Iran - the threat of war grows

Parliament to debate Iran policy on Monday as more MPs urge government to rule out war.

With the prospect of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran growing ever more likely, Westminster is finally beginning to respond. In a little-noticed move, Conservative MP John Baron, who resigned as a Tory health spokesman over the Iraq war, has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to rule out military action against Iran. He rightly warned that the use of force by Israel or anyone else would be "wholly counter-productive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons."

However, 22 MPs, including Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Becket, have already put their names to an amendment supporting the government's stance that "all options remain on the table". In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, William Hague says: "It is not our way of dealing with this to have assassinations or to advocate military action. Although I do stress again, we are taking nothing off the table."

More than anything, this is a negotiating stance but if, as seems likely, Israel takes military action, the government will be forced to take a position. As I noted earlier this week, the issue of Iran has the potential to split the coalition and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem manifesto explicitly ruled out the use of force against Iran ("[W]e oppose military action against Iran and believe those calling for such action undermine the growing reform movement in Iran," read a passage on p.68) but Nick Clegg has since remarked that "you don't in a situation like this take any options off the table". Unlike Clegg, most Lib Dems are explicitly opposed to military action by Britain or Israel.

For instance, the recently-knighted backbencher Bob Russell told me:

We should condemn, now rather than after the event should it happen, any moves by Israel (with or without the backing and involvement of the United States) of a pre-emptive strike against Iran.

The consequences to world peace, not just in the Middle East, are immense.

Ming Campbell warned that military action would have the "effect of setting fire to the Middle East" and, asked if he was opposed to military action, Martin Horwood, co-chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary party committee on international affairs, commented:

Yes - and that was a Lib Dem manifesto commitment. Events move on and of course if British minesweepers were attacked in the Gulf or something like that, we would have to respond. But as things stand, the answer is clear.

As today's Guardian reports, the US now believes that sanctions will fail to deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme, with an Israeli strike likely to follow in September or October. All of which will lend Monday's parliamentary debate on Iran a rare urgency.

George Eaton is political editor of 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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