Fear of crime isn’t working for the Tories

"After 14 years of austerity, the public know that the services that stop crime have been cut to the bone."

Rishi Sunak with police

Unmesh Desai is London Assembly Member for City and East, covering Barking and Dagenham, the City of London, Newham, and Tower Hamlets. He is London Assembly Labour’s spokesperson on policing and crime

As Labour’s policing spokesperson on the London Assembly, we can see that crime damages lives. We know that victims live with trauma, sometimes  for years. We know that young people are often exploited by criminals – pulled into offending when they feel they have nowhere else to turn.

The Conservatives’ message, that they rely on for almost every election, as being “tough on crime” will be familiar to many.

So where is it this time round?

So far we’ve seen two main attacks on Labour.

The first has been around taxes. They have fabricated a figure that Labour’s plans would cost families £2000 more – something that has been roundly debunked, to the point of the BBC news app putting out a push notification to 7 million people that the Tories were lying. They’re pushed variations on this – a mysterious “tax on pensions” and a “£38.5 billion black hole to be filled with taxes.”

Alongside this they’ve repackaged up some old-style culture war pieces – national service, immigration targets, and a bizarre attack story on Labour not wearing England shirts when watching the football.

Why aren’t we seeing as much about crime in all of this?

Firstly, they saw that fear of crime didn’t shift the polls in London at all.

The Conservatives tried to push the idea that Sadiq Khan is single-handedly responsible for crime. They went as far to publish doomsday-style videos on social media blaming him for it – only to pull the video when it was revealed that it used footage from New York. 

Secondly, with Reform emerging in the rear-view mirror, they seem to have replaced all messages playing on fear of crime with fear of migration.

Let’s not kid ourselves – some who see immigration as a threat cite crime as a reason for their beliefs.

But, after years of a cost-of-living crisis, fears about jobs and are firmly in the foreground in these campaigns.

Don’t mistake me – as a proud British Indian who came to this country as a young man, I do not put stock in these claims. In my community of East London, I see the huge contributions all our communities make.

After decades of anti-fascist work in East London – leading back to fighting the National Front in the 70s – I have seen every type of anti-immigration sentiment expressed. In this election it’s clear to me that economic insecurity is taking precedent over racist stereotypes that immigrants are criminals.

Thirdly, Labour has done an astounding job of making the case that blame for crime lies squarely for the Conservatives.

Sadiq Khan has warned about the probable rises in crime London would see thanks to austerity and the cost of living crisis. He has rightly drawn a direct line between more Londoners struggling, more youth services being shut down, more cuts to our police service, and an increase in those driven to crime.

Now, London School of Economics (LSE) report shows a clear link between a 10 per cent rise in the cost of living and increases in violence, robberies, shoplifting, burglary and theft – made clear over the past year.

On top of this, the electorate are smarter than the Conservatives treat them. After 14 years of austerity, the public know that the services that stop crime have been cut to the bone.

While there is no excuse for crime, we know that poverty and inequality contribute to offending, and we see jumps in crime when there are cuts to support services like youth centres or addiction treatment.

In London, we’ve seen more than 600 youth centres close. Our GP services are at breaking point and support for addiction and mental health is logjammed behind waiting lists. Homelessness and food bank use has hit all time highs.

Crucially, more than a billion pounds has been stripped from our police service.

And what’s the result of this? The Metropolitan Police do not have the resources to follow up on up to two-thirds of crimes, salaries do not cover the cost of living – meaning we struggle to recruit, and public trust continues to wane.

In London, we know that the Metropolitan Police have much to improve on – especially as a result of the Casey review, which I have written on previously. But we also know that when people are victims of crime, they want the police to hold criminals to account.

They  want the police to be present in their communities – to be partners in keeping people safe, rather than antagonists who only arrive when things are desperate.

Like many progressives, I want the police to solve crime, but our public services to be there to prevent offending from happening in the first place.

This is absolutely a Labour message. Our party was built on the knowledge that poverty and exclusion causes many of the social problems that damage our communities.

The Conservatives have caused immense damage to this country. It shows just how bad things have become over the past 14 years that they cannot even rely on crime to shore up their core vote. 

Image credit: Simon Dawson / Number 10 – Creative Commons

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