Police stop and search a protester in the Westminster area. Photo: Getty Images
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The Met has three tests to pass on Stop and Search

Tessa Jowell and Doreen Lawrence write on what the Met can do to ensure Stop and Search works for everyone. 

Two weeks ago, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe announced plans to increase the amount of targeted Stop and Search activity in London. While nearly everyone recognises that Stop and Search is an important tool for police officers to fight crime and reassure the public, it’s also clear that - when the power is not used properly - it can undermine trust in the police.

The overall use of Stop and Search in London has fallen under the current Met Commissioner. That is recognised as a good thing by young people in London, and has gone some way to improving relations between the police and black and minority ethnic communities. But following the Commissioner’s latest announcement, the Met must improve the way in which it uses its powers so as not to provoke mistrust between communities and the police.

For the last six months we have been speaking to young people in London affected by Stop and Search, either personally or through their friends and family. Together, we have published a report which makes three key demands of the Metropolitan Police. These demands are designed to ensure that Stop and Search is used in a way which builds, rather than undermines, confidence and trust between young people and the police. And remember – everyone benefits from increased trust, the police just as much as the public.

The first demand is about the use of body-worn cameras. The Met is rolling out the use of these cameras over the summer. Used properly, they could be a means not just of fighting crime but also of improving police accountability. But if they are not used properly it will undermine trust.

The Met must be clear that these cameras will prevent crime and serve citizens. There is no room for complacency. If the cameras are seen as just another tool in the armoury of the police, then they will do nothing to improve community relations.  Rather, they will erode trust and undermine police effectiveness. Officers must be required to record continuously all interactions that they have with the public during Stop and Search and Stop and Account. The Met have not yet published full guidelines on how and when body-worn cameras are to be used, potentially leaving this to the discretion of individual police officers.

Secondly, the Met must take immediate action to investigate and address the inconsistent use of Stop and Search slips. These slips – which are supposed to be issued for every Stop and Search as an official record of the police offer’s interaction with the individual – are not currently being issued properly. The young people we spoke to frequently pointed out that slips were not always offered after a stop. This makes it harder for people to prove they were stopped or to make a complaint.

Finally, it is only through independence in the training of police officers that the Met can prevent a culture of complacency and antagonism of young people. The Met should open up the way in which police officers are trained, ensuring it involves communities, and particularly young people, in design and delivery. And training should be overseen by an independent training provider, not just delivered in-house.

There is more that should be done. We need an increase in black and minority ethnic representation in the Met. For people to trust an institution or organisation, they need to feel that it represents them, that it looks like them. But currently, 40 per cent of Londoners are black and ethnic minority compared to just 15 per cent of police officers. The Met must more accurately reflect the population of London.

We need to keep a permanent watching eye on police and community relations through an annual review. And we should have a real, community-led Know Your Rights campaign which uses all mediums to make sure young people are aware of their rights.

Above all, we need the Met and City Hall to maintain an unflinching focus on building trust and respect. The pressures of fighting crime should never lead to a situation where the police are seen to be outside of the community. They must police communities with consent – by, of, for and with the people. We want to see the Met put trust and respect at the heart of their use of Stop and Search.

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
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Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.