Cameron’s summer blues

The PM's political woes have deepened in the last two weeks.

Unlike some in his party, David Cameron never expected the Tories to receive an Olympic poll bounce. “People are too sensible to confuse a sporting event with their day-to-day lives,” he shrewdly observed before the Games began. But as he left for his holiday in the Mediterranean, the Prime Minister still had cause to reflect that his woes had increased over the preceding two weeks.

During the Olympics fortnight, he endured the loss of his proposed constituency boundary changes – a significant blow to the Tories’ chances of winning a majority in 2015 – saw Boris Johnson celebrated, and suffered the resignation of Louise Mensch, putting Labour within touching distance of its first by-election gain of this parliament. While Boris was cheered by crowds at Hyde Park, Cameron was booed when he watched the boxer Nicola Adams fight at the ExCeL Centre in east London.

Even before Nick Clegg’s veto of the boundary changes, a Tory majority was looking unlikely. No sitting prime minister has increased his party’s share of the vote since 1974 and Cameron is failing to make progress among those groups – black and ethnic minority voters, public-sector workers, Scottish voters – that refused to support him in 2010.

Economic revival remains the precondition for the Prime Minister’s political revival, yet it is increasingly uncertain. Britain is suffering from a crisis of demand, but the Tories’ self-imposed fiscal straitjacket has left them fixated with supply-side reform. There is talk again of making it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, of building new runways at Stansted Airport and of permanently relaxing the Sunday trading laws. Yet the presence of the Liberal Democrats makes it impossible for most or all of these proposals to become government policy.

Unable to deliver the supplyside revolution demanded by Conservative MPs and unwilling to pursue the Keynesian expansionism favoured by Labour, Cameron and George Osborne have nothing resembling a strategy for growth.

Soft leads

For now, the Tories console themselves that Cameron retains a personal 8-point lead over Ed Miliband as “the best prime minister”. In Labour circles, the party’s poll lead is regarded as “soft” and vulnerable to what the welfare minister Chris Grayling calls “EU veto moments”. As a Labour frontbencher told me: “The polls say we’re 10 points ahead but our real lead is 6 at best.”

The Tories are quietly hopeful that they will be the beneficiaries if the next election is fought over austerity. They will attempt to portray Miliband as the defender of a bloated welfare system and an overmighty public sector. The Chancellor’s promise of another £10bn of welfare cuts is a preview of this strategy. Labour is uncertain how to respond.

One Tory told me that private polling showed voters were more inclined to support Osborne’s austerity measures when informed that the coalition had reduced the deficit by a quarter since coming to power. “Let us finish the job” will be the Tories’ message at the next election.

The promise of another five years of austerity is far removed from Cameron’s original talk of “sunlit uplands”. But, for the PM, in danger of being remembered as one of the least electorally successful Conservative prime ministers in modern history, it is the only option left.

David Cameron has seen the chances of a Conservative majority in 2015 dramatically reduced by the loss of the boundary changes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Back To Reality

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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