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Labour promises to get tough on crime, again, as local elections manifesto launched in Birmingham

Labour promises to get tough on crime, again, as local elections manifesto launched in Birmingham

🕔02.Apr 2012

Ed Miliband, British politician

It is almost 20 years since Tony Blair first promised to be tough on crime and the causes of crime.

But today’s Labour Party leader clearly believes that there are still plenty of votes to be had by pledging to stand up for pensioners, families, ordinary folk who apparently live in fear of having their windows kicked in or graffiti sprayed on their homes by the “neighbours from hell”.

Mr Miliband launched Labour’s May 3 local elections campaign in Birmingham, and devoted a large proportion of his speech to law and order issues. He was backed up by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Bann and Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman, who were also keen to talk about crime.

There was nothing in Mr Miliband’s speech about housing or, amazingly, schools. The complete omission of anything to say on education was seized upon by a member of the audience, who thought it a little odd that the Labour leader should maintain a discreet silence over the academies programme which is on course to remove scores of Birmingham schools from council control.

Another member of the audience berated Mr Miliband for being too pessimistic and said she did not recognise the violent, anti-social world that the he was intent on portraying. Her life in this part of Birmingham was actually quite happy, safe and contented, she stated to a muttering of support.

The venue chosen for this event was interesting. Rather than pitching up in one of the tough inner city wards that Labour is hoping to win on its way to wrestling control of Birmingham City Council from a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, party officials chose a church community centre on the borders of Moseley, Kings Heath, Bournville and Brandwood.

The area is as symbolic of the largely white lower-middle class semi-skilled vote that Labour is hoping to maximise as you could imagine, and the four wards have a smattering of Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors as well as some Labour representatives.

Demanding a return to “common sense policing”, Mr Miliband laid into the Government for slashing police budgets by 20 per cent which he said would result in the loss of 16,000 front line jobs by 2015. Some 1,000 officers had already been made redundant in the West Midlands, he claimed.

The Government was planning to ditch Anti -Social Behaviour Orders, which just showed how out of touch Ministers had become.

And then, in a misty-eyed tribute to the good old days, he added: “Our parents and grandparents often say that communities were safer and stronger in times gone by.

“You were more likely to know your neighbour, kids respected the elderly and young people felt the country had something to offer them.

“We can’t recreate the past.  But I believe in a country with those values of respect, responsibility
and opportunity.”

How could this be done? By keeping police officers and community support officers on the streets and giving police and local councils sufficient powers to deal with low-level crime on the spot including that often-repeated proposal to make petty criminals clean up their own dirty work.

Mr Miliband continued: “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.

“We need to encourage police to nip problems in the bud. Instead of just giving people a caution knowing they will commit further offences, those who do the wrong thing should be forced to make it up to the victim.

“Make good on the damage they have caused, help rebuild the community project, clean up the graffiti, fix a wrecked garden.

“Of course, it won’t be appropriate in all circumstances and should only happen if the victim wants it to happen.

“When offenders have to confront the consequences of their crimes and meet their victims, they can come to understand what they have done and the damage they have caused.

“This has made some less likely to commit further offences: it puts them back onto the right path.”

Much of Mr Miliband’s speech concentrated on national issues and was not really specifically about local government at all. David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was inevitably condemned as hopelessly out of touch, rewarding wealthy backers with huge tax breaks while ignoring the impact that spending cuts were having on ordinary working families.

“They promised fairer taxes. But two years on, they are raising taxes for pensioners but cutting them
for millionaires.

“They promised us a stronger society. But, according to the British Crime Survey, violence, theft and robbery are going up – the fastest rise in a decade.

“Wrong values, wrong priorities, wrong choices. This is a Government out of touch.”

He was careful to add that the last Labour government was also regarded as hopelessly out of touch during its final days, adding that the party had changed and would be campaigning on issues “rooted in real life”.

And in what might turn out to be an even bigger hostage to fortune than Tony Blair’s pledge to crack crime, Mr Miliband promised to “conquer long-term youth unemployment” by using a tax on bank bonuses to guarantee 100,000 young people “real jobs”.

Every person aged 18 – 24 who was out of work for a year would be given a placement in a small business or similar, “and we’d make sure they take it”, he added before en ding with a flourish: “Real jobs, real prospects, real training. We would get Britain working again.”

It’s time to get Britain working again was, of course, Labour’s slogan under Neil Kinnock for the 1992 General Election, which the Conservatives led by John Major won with a record share of the popular vote. Perhaps Mr Miliband will have better luck this time.

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