Rising crime: a new headache for the coalition

Burglaries, robberies and muggings in London increase for the first time in years.

To the coalition's list of woes, we can now add rising crime. In London, burglaries, robberies and muggings have all increased for the first time in years, even before the full force of the government's police cuts are felt. Figures from the Met show that burglaries in London rose by 18.5 per cent from 4,410 in May last year to 5,228 this May, robberies by 15 per cent from 3,257 to 3,749; and thefts of and from vehicles by 6 per cent to 9,299. It's all fertile PMQs material for Ed Miliband.

Significantly, as today's Times reports (£), police chiefs outside London believe this is the start of the long-anticipated recession crime wave. One chief constable tells the paper: "We are just about holding the line, but there are clear signs that burglary and robbery are on the turn."

Labour, ever eager to challenge the Tories' reputation as the party of law and order, has been quick to respond. Yvette Cooper said: "Cutting police budgets by 20 per cent means 12,000 police officers are being lost including 1,800 in the Met alone. Crime fell by 40 per cent in the last twelve years, but that progress was hard won and it is now being put at risk." So far, David Cameron and Theresa May have insisted that their cuts will have no effect on the delivery of policing but a rise in crime would instantly discredit this claim.

Ministers, one expects, will argue that rising crime is inevitable in these austere times. But it's not an argument that they ever accepted from Labour when in opposition. A surge in crime, as David Cameron will be all too aware, could yet provide a focus for public anger.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.