Warning: opposition to electoral reform growing

AV lead over first-past-the-post cut from 13 to just 1 per cent.

Recent polls have found that a clear majority of voters support electoral reform, but the latest YouGov survey suggests this is longer the case. The poll puts support for the Alternative Vote (AV) at 39 per cent, just 1 point ahead of first-past-the-post (FPTP) on 38 per cent.

Compare this with a YouGov poll from two weeks ago which put support for AV at 45 per cent compared to 32 per cent for first-past-the-post, and the shift begins to look significant. So what's changed?

The suggestion by Andy Burnham (who dismissed electoral reform as a "fringe pursuit for Guardian-reading classes") and Ed Balls that Labour should consider campaigning against AV can't have helped. It's notable that Labour voters, once strong supporters of reform, now split 42 per cent AV and 40 per cent for FPTP.

The rise in opposition could be interpreted as an expression of resentment against the coalition and, in particular, the Lib Dems. Others in the party have pointed to recent data suggesting that it's now the Tories, not Labour, who would gain most (or lose least) from AV.

Either way, the change is particularly worrying, since the government is still in its honeymoon period. Everyone is aware that the referendum could become a proxy vote on the coalition (or at least the Lib Dems), but few expected support to dip this early.

We'll only start to get a clear idea of the level of support for AV once the campaign proper begins and the arguments are played out in full. As things stand, however, it looks as if the reformists may lose the lead that they'd expected to start with.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform