This week's newsletter looks at how the Tories are still trying to pass themselves off as the party of law and order.
Behind the daily incompetence and corruption displayed by Britain’s leaders, the Right continues in its long term goal to deregulate and privatise. This week I wrote about the increasingly loud attacks on the NHS by the right wing press, and why the right wing US think tank the Heritage Foundation is interested in the ‘business freedom’ potential of Brexit.
“Crime, crime, crime is what we want to focus on”, Boris Johnson told his cabinet this week, as the government aimed to focus on law and order issues in a week that saw one Tory MP arrested for rape and police fines handed out to people who attended illegal gatherings in Downing Street.
This was not the first ‘Crime Week’ promoted by the Tories. They also had one back in December, and clearly believe they are vulnerable to Labour on issues of law and order, probably because their party is full of criminals and alleged criminals, and recorded crime is going up while prosecutions are falling.
One day of the last Crime Week was billed as a ‘drugs day’, but sadly this may have been misinterpreted by Tory MP David Warburton, who had the party whip removed in April after he was accused of sexual harassment and drug use.
And of course Johnson himself is the first Prime Minister charged with a criminal offence. Johnson was allegedly assured last month by sources from Scotland Yard that he would receive only one fine for attending illegal gatherings during lockdown, which is nice for him.
But more serious than the lawlessness at the top of the Conservative Party is the rise in crime and fall in prosecutions across Britain in the past decade of Tory rule. Byline Times reported that “convictions for crimes such as sexual offences decreased by 44% between 2016 and 2020.” And statistics on drug offences published in December show that while convictions for most crimes are falling, a greater proportion of drug offenders receive criminal sentences.
So of course, it was announced this week that the Government plans to randomly drug test people caught in possession of Class A drugs, which sounds to me like it would likely criminalise marginalised communities much more than white, middle class people whose drug use they say they want to target.
What else? They’re going to let volunteer police officers use tasers, because giving the police more weapons to use can’t possibly lead to any problems. Incidentally, you should watch the documentary All Light, Everywhere, which is partly about the company that makes tasers and police body cameras. The film is an interesting look at the biases in how we see things.
Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke at the Police Federation’s annual conference this week too, sycophantically telling them that “no one does more, in my view, to make our country great. And nobody gives greater public service.”
After years of austerity cuts to police budgets and falling police numbers after 2010, the total number of police is back to around what it was when the Tories came to power, and Boris Johnson has been keen to crow about hiring more police, and all the drug gangs they have apprehended. The Cabinet Office also announced that it was “recruiting more rape specialists to the CPS with a 20% increase in CPS Rape and Serious Sexual Offences staff.”
But later in the week, the government announced it would also be making cuts to the civil service, including the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS is already understaffed and stretched thin, which is why so few crimes are being prosecuted at the moment. This is also why the Tory MP who was arrested this week for sexual offences was first reported to the police in January 2020, and why it has taken so long for them to take action.
The prevalence of serious crime is not primarily linked to how many police are on the streets, but by the general health of society. The Equality Trust’s important research from 2012, The Spirit Level, found that inequality and poverty correlated to worse outcomes across education, crime and health. Rising inequality is fuelling crime, but the government is largely concerned with crimes committed by working class people, like drug possession, rather than financial and other white collar crimes.
So, of course, Rishi Sunak is now on the Sunday Times rich list, with a fortune of around £730 million, even as the Tories tell us to tighten our belts, buy value brands and learn to cook. It’s like the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis all over again. Poverty is a personal failing, not the fault of the government which has been in charge for 12 years.
The Government’s flagship law on police powers, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, is an authoritarian pot luck of tougher sentences for people who damage statues, new powers to crack down on noisy and disruptive protests, to stop and search anyone near a protest, and to criminalise the nomadic way of life of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people.
Far from reducing crime, this criminal Tory government actively seeks to create new categories of it, and to penalise those who seek to challenge the status quo by protesting, and further criminalise already marginalised communities who are most exposed to policing and government surveillance. The bill will force a wide range of agencies to share data with the police, breaching privacy rights. Liberty has called it ‘draconian’.
The obsession with looking tough on crime, even as their economic policies encourage it and their own MPs frequently engage in criminal activities, is nothing more than a Tory distraction. If they really wanted to crack down on frequent users of Class A drugs, perhaps they should start by randomly testing Tory MPs.
John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward
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