At this week’s Conservative Party Conference, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the police will receive £10 million to arm officers with tasers as she vowed to crack down on country lines drug gangs. She also revealed that there will be longer jail terms for murderers and rapists as she attempts to ensure that the Tories are once again the party that is ‘tough on crime.’ Patel’s speech marks a dramatic shift in Conservative rhetoric on crime. She has declared that soft-touch policing has ended and she will pursue a nationwide fight against criminals.
This is in stark contrast to David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ approach of the mid-2000s. He wanted to shift the Conservatives’ attitude on crime towards one of understanding. He often criticised short-term solutions to issues like anti-social behavioural orders and curfews, and aimed to tackle the social causes that lead people to commit crime, like broken families.
When Theresa May was Home Secretary, she presided over cutting police numbers as she slashed the police budget by 18 per cent in 2010. According to The Guardian, the number of police officers in England and Wales fell from 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016. Also, the number of specialist armed police officers has fallen from a peak of 6,796 in 2010 to 5,639 in 2016.
In 2018, the National Audit Office told the BBC that the Home Office was unaware of the ‘financially unsustainable’ effects austerity was having on their ability to fight crime. Although police numbers rose in September 2017 to 126,252 officers, the Home Secretary’s announcement that they are due to receive £10 million will no doubt be welcome news. Whilst May was focused on ensuring police numbers were financially sustainable, Patel promises ‘genuine leadership’ to tackle crime itself. Furthermore, she is promising to recruit 20,000 new officers, something which the College of Policing welcomed.
With the possibility of a general election looming, there is a niche for a law and order party. Patel stated that Margaret Thatcher believed ‘if you make the British people your compass, your direction would always be true.’ This proves she is repossessing traditional electoral territory for the Tories. The Office of National Statistics estimate that whilst there has been no significant change in the last year, theft showed a 13 per cent increase compared with the year ending March 2017. In the latest year, their data reveals that there was a 2 per cent increase in vehicle offences, which includes an 8 per cent increase in the subcategory of theft or unauthorised taking of motor vehicles. It also suggested there has been an 11 per cent increase in robbery. However, the welcome news is that there has been a 3 per cent decrease in burglaries, following rises seen in the previous two years.
The Labour Party are failing to offer an alternative approach to the Tories on law and order. During the 1990s, Tony Blair stated that New Labour will be ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.’ But the New Statesman argues that because the poorest are often most likely to be victims of crime, they need to adopt a tougher stance on the issue. They reported on an Edinburgh University study which confirmed that high levels of crime are linked to key indicators of deprivation. Half of the communities with the highest crime rates are found in the top 20 per cent of areas with the highest levels of chronic health problems. The left are completely missing a trick when it comes to law and order.
Therefore, as long as Patel remains Home Secretary, she will ensure the Conservative Party is the party that will combat crime. The question is: how will Labour respond to her spending increases and her policy approach?