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.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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