Grayling still misleading the public on violent crime

Shadow home secretary falsely claims that violent crime is up and then resorts to anecdotes.

Chris Grayling was let out of the dog house this morning for a rare media appearance on the Today programme. Challenged on crime statistics, he at least conceded that "overall crime has fallen".

But just as it seemed that we might be making progress, the shadow home secretary repeated his false claim that violent crime has risen dramatically under Labour. In fact, the British Crime Survey (BCS), still regarded by statisticians as the most reliable long-term measure of crime, shows that violent crime has fallen by 41 per cent since 1997.

Conveniently, Grayling refuses to accept the BCS and prefers to use police-recorded statistics, based on individual reports by victims of crime. But as the Violence in England and Wales 2009: an Accident and Emergency Perspective report shows, even on this measure, violent crime is falling.

As the graph below shows, the BCS, police recorded crime and accident and emergency figures all point to one conclusion: violent crime is falling.

Trends-in-violence-in-England-and-Wales

But the empirically challenged Grayling then decided that it wasn't all about statistics after all. In a remarkable claim for a prospective home secretary, he said:

I don't think it's just about figures, I think it's about what people see in their communities. I mean, i do think Britain is a more violent place than it was a decade ago, it's the country where only a few weeks ago an elderly couple died after someone set light to their mobility scooter.

The assertion was clear. Grayling is able to set aside statistical evidence on the basis that his own personal experience, plus one or two anecdotes he's picked up from the tabloids, proves that Britain is a more violent place.

Never mind that the most reliable figures show nothing of the sort, Grayling just knows that Britain is more violent now than it was in 2000.

Should he ever make it to the Home Office (and the odds are against it), one expects that Grayling, keen to prove that a Tory government has cut crime, won't adopt such a cavalier attitude to the facts.

UPDATE: Over at the Spectator's Coffee House blog, David Blackburn takes me to task for my claim that violent crime has fallen.

First, he argues that changes in recording practice mean that figures from the most recent British Crime Survey are incomparable with those from 1997. But, as I point out in the comment thread, the change only applied to police recorded statistics (favoured by Grayling), not to the British Crime Survey, which has measured crime in the same way since 1981.

Second, he points to a recent document from the House of Commons library which stripped out 24 per cent of the increase in violent crime to account for the new recording methods, allowing the Tories to claim that violent crime has risen by 44 per cent since 1998.

But what the party failed to mention is that the 24 per cent figure accounts for only one year of the changes, even though the violent crime figures were artificially inflated for at least two to three years.

It's still Grayling who has the explaining to do here.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.