Targeting Clegg's family home was plain wrong

Defenders of the UK uncut protest call it a "party". Would they be so relaxed if the far-right copie

As a Liberal, I actively encourage people to demonstrate when they see things they don’t like or approve of. And I love creative demonstrations that make their point in an imaginative way, that get people talking and debating the merits of an argument, whether I happen to agree with that view or not. So it takes quite a lot for me to write that a protest is just plain wrong.

But targeting someone’s children does cross that line. Which is why I think yesterday's UK Uncut demonstration outside Nick Clegg’s home was unjustifiable.

First, interest to declare (beyond the party politics). Someone attacked my home in a very minor way last year. I’m a bit sensitive therefore about this sort of thing.

So when I’m told that this wasn’t a protest, that it wasn’t intimidating, it was a party, I beg to differ. If 400 people turned up for a "party" outside my house, blocking off the roads to prevent anyone getting out, specifically targeting the road because I lived there, I wouldn’t feel especially safe.

And this time it was UK Uncut. Suppose the BNP or EDL decide to do the same? Only in Ed Miliband’s road. Would Sunny Hundal and Laurie Penny still be cheerleading them from the sidelines? Or is this sort of action only OK if you agree with their politics?

And supposing they hadn’t targeted a party leader? Where is the line to be drawn? Mark Serwotka said of the protestors in Clegg’s road yesterday that "we applaud their innovative and inspirational action that takes the campaign right to the doorsteps of those responsible”. Well Mr Serwotka, by your own logic, that makes you fair game for the same treatment does it not? Would you be happy if 400 people turn up at your doorstep for a bit of a fiesta, closing your road and stopping your family leaving the house, because they profoundly disagree with your political views?

Indeed what of the 400 party goers themselves? Each took part in a political act yesterday. Should they be held to the same standards? Are their homes and their kids' schools now fair game. I don’t think so. But by their own logic, they presumably do.

One Tory MP actively encouraged people to donate to the Lib Dems yesterday. But then Louise Mensch knows something about having your kids targeted. Those on the protest in Putney yesterday should think long and hard about the line they crossed. And whether they would really want the same treatment themselves.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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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