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5 March 2019

Why the rise in knife crime is a big problem for Theresa May

The only remaining blemish-free aspect of the Prime Minister’s legacy is under threat. 

By Stephen Bush

What’s behind the rise in knife crime? Theresa May is under fire after saying there is “no direct correlation” between cuts to police numbers and the increase in stabbings. 

The obvious problem there, as Nazir Afzal, former chief crown prosecutor for the north west, who himself lost a family member to knife crime last week, put it on Newsnight yesterday, is that if there wasn’t a link between reductions to the number of police and the level of crime, why would we have police at all? 

The issue is particularly difficult for the PM because her reputation as home secretary – which should her political career receive even a measure of rehabilitation, will surely be the centre of the case for the defence – is under major threat.

What was seen as a record of success, at least on May’s terms – standing up the Police Federation over cuts to policing, successfully keeping the department effective while cutting spending, introducing a new and draconian set of immigration measures, reforming stop and search – is now being eroded away. The hostile environment has led inevitably to Windrush and now another of its provisions has been found by the High Court not only to provide cloud cover for landlords wanting to discriminate on the grounds of race and ethnicity, but actively forces landlords who don’t want to discriminate to do so.

And now the rise in knife crime imperils at least part of the rest of May’s legacy. On the one hand, you have the argument that the rise in crime is a direct consequence of the reductions in public spending, which May not so long ago decried as ”crying wolf”. On the other, you have the argument that May’s reforms to stop and search have contributed to the problem. 

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There are a number of problems with the latter argument, and, as Anoosh explains, it isn’t only cuts to policing that carry the risk of increasing crime, but one way or another, May’s political difficulty is that there is no evidence-based explanation for what is going on with the increase in violent crimes that doesn’t put a severe asterisk on the one remaining part of May’s legacy that has survived her premiership blemish-free.