Cameron is for turning

The government’s cuts are worse than Thatcher’s, but Cameron and co are vulnerable to opposition.

In the run-up to the general election, Labour made headway when the Tories were forced on to the ground of cuts and the risk to the economy – and moved backwards when the Tories forced Labour on to the ground of the deficit and cuts. Now that the reality of the cuts and the threat they pose to recovery and a decent society is starting to become apparent, the Tories are experiencing attrition at the polls.

The forest sell-off and other, smaller but significant U-turns – such as over the Booktrust programme – show Cameron and Osborne are vulnerable to opposition and desperate to cling to as much of their electoral base as possible.

It is obvious why.

One, because the government's agenda is so brutal that it knows it cannot fight on all fronts at once, and needs to remove unnecessary noise and rows. Its problem is that there are so many cuts and reckless decisions that when one hole in the dam is plugged, another bursts open.

Two, because what the government fears most is that many more of those on middle incomes and even some on higher incomes will conclude that the government is wrong, out of touch and cutting too far and too fast.

The government fears that significant parts of its own potential electoral base may be turned against it. The forest sell-off was so damaging because it united opinion right the way through to parts of the country that should usually be Conservative-supporting. Ed Miliband's decision to make the forests campaign a priority was right and shows how it is possible to define the centre ground on Labour's terms.

Three, because, despite fighting a general election campaign against a party seeking an unprecedented fourth term after the worst economic crisis since the Second World War and with a prime minister on the ropes, David Cameron did not win the election. His government is fragile and lacks a mandate for its actions.

Cameron's speech demonising multiculturalism and the Muslim communities, on the day of the EDL march in Luton, was a distraction from the cuts that are hurting the majority. Similarly, the renewed attack on pay levels in the public sector is a distraction from how the bankers are sitting pretty and how the rich are being protected at everyone else's expense.

Here in London, Cameron's midterm electoral test is already hoving into view, with mayoral and Assembly elections a little over a year away. New figures published today show that just as Cameron and Osborne are squeezing the majority, so London's mayor has been focusing on protecting bankers and financiers. Over the course of one 12-month period, Boris Johnson held more meetings with bankers and the financial services industry than with the Metropolitan Police – and considerably more than he spent in publicly accountable meetings and press conferences.

His meetings with the bankers even outnumbered meetings with government ministers.

My message to tomorrow's cross-party Progressive London gathering is this. Yes, the economic situation is bad, and is damaging the lives of millions. Yes, the government's actions are harming public services and our quality of life. But our job is to stand up for the vast majority, ensure we are united, and work to prevent the Conservatives deflecting the agenda on their terms. And we should be clear that the government's own weaknesses mean there is everything to be gained from campaigning and organising on that basis to push them back.

Ken Livingstone is a former mayor of London. He will be speaking at "There is an Alternative – Protecting London, Opposing Tory Cuts" tomorrow at Congress House. For more information and to register in advance, click here.

Ken Livingstone is the former Mayor of London.
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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