The political parties have now (finally)published their manifestosand the final phase of electioneering has begun.The public know little (and probably care even less) about what the manifestos contain, so cynical have they become about the trustworthiness of politicians and the veracity of their promises and not without real cause. But there are some very interesting, sometimes quite radical, proposals in amongst the rhetoric, with the smaller parties in particular saying some sensible things which the larger ones don’t dare to. And then there are the omissions; the issues which aren’t seen as vote-winners, which tell us a lot about the parameters of the debate, what’s below the political radar, what doesn’t seem to matter or what isn’t seen as sexy.
But first the interesting’ ideas. Leading the way are the Lib Dems, with some radical proposals for the reform of our drugs legislation: the decriminalisation of possession for personal use; opening the door to the legalisation ofcannabis; setting the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs free from political interference (and vindicating Professor Nutt in the process); and putting the Department of Health in charge rather than the Home Office. They are followed, perhaps strangely, by UKIP, who are the only party brave enough to say they would reduce the number of forces andreview(not abolish or retain) the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, a policy which has become a political football rather than an interesting experiment, and one that we still need to know more about before abandoning.
The Conservatives, with much police reform work now safely in the legislative bag, have little new to say. Their continuing stance on stop and search is laudable, as is their intention to address the parlous state of the police complaints system, but there’s little else to excite the voters. The Labour party have more to say they haven’t been in power for a while so they’ve had more time to think but much of what they say is politically predictable: either bring back their old policies on for example Antisocial Behaviour, Neighbourhood Policing, and Community Safety or abolish the Coalition government’s new ones, such as PCCs and cuts to front line officers. The remainder are worthy – a new strategy for 18-20 years olds and more restorative justice – but there’s not much that’s radical or exciting. Having said that, they are the only party that seem to be taking the radicalisation of young Muslim people seriously.
So what’s not being said? Firstly, everyone is steering clear of the key question: is crime really still going down? There is now enough evidence to suggest that not only are the recorded crime statistics misleading and discredited, but that they fail to capture whole swathes of new’ or hidden’ crimes, such as cyber-enabled crime, fraud and child sex abuse. It is difficult to come up with a list of priorities for policing when there’s no agreement on the size and nature of the main problem they are there to respond to. Secondly, the parties have much less to say about alcohol abuse and its associated impact on violence (including domestic violence) and public disorder than on drug-related crime. There are still nearly a million offences of violence every year in which the victim believes that the offender was under the influence of alcohol, accounting for nearly half of all violent offences at an annual cost inEngland alone of £9bn.There is now good evidence to suggest that increasingthe price of alcohol reduces its consumption (which two parties do at least recognise), but upping the taxes on drink obviously isn’t popular with the voters.
Thirdly, and perhaps most controversially, none of the parties are prepared to go against (or nuance) the politically correct line on violence against women and girls, which requires the mandatory arrestand (where possible) prosecution and conviction of perpetrators (the vast majority of whom are assumed to be men). Victims say that the main aim of any domestic abuse policy should be to ensure that the violence stops, for good, and mandatory arrest and prosecution is based on the assumption that such action will deliver this. But the evidence suggests that while some perpetrators may change their behaviour for the better following a criminal justice sanction, others do not.So preventing abuse in the first place (and hence addressing the causes of such behaviour) must be as important, if not more important, than prosecuting suspects.The CJS can be a very blunt (if populist) tool for addressing social ills.
Find out more about what the political parties have to say about policing byreading our election tracker.