Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is Ed Miliband a lucky general?

The party's visceral attacks on the Lib Dems show it is staking everything on a majority. 

I think it’s fair to say the latest Labour Party Election Broadcast (PEB) hasn’t received universal acclaim, with folk on all sides asking "what were they thinking of?"

I was fortunate enough to spend some years working side by side with the three partners who formed Lucky Generals, the ad agency that produced the broadcast for Labour. I can tell you that they are creative, accomplished and – most pertinently – highly intelligent individuals. Indeed, one of them has received more awards for advertising effectiveness than anyone else in the business.

So they won’t have produced that PEB on a whim because they thought it would be funny or out of creative indulgence. They’ll have produced it because it will deliver strategically against what they have been told are the Labour Party’s goals. And I think that probably tells us quite a lot about Labour’s 2015 general election strategy. That strategy is, to use a technical term from adland, "shit or bust"; or in political parlance, it’s the 35 per cent strategy.

As the political arithmetic under the constituency boundaries means Labour only needs to poll the 35 per cent it currently polls to win a majority (as opposed to 42 per cent for the Tories), Labour appears to have decided to hold on to what it's got. That PEB is designed to do two things to the Lib Dems. It tells disaffected voters from 2010 who have defected to Labour why they should stick with them. And it puts two fingers up to the Lib Dems in terms of any future coalition negotiations. Despite some evidence to the contrary, it seems Labour really still do resent the "Gordon has to go" red line put down by the Lib Dems in 2010.

But by basically now making it very difficult to see how the Lib Dems can ever now go into a coalition with the party responsible for that ad, Labour is saying "we must win a majority in 2015" – or decide to try and run a minority government.

The latter would probably last until autumn – when after a no confidence vote, the Tories, well-funded, basking in the difficulties thrown up by Labour running a minority government for six months and with a new leader (step forward, Boris) – will streak home again in a second general election. So, it all comes down to – can Labour win a majority at the first time of asking in May 2015?

Lucky Generals is named after the Napoleonic quote - "I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one". Ed Miliband must hope he is just such a lucky general. But to all those in the Lib Dems railing at the PEB and gnashing their teeth, can I suggest an alternative Napoleonic quote? "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation