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  1. Politics
2 April 2012

Miliband attacks the coalition from the right

Labour leader shifts rhetoric and targets the coalition's record on crime.

By George Eaton

Here’s a rare sight: Ed Miliband attacking the coalition from the right. The Labour leader launched his party’s local election campaign in Birmingham today and targeted the government’s record on crime:

And when it comes to keeping our communities safe, look what this Tory-led government are doing. Taking 16,000 police officers off the streets.

Ditching ASBOs.

How out touch can you get?

It’s a notable rhetorical shift. In his first speech as Labour leader, Miliband was at pains to endorse the coalition’s break with Blair-Brown authoritarianism:

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When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud and clear and I will take the argument to them.

But when Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high re-offending rates, I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime.

When Theresa May says we should review stop and search laws to prevent excessive use of state power, I’m not going to say she is soft on terrorism.

Of the much-maligned ASBO, Miliband said: “ASBOs aren’t perfect, but I have had too many people in my constituency in tears about their neighbours from hell to think that the solution is to just scrap ASBOs altogether.”

ASBOs were a valuable political tool for New Labour but they were also blunt and largely ineffective. Of the 20,231 ASBOs issued between 2000 and 2010, 56.5 per cent (11,432) were breached at least once, with 8,492 (42 per cent) of these breached more than once. Unsurprisingly, then, only eight per cent of voters believe ASBOs have been successful in curbing anti-social behaviour. And with each ASBO costing around £3,000 to issue, the cost of failure is high.

Miliband’s response, however, isn’t to argue for their abolition but for further powers for the police. In a piece in today’s Daily Mirror, he suggests that offenders should be frog-marched back to their victims in order to apologise. “When offenders have to confront the consequences of their crimes, they understand the damage they have caused,” he writes.

There’s a whiff of populism about Miliband’s proposal – one is reminded of Tony Blair’s short-lived plan for drunken teenagers to be frog-marched to cash points to pay on-the-spot fines – but this is fertile territory for Labour. As Blair never tired of reminding his party, it is working-class Labour voters who are the biggest victims of crime. With the coalition’s cuts set to reduce police numbers by 20 per cent, expect Labour to focus relentlessly on this subject.