Seven weeks ago, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Theresa May that her savage cuts to police forces would leave police unable to perform their task of keeping Britain safe. The Prime Minister scoffed at him. And this failure in judgement has cost Britain dearly.
Speaking after the 22 March Westminster attacks, Corbyn praised the response of emergency services. Then he asked the Prime Minister:
Could the Prime Minister assure us that the police will be given all the necessary support and resources to take them through this very difficult period with what happened last Wednesday?
Theresa May praised the work of the police, and stated that the service had all the resources it needs. Corbyn took to his feet again seeking clarification:
But there are some problems… Between 2015 and 2018, there’ll be a real terms cut in central government… funding to police forces of £330m. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that police forces all over the country have the necessary resources to do the job?
The Prime Minister stated that police budgets were protected, and that police had told her they had adequate resources. This response should haunt her forever.
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) May 25, 2017
Back to reality
Theresa May knew full well that her answer to Jeremy Corbyn (and the public) that day was untrue. Because the police had told her so two years before.
At a Police Federation conference in May 2015, the then Home Secretary was told by police that forces had been cut so extensively that they would be unable to respond to a major attack on UK soil. They said that the army would have to be drafted in to support. May told the assembled officers that they were “crying wolf”, saying:
The Federation warned that spending reductions mean that we’ll be forced to adopt a paramilitary style of policing in Britain. Today, you said that neighbourhood police officers are an endangered species.
I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good.
Just two years later, it happened. Police forces do not have the numbers to conduct the extensive patrols required as the UK terror threat reaches ‘critical’. In the wake of the Manchester bombing, UK armed forces are now patrolling British streets.
May had been warned by the leader of the opposition, and by police forces themselves, that her cuts were endangering public safety. She dismissed these concerns out of hand.
The chair of the Police Federation, Steve White, had strong words for May and her government in the wake of the 22 May Manchester bombing:
The impact of austerity on the police
Since the Conservatives came to power in coalition in 2010, police forces across the country have suffered major cuts. And as a result, there are now 20,000 fewer police officers in the UK than there were in 2009. That is a 14% drop in less than a decade. As White told the BBC:
Whichever way you look at it, the figures are deeply worrying and disappointing…
The increased demand is taking its toll. The figures highlight increased levels of sickness across officers in England and Wales, illustrating the intense pressures they face. This cannot be allowed to continue.
At a time when safety and security of the public is at the top of the political agenda, it is time to refocus priorities and invest further in the police.
A briefing from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners states that planned budget cuts will hurt even more. Their analysis suggests that police staffing levels could fall by a further 17% to approximately 100,000 by 2020 – the lowest level since the mid-1970s. The government will also cull civilian posts, requiring remaining officers to fulfil back office roles too.
In contrast, Labour would block £3bn in planned tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens in order to increase the numbers of all 43 police forces in England and Wales. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has laid her case out in a column for The Independent.
Theresa May failed to take the advice of police. She dismissed their professional advice as “crying wolf”. And Britain is paying the price. In the 8 June general election, Britain can turn the tables, and leave May holding the bill.
– Those who are concerned about loved ones or anyone who may have been in the area at the time of the attack can call this emergency number: 0800 096 0095.
– For more coverage on the attack, see here.
Featured image via Screengrab
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