TRYING to prove a connection between one thing and another in the eye of a crisis is not easy. Theresa May is reluctant to admit the rise in stabbings is linked to cuts in police numbers, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a video posted yesterday that young “people shouldn’t pay the price for austerity with their lives”.
The two views are as expected: May refusing to believe what seems clear to many, and Corbyn laying it on a bit thick, even if in this case his logic is stronger.
The present moral panic has been stirred by a rise in knife crimes (up 31% in the 12 months to September 2018, according to Home Office figures) and the tragic deaths of two 17-year-olds, Jodie Chesney in east London and Ghaleb Makki in the village of Hale Barns, near Altrincham.
While all such deaths are appalling, what seems to have compounded the shock is that the victims were not typical: Jodie was a Scout and Ghaleb wanted to be a heart surgeon.
None of that should matter, as a senseless young death is a senseless young death whoever has died, but those characteristics are what pushed Jodie and Ghaleb into the headlines.
Mrs Maybe insists there is “no direct correlation” between cuts in police numbers and the rise in stabbings – a view that raises a heckle from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who says the link is “obvious”.
Theresa May often refuses to spot things that hang before her nose, as obvious as an apple on a tree. Yet one difficulty with her stubborn creed here is that it suggests having or not having police makes no difference.
The rise in knife crime tarnishes what’s left of her reputation as Home Secretary – a post she held for long dull years in her trial run for PM.
May stood up to the Police Federation over cuts to policing and reformed stop and search – the very power her critics, including the rarely silent Boris Johnson, are saying needs beefing up again.
The other key part of May’s legacy is the hostile environment on immigration that led to Windrush – a scandal that should follow her around for ever. Another part of that shameful policy concerning asking landlords to check on their tenants’ rights to be here has now be overturned by the High Court.
One difficulty for Corbyn here is that he is unlikely to join the tabloid cry for a return to more stop and search. He has always been against this aspect of policing, saying a year ago: “When you get to routine stop and search on large numbers of people that can actually be counter-productive.”
Besides, shouting for more stop and search falls more naturally on the opportunistic shoulders of Boris Johnson, who is splashed over the Daily Mail this morning saying just that.
Would stop and search or having more officers on the beat have saved the lives of Jodie and Ghaleb? That’s an impossible question to answer. But it does seem fair to point out that falling police numbers and the fraying of the social realm – youth clubs cut through austerity, say – are the backdrop to rising knife crime.
Perhaps we should be look to Scotland, where ten years ago the traditional law and order response was replaced by a public health approach. This saw violence as preventable rather than inevitable, and treated knife crime as a disease that could be analysed and controlled – and this has worked in cutting appalling knife crimes, especially in Glasgow.
Such an approach in England would be more sensible than predictable cries for more stop and search. Still, we could always call in the army, as suggested on the front page of the Sun by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
When a stupid thing needs saying, Gavin’s your man.