The Tory revolt against Osborne grows

You can't blame the eurozone for our recession, MPs tell the Chancellor.

Labour and Tory MPs might disagree on the solutions to Britain's economic woes but they increasingly agree on one thing: the eurozone crisis is not to blame. That's bad news for George Osborne, who yesterday claimed in the Sunday Telegraph that Britain's economic recovery was being "killed off" by the continent. Yet the eurozone, unlike Britain, is not officially in recession, so it's largely erroneous to blame it for our  double-dip. The collapse of economic growth (in the final quarter of 2010) pre-dated the current crisis. Rather, it was the inevitable consequence of Osborne's austerity measures and his claim that Britain was on "the brink of bankruptcy", a statement that had a chilling effect on consumer confidence

Tory MP Douglas Carswell led the charge against the Chancellor yesterday, declaring in a caustic blog post that "It is not the Eurozone crisis that we should blame for our awful economic performance, but the almost total absence of domestic economic reform, coupled with the Treasury's absurd belief that monetary stimulus can engineer growth." Switzerland, he noted, which does four times more trade with the Eurozone than we manage, grew at two per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012.

Today he is joined by others from the party, with David Ruffley, an MP and member of the Treasury Select Committee, observing that "We can’t just say the eurozone is destroying confidence in the UK and nothing can be done". Tory peer Michael Forsyth argues: "Of course market conditions are difficult but I think George really needs to address urgently are the tax burden. One of the reasons we are not getting growth is the level of the tax burden and degree of cost imposed on competitiveness by excessive regulation."

While Labour argues for Keynesian stimulus and Tory MPs push for a supply-side revolution, the key is that neither now believes the status quo is tenable. That leaves Osborne, who often appears to have subcontracted the task of promoting growth to the Bank of England ("we are fiscal conservatives, but monetary activists," he is fond of remarking), increasingly isolated. With his reputation as a political strategist also in free-fall after the Budget, it is now hard to find a Conservative MP with a good word to say about the man once touted as a future party leader. In particular, they are rightly infuriated by Osborne's decision to join David Cameron's US junket just a week before the Budget.

Unfortunately for Osborne, who is known in Westminster as "the submarine" for his habit of vanishing when the government is under-fire, he won't be able to avoid scrutiny this week. He will appear at the Leveson inquiry this afternoon (following Gordon Brown's appearance this morning), a chance to remind everyone just who hired Andy Coulson, and will deliver his annual Mansion House address on Thursday. If Osborne's stock is not to plummet any further, then, for once, he will need to provide answers, not excuses.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

0800 7318496