THERESA MAY’S knife-crime summit may involve bringing ministers together with community leaders and victims, but it will solve nothing if the government continues to ignore the evidence mounting up before its eyes.
As former Metropolitan Police chief John Stevens observed today, the PM is not a good listener.
Lord Stevens is concerned that May hasn’t listened to the police. The Police Federation did warn May years back that cutting the number of officers would have consequences. She still claims in the Commons that the link between cutting officers and rising crime is unproven.
Some on the left are uncomfortable with Labour’s call for more bobbies on the beat. Police forces have been discredited by the exposure of their behaviour at Orgreave, at Hillsborough and in the ongoing spycops scandal.
It is absolutely true that more police is not a cure-all for rising violence. But cuts to police numbers are likely connected to rising crime, just as soaring levels of violent and sexual crimes on our trains are linked to the drive to eliminate train guards. A police force without the resources to respond to crimes affects the poor more than the rich.
Last year Metropolitan Police Federation chair Ken Marsh warned that the growth of private policing companies like TM Eye, that provides for-hire officers to patrol wealthy neighbourhoods and launches private prosecutions, would create “two-tier” policing where the rich pay for protection and the majority rely on a resource-starved service. The parallels with Tory attacks on the NHS are obvious.
We may need more police, but we must also look at why the police are so widely mistrusted. Officers being cleared of wrongdoing over the death in custody of Sean Rigg will not have increased trust. Nor does the seamless promotion of officers such as current Met chief Cressida Dick, whose involvement in the operation that saw innocent electrician Jean Charles de Menezes gunned down in cold blood is treated as an irrelevance by too many politicians of right and left, do the police’s reputation any favours.
But as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in Parliament today, the problem goes deeper. The government is ideologically wedded to policies that increase harm.
The traditional party of “law and order” has pursued a disastrous probation privatisation that has seen 225 people killed by supposedly “low-risk” offenders monitored by outsourced agencies in the four years since it was introduced. Its prison cuts have made British jails violent and unpredictable places and make a mockery of any serious attempt to rehabilitate offenders. Its savage attacks on legal aid exacerbate the injustice already inherent in a British legal system that offers the best service to those who can pay the most.
Local government cuts and resulting closures of youth centres, libraries and other facilities impoverish communities. So does the financial insecurity created by precarious work and social security cuts.
School funding cuts, and an academies programme that has severed the links between schools and local authorities causing knock-on shortages of special educational needs support, specialist behaviour support and reduced access to sporting or musical education, cut off opportunities for the young.
The rise in knife crime cannot be separated from the “hostile environment” that Britain has become. Hate crime attacks against the disabled are rising alongside an alarming increase in racist violence. Fed a daily diet of prejudice and aggression in the media and by politicians, Britain has become a more brutal country on the Tories’ watch.
Headline-catching summits and technological flourishes like knife-detecting gadgets will not address this. Investing in our communities means government intervention to create useful jobs and restoring the quality and universal reach of social services.
It means abandoning faith in “the market” to solve our problems and reversing the privatisations of recent decades. Labour is the only major party that grasps the scale of the challenge.
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