Are Labour's target seats missing the mark? Photo: Flickr/viZZZual.com
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Polling shows support for Ed Miliband in target seats – but are they really targets?

Polling released today shows 75.8 per cent of Labour councillors in the party's 106 target seats support their leader. But how significant are Labour's targets?

Some cheering numbers at last for Ed Miliband. Polling released today by Anglia Ruskin University's Labour History Research Unit shows significant support for the Labour leader – whose leadership has come sharply into question over the past fortnight – among councillors in both Labour's target seats and those seats most vulnerable to a Tory swing.

The polling finds, contrary to what we've been reading about rumblings in the PLP, that the majority of Labour's ground troops are happy with Miliband as their leader. When asked whether or not he should resign if the media monstering of Miliband and his tumble down the opinion polls continues, 75.8 per cent of Labour councillors in the party's 106 target seats said no, and 72.6 per cent in their 50 so-called defending seats said no. Also, 78.9 per cent in target seats and 80 per cent in defending seats put their leader's recent problems down to the press "whipping up a story", rather than a poor performance.

And although the respected Labour MP and former cabinet minister Alan Johnson has unequivocally ruled himself out as a potential replacement, 59.8 per cent of target seat councillors and 60.6 per cent of defending seat councillors said Miliband would be a greater asset than Johnson as leader, come May 2015.

These must be encouraging findings for Miliband. Often neglected by those observing a party's fortunes through the warped Westminster lens, support on the ground is crucial for a party to remain afloat. For example, Ukip insiders have told me in the past that defections of local activists from the Conservatives to their party has been significantly more useful when out campaigning than high-profile MP defections. So support from councillors, though it doesn't sound glamorous, is crucial.

However, it is time to question the significance of Labour's 106 target seats. In January last year, the party unveiled a list of constituencies it would be targeting in the build-up to the general election. According to LabourList at the time, these seats were decided using national swing, demographic and regional vote share models, and the results of local elections. Four out of five seats on the list are currently Tory-held.

Yet with such massive shifts in the political landscape since January 2013, a number of their targets look unwinnable. For example, Thurrock – the party's second top target – went from a sure win for Labour (the Tory incumbent has 92 votes) to a three-way marginal, with Ukip polling top.

On top of this, the Spectator's Isabel Hardman reported in February this year that Labour HQ was not as optimistic as Miliband about Labour's chances regarding its target list, and was secretly attempting to scale the number down from 106 to as few as 60, or 80. 

The newest development in this story emerged last week. I heard from a Labour MP that those attending a near-mutinous PLP meeting in the Northwest last Tuesday evening discussed cutting down the number of Labour's target seats, due to Miliband's unpopularity making it increasingly less likely that many of them could ever be won. "There is a problem with the leader, so we'll have to discard some of our targets," my source revealed. "Because the leader is doing that badly, it's such a turn-off. So we'll have to stop putting resources [in certain target seats]".

The party will have to focus more on simply "defending" the vulnerable seats it already holds, "rather than trying to win new ones", the meeting apparently concluded. I hear such seats include Bolton West, where the Labour MP Julie Hilling has a majority of 92. It's in shaky Labour holds like these where MPs could be most damaged by their constituents criticising Miliband on the doorstep, even if their councillors appear to be onside.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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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