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Tories Want to Cut Police Force, Even After London Riots: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Posted on the 11 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Tories want to cut police force, even after London riots: Is it still a good idea?

Riot police, Walworth Road: under threat? Photo credit: Hozinja

A wave of riots spread across England, starting on Sunday in the London borough of Tottenham, and gradually infecting various boroughs including Croydon, Hackney, Ealing and beyond. Other cities took up the contagion: Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester being most affected. The police force was undoubtedly stretched, although their presence in massive numbers (16,000 officers) in London did a lot to quell the violence on Wednesday night.

But now David Cameron’s Conservative party faces mutiny over plans to cut funding for the police force by £1.9 billion. These savings will cost over 16,000 jobs – exactly the same number, coincidentally, as saved London. The Prime Minister’s office at Downing Street has insisted that the force will be able to continue to function even after these cuts. These cuts will be made whilst the foreign aid budget will continue to be “ring-fenced”.

To top it all off, the new system of elected police chiefs which the Conservatives want to implement will cost £130 million to set up and run. Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation in England and Wales, said, “Anyone with a knowledge of policing will know the resilience will go very soon. Forces will just have enough with the cuts – sufficient to run on a day-to-day basis.”

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, has especially spoken out, saying, “This is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers.”

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party will challenge the Conservatives on Thursday as Parliament meet for an emergency session to discuss the riots. Conservative MPs are also fearing that voters will not accept cuts in such an uncertain and lawless climate.

  • Thinner blue line. What the world saw, said Camilla Cavendish in The Times, was policemen giving ground to looters “emboldened by the thinness of the thin blue line.” The same Tories who winced at police brutality at the G20 demonstrations were very quick to call for water cannon. The police have been trying to shed their “bully boy” image since the Brixton riots in 1981; this has given us better relations in some areas, but also no-go town centres. “And it has given Generation Z the impression that they can get away with anything.” We need a much tougher approach, with elected police chiefs who are “directly accountable to local people”. Look at New York, and Philadelphia, where “zero tolerance” worked. Sure the police force needs reforming – but officers need to feel that they can do their job without being “dragged into the dock … by a society that has until now been far too squeamish about making thugs feel the consequences of their actions.”
  • Domino effect. Leave David Cameron alone, said Oliver Wright on The Independent.  There’s unease on the backbenches that the Tories could lose their image as “the party of law and order.” OK, so you don’t cut funding to the police – then “what about the fire brigade?” They’ve also “been on the front line of the riots,” and “then there is the Army.” The piggy bank’s empty: “In the longer term, the rioting may be the least of Mr Cameron’s problems.”
  • Cut away excess. Peter Hoskin on his blog in The Spectator said that Boris Johnson’s “howitzer of a performance” has shown up something important. Even if the general public get the case for reducing the deficit, cutting police officers is “particularly emotive”. It doesn’t matter that the police force itself decides “where the cuts fall”, nor even that Labour “couldn’t promise to maintain the number of officers on the beat.” So what to do? Reverse the cuts – which would be a “political and fiscal capitulation of a particularly dangerous sort.” The “more likely option” is to toughen up the “overall package on crime, cutting away any softer edges.” So Kenneth Clarke (Secretary of State for Justice) – look to your job.
  • Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Ainsley Thomson on his Wall Street Journal blog stated that if David Cameron’s government “wants to keep international investors onside”, then it has to stick to its fiscal guns. It would have to find that £1.9 billion somewhere else, by making other cuts or raising taxes. This would make the government’s credibility suffer. Cameron and Teresa May, the Home Secretary, have claimed repeatedly “that the cuts will not affect front-line policing and that public safety will not be put at risk.” They have “little choice.”

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