CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Nick Clegg held on in a gripping debate. This will go to the wire (Guardian)

David Cameron and Gordon Brown both went up a gear in last night's televised debate, says Martin Kettle, but Nick Clegg impressively consolidated his performance. TheLib Dems are in it to the finish.

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2. Voters have waited for this for years (Times)

Policies and ties don't matter, argues David Aaronovitch. Whether this perception is accurate or not, Clegg represents the break from stale two-party politics that many crave.

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3. The forces blocking British democracy (Independent)

Cameron is concealing his real agenda of tax cuts for the rich and lower public spending, because the polling and focus groups indicate that the public will loathe it. That's why his performances in this campaign are so stilted, says Johann Hari.

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4. Britain's election debate is rewriting the political rules (Financial Times)

No-one knows what the outcome of the election will be, says Philip Stephens. The campaign is now about what voters think of politics and politicians.

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5. Who's afraid of a big bad hung Parliament? (Times)

Only in Britain are coalition or minority governments seen as dangerous. Peter Riddell advises that we look abroad to see how they can work.

6. Being patriotic doesn't make you a fascist (Daily Telegraph)

Billy Bragg -- fresh from a clash with a BNP member in Barking -- discusses the rise of the far right. Without its own parliament, it is no wonder that England's nationalism has been hijacked.

7. Danger lurks everywhere. Let the pilots handle ash (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins criticises the response to the volcanic ash cloud. As with terrorism, swine flu and now aviation, the scientists offer absolutes rather than probabilities and the authorities panic.

8. The sad return of state worship (Financial Times)

British liberties have been steadily eroded by recent governments, writes Samuel Brittan, drawing a link between economic policy and issues of personal freedom.

9. I have a future. So many Afghans my age don't (Times)

As the leaders last night debated foreign affairs, a young refugee, Hewod Azizjan, reflects on the conflict as seen from Britain and his home country.

10. Bolivia's fight for survival can help save democracy too (Guardian)

Naomi Klein writes from the world climate change summit in Bolvia. This people's summit is a radical, transformative response to the failure of the Copenhagen club, that could save our democracy as well as our warming planet.

 

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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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