Boris 2012 claims police numbers are up. But are they?

According to Labour campaigners, the Mayor's re-election website has inflated the number of Met offi

Boris Johnson has made a point of opposing police cuts, publicly urging David Cameron to scrap the cuts in the aftermath of the riots last summer.

Indeed, policing is set to be an area on which he will fight this year's mayoral election. A press release from his team just this week says that Johnson has "overseen a massive increase in police on London's streets since becoming Mayor".

But is it actually the case that Johnson has presided over a big boost to the Met? Labour Matters thinks otherwise. According to their analysis, Johnson's re-election website, BackBoris2012.com is over-claiming the number of police currently operating in London. Johnson's website says that there are 722 more officers than official Metropolitan Police figures show.

According to Labour Matters, BackBoris2012 over-claims for 28 of the 32 London boroughs. The biggest discrepancies are in Westminster (the site claims there are 110 more police officers than there actually are), Southwark (inflated by 80) and Lambeth (51).

In nine boroughs -- including Brent, Camden, Croydon and Tower Hamlets -- where official figures show that the number of police officers fell between 2008 and 2011, the relection website claims that numbers rose.

For long-time critics of the Mayor, this is unsurprising. London blogger Adam Bienkov tells me:

Boris was elected on a ticket of cutting knife crime and getting to grips with the Metropolitan Police. His record on both has been pretty shaky so it's not surprising if his campaign are now trying to bend the figures in his favour.

I spoke to BackBoris2012 this afternoon. A spokesman for the re-election campaign questioned the source of Labour Matters' figures, and said:

The figures [on the re-election website], showing a rise in police officers under Mayor Boris Johnson helping lead to a fall in crime across London, are official Metropolitan Police figures for the latest available full financial year.

In line with standard practice, this year to year comparison provides the most reliable figures for an organisation the size of the Met Police whose staffing levels fluctuate on a daily basis.

But whatever the comparison -- be it a logical year to year comparison or a randomly, cherry-picked comparison -- there is no disputing the fact that police numbers across London have increased under Mayor Boris Johnson and that crime is down by 10 per cent.

As standard practice we will be updating these figures at the end of this financial year, which is March 2012.

There is that assertion again: police numbers have increased under Johnson. But this fact has been disputed. Indeed, it has been disputed using these very terms -- of daily fluctuating numbers. Following the Mayor's intervention on police cuts in August, Channel 4's FactCheck blog concluded:

The Mayor has always been very careful to couch his claims over police numbers in a very specific way, saying that by the time his term of office finishes next year officer numbers would be up on the total he inherited.

. . .

It's clear that Mr Johnson has presided over budgets that have cut Met Police office numbers, and his legacy after 2012 will be one of further cuts.

It appears that claims that Johnson has hugely boosted police numbers may be disingenous.

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

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Two referendums have revived the Tories and undone Labour

The Scottish vote enabled the Conservatives' rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted Theresa May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

In the final week of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, as the Union appeared in peril, David Cameron pleaded with voters to punish his party rather than Scotland. “If you are fed up with the effing Tories, give them a kick,” he said. Cameron’s language reflected a settled view: the Conservatives were irredeemably loathed by Scots. For nearly two decades, the party had no more than one MP north of the border. Changing the party’s name for devolved contests was discussed.

Since becoming Conservative leader, Theresa May has pursued a hard – she prefers “clean” – Brexit strategy that Scots voted against and the Conservatives have achieved a UK-wide poll lead of 20 points.

Yet rather than regressing, the Scottish Conservatives have resurged. On 22 April, a Panelbase poll put them on 33 per cent in Scotland (a rise of 18 points since 2015). A favoured Labour barb used to be that there were more pandas (two) in Scotland than Tory MPs (one). The poll would leave the Tories with 12 seats and Corbyn’s party with none. Tory aides confess that they were surprised by the figures but declare there are “no limits to our ambitions” in Scotland.

The roots of this recovery lie in the 2014 independence referendum. The vote, and the SNP’s subsequent landslide victory in the 2015 general election, realigned Scottish politics along unionist and nationalist lines. Led by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives have ably exploited the opportunity. “We said No. We meant it,” the party’s official slogan declares of Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum. Under Ruth Davidson, the Tories have already become the official opposition at Holyrood.

Labour is torn between retaining unionists and winning back nationalists. It has been punished for its equivocation, as it is being punished over its confused response to Brexit. In April 2016, the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, said that it was “not inconceivable” that she could back independence if the UK voted to leave the EU (and earlier suggested that MPs and MSPs could be given a free vote). Jeremy Corbyn recently stated that he was “absolutely fine” with a second referendum being held.

“For us it’s a badge of honour but there are some people in Scottish Labour who are quite queasy about that word [unionist] and I think Jeremy Corbyn would be very queasy about it,” Adam Tomkins, a Conservative MSP for Glasgow and public law professor, told me. “Don’t forget the Northern Ireland dimension; we’ve all seen the photos of him rubbing shoulders with leading republicans. The Scottish Union is very different to the Irish Union but the word migrates.”

The irony is that Corbyn allies believed his anti-austerity, anti-Trident platform would allow Labour to recover in Scotland. Yet the pre-eminence of the national question has left it in a political no-man’s land.

In contrast to the rest of the UK, Scots backed Remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Far from protecting EU membership, as David Cameron had promised in the referendum campaign, the preservation of the Union now threatened it. Theresa May has since yielded no ground, denying Scotland both a second independence referendum on terms dictated by the SNP and single market membership. But polls show no rise in support for independence.

Conservative aides believe that Sturgeon miscalculated by immediately raising the prospect of a second referendum following the Leave vote last June. Families and communities were riven by the 2014 contest. Most had little desire to disrupt the uneasy peace that has prevailed since.

Nor are the politics of Brexit as uncomplicated as some assume. Thirty-six per cent of SNP supporters voted Leave and more than a third of this bloc have since turned against independence. As elsewhere, some Remainers have accepted the result and fear the instability that secession would cause. Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as that with the EU. Davidson, who was one of the most forceful advocates for Remain, says that pursuing independence to counter the effects of Brexit would be “stubbing your toe to then amputate your foot”.

Theresa May, who spoke of the “precious” Union when she became Prime Minister, has devoted great attention to Scotland. Cabinet ministers are instructed to develop a “Scottish plan” when they formulate policy; buildings funded by the UK government now bear its insignia. Davidson’s influence was crucial to May’s decision to retain the 0.7 per cent foreign aid commitment – an emblem of compassionate conservatism.

After a decade of SNP rule, Tory aides believe that their rival’s poor domestic record, most notably on education, is “catching up with them”. More than a year has elapsed since the Scottish Parliament passed new legislation. “We’ve got a government that simply isn’t very interested in governing,” Tomkins said. “I thought that Nicola [Sturgeon] would change that. I was wrong.” What preoccupies the SNP is the constitutional question.

Shortly after the remarkable Scottish polls, a new survey showed the Tories on course to win the most seats in Wales for the first time since 1859. For some former Labour supporters, voting Ukip is proving a gateway drug to voting Conservative.

Two referendums have now realigned politics in the Tories’ favour. The Scottish vote enabled their rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

Before the 2015 general election, Labour derided the Tories as a southern English force unworthy of their official name: the Conservative and Unionist Party. Partly through accident and partly through design, May and Davidson are now reclaiming it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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