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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.