with reductions in budgets for youth provision of up to 85% in some areas of greatest need such as Haringey in London.
The same areas are those where police stop and search powers are disproportionately used to target black working class youths. The monitoring organisation Stop Watch estimates that police stopped and searched 115 out of every 1,000 black people compared to 17 per 1,000 white people. That was in 2010-11 making black people 6.7 times more likely to be searched than whites. By 2019-20 black people were 8.9 time more likely to be searched.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that policing in capitalist Britain is institutionally racist, that government policy encourages this tendency and that policy on crime is only seen by the Tories as a means of containing the legitimate frustrations of working class communities.
The so called Beating Crime plan provides no comfort for those victims of ruling class crimes of negligence, under investment, cronyism or tax evasion. It is no more likely to ‘level up’ the chances of working class communities than the Tory handling of the pandemic, which has seen working class lives lost in their thousands due to government ineptitude.
In practical terms the government’s new initiatives, like it’s so called ‘levelling up’ agenda, have no value but even fail as a PR exercise to get their own side on board. It is simply more hollow rhetoric. Recovery from the pandemic must include recovery from the illusion that the Tories will ever act in the interests of the working class. That is a message which needs to be hit home hard by the Labour leadership linked to policies which will give Labour’s working class base hope for real change.