“No campaign used made-up figures”, says David Blunkett

The former home secretary admits that the £250m figure was invented, as coalition tensions run high.

 

By tomorrow, the AV referendum will be a thing of the past. However, the same cannot be said of the splits it has opened up in the coalition.

Today's Times (£) quotes David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, admitting that the No campaign's figure putting the cost of AV at £250m was "made up". He said:

We are in the middle of an election campaign. People in elections use made-up figures. I have never used the £250m figure. It [AV] would undoubtedly cost more but I have used an extra £90m.

Given that the only cost of which we can be certain is the £82m spent on the referendum (as Full Fact reported in April), the figure is even more misleading than Blunkett claims.

This open admission that the figure is "made up" will put fuel on the fire of furious Liberal Democrats. Chris Huhne's anger over the claim that costly electronic voting machines would be introduced even boiled over to cabinet this week, when he challenged David Cameron and George Osborne to disown the claims. And, lest we forget, he threatened legal action last month, saying:

It is frankly worrying if you have colleagues, [whom] you have respected and who you have worked well with, who are making claims which have no foundation in truth whatsoever. If they don't come clean on this I am sure the law courts will.

The Electoral Commission said at the time that it was powerless to do anything, as electoral law covers false claims against candidates, but referendums have none. It will be interesting to see if Huhne finds another way to make good his threat. Either way, Blunkett's comments will add insult to injury, confirming as it does the sense that the No campaign did not play fair. An admission from a senior politician that the campaign – and, by extension, the senior Tories running it – lied is potentially explosive to coalition relations.

Anger in Nick Clegg's party at the way that the No camp directed its campaign will certainly be running high after last-minute polls suggested a resounding defeat for AV. A Guardian/ICM poll gives the No to AV campaign a 36 per cent lead, while a Sun/YouGov survey gives it a 20-point margin.

The Lib Dems are also expected to take a hammering in the local elections happening at the same time.

At the moment, it looks unlikely that anyone within the party will challenge Clegg's leadership after today's drumming – but the door is wide open if anyone should decide to.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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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