Today the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that UK crime has risen by 10% in the last twelve months, with violent crime up by 18% over the same period. This is an astonishing increase and it cannot be written off as a fluke. It clearly points to a failure by government to keep British citizens safe.
This is all the more damning when one considers that the Tories are typically regarded as the party that is toughest on crime, while the current prime minister spent the six years prior to her coronation running the Home Office. Of course, we should hardly be surprised that Theresa May is overseeing failure in this regard – she’s a specialist in failure, after all.
This failure presents a political opportunity for Labour. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on London Bridge last month, Jeremy Corbyn showed that he could easily outflank our hapless prime minister on the issue of security. In a very effective speech on the 4th June, Corbyn condemned May’s record and told her: “You can’t protect the public on the cheap.”
One of the great strengths of the last Labour government was that it had a no-nonsense approach to crime. The Guardian hated New Labour for this, which is exactly what a governing party should expect if it’s dealing with the issue well. Keeping the streets safe is one of the easiest routes to winning the trust of the British people. In fact, it’s the only route.
Partly Labour’s response must be about messaging. We saw how powerful a tough line on security could be when Corbyn adopted one during the general election. It reassures people. It shows the voters that Labour is a party that is serious about actually governing, rather than merely shouting from the sidelines, and perhaps even encouraging anti-police sentiment.
But it is also about policy. There’s a simple strategy available here. The British public are starting to turn in their droves against austerity. This was always bound to happen eventually, the the election result and the fury expressed by people after the Grenfell Tower fire revealed that the British people are beginning to tire of the Tories’ callous disregard for the nation’s social fabric.
There is a coalescence between a hard line on crime and the need for properly-funded public services, and this plays right into Labour’s hands, if we’re willing to take the opportunity. It is rare that the Tories fail on the issue of crime, in fairness. That they have shows that this is a Tory government which is rapidly taking leave of its senses.
I hope that Jeremy Corbyn takes the opportunity to hammer the government over this. It is an open goal and, more than this, the public deserve better. The assumption has always been that, if the Tories are heartless misanthropes, they will at least be uncompromising in keeping crime rates low. They have failed on this score, and it is up to Labour to ruthlessly expose them for it.