Could Boris save the Tories?

If the London mayor is unseated this week, it could make things even worse for the Conservatives.

It has been a bad month for the Conservative Party. After a solid four weeks of negative headlines, the party is now going into Thursday’s local elections at an eight-year low of 29 per cent in the opinion polls.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Cameron conceded that the last few weeks have been "difficult". They certainly have, with controversies over the Budget, the petrol panic, revelations about the close relationships between ministers and the Murdochs, and to cap it all off, the country falling back into recession.

Against this backdrop, voters on Thursday will elect local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. The Conservatives are expected to lose up to 350 council seats, while the Liberal Democrats are expected to lose around half of their 650 seats.

With just three days to go til the polls open, Labour is planning a double-pronged attack on both the economy and ministerial relationships with News International. Cameron has been asked (by Labour) to appear in front of the Commons today to explain why he has not ordered an investigation into whether the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt breached the ministerial code. If Hunt is sacked, Cameron will undoubtedly be under pressure to explain his own relationship with News Corp.  Meanwhile, the Labour leader Ed Miliband will focus on the economy, giving a question and answer session today.

Clearly, there is fertile ground here for the opposition. While Conservative strategists are hoping that voter’s persistent lack of faith in Labour on the economy will see them through, things are looking shaky. In the Telegraph today, Benedict Brogan asks whether people are losing their trust in Cameron, whose previously consistent personal ratings have dropped:

It's BOTD [benefit of the doubt] that's got Downing Street deeply worried. They fear, with justification, that Dave is no longer getting the BOTD, either at Westminster or beyond.

So what would turn things around? Conservative officials are placing their hopes on a win by Boris Johnson in the London mayoral election. Although the London race is so personality dominated that it almost seems separate from party politics, it is without doubt the most high profile election taking place this week. It would stem the flow of bad news and give the party faithful something to celebrate.

Perhaps more importantly, if Boris loses, many would blame it on the Tory party top command and the mess of the last month. This would be compounded by the fact that his rival, Labour's Ken Livingstone, has failed to garner much enthusiasm. Such an outcome could make things considerably worse, which at the moment, Cameron simply can’t afford.
 

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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. 

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