Theresa May’s most basic claim about the Conservative Party is officially in tatters

Theresa May What
Steve Topple

The Conservative Party frequently claims to be the party of “law and order”. It’s an assertion that Theresa May has often repeated herself. But now, that claim has been blown out of the water by damning revelations released on Thursday 20 July. The latest crime figures show that, overall, crime has increased by the largest amount since 2007.

Spiralling out of control

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that, in the year to March 2017:

Murder rates also went up by 26% in the space of a year. And while a large part of this increase was the 96 Hillsborough manslaughter charges, even without these the homicide rate still increased by 9%.

Seven years of Theresa May?

You can often put increases in crime down to better public awareness and reporting, or reclassification of certain crimes. But the ONS says this is not entirely the case. It said:

The latest figures show the largest annual rise in crimes recorded by the police in a decade. While on-going improvements to recording practices are driving this volume rise, we believe actual increases in crime are also a factor in a number of categories.

It is important to note that the ONS uses two sets of data. Official figures from the police on recorded crime show a 458,021 increase on the previous year to nearly five million. But the ONS also uses the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). The ONS says of the CSEW:

This is a face-to-face victimisation survey in which people resident in households in England and Wales are asked about their experiences of a selected range of offences in the 12 months prior to the interview.

The CSEW survey showed a 7% reduction in crime, excluding fraud and computer misuse. But with these offences included, the CSEW shows crime levels back to where they were in 2007. Also, half of the increase in police-recorded crime is in offences not covered by the CSEW, including shoplifting, public order offences, and possession of weapons.

External influences?

The figures come in the wider context of increasingly stretched police resources. Because since 2009 in England and Wales, 20,000 police officers have been cut; governments have cut real-terms budgets by 18%; total employment in the force reduced by 17.4%; the number of officers on sick leave increased by 11.5% in 2016; and the number of armed officers has halved [paywall] in the past 15 years.

But there could be another underlying reason for the increase in crime. As the London School of Economics (LSE) wrote in 2014, there are historical links between inequality, poverty, unemployment, and an increase in crime. It said that:

Studies of the economy-crime link suggest higher rates of offending are associated with higher levels of unemployment and economic inequality. Both these conditions are consistent with the broad trends observed in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s…

Indeed, crime rates rose sharply in the late 1980s. But the LSE essentially pinpointed the effects of neoliberal politics spilling over into the crime rates, saying that:

The creation of a series of social and economic circumstances (in particular mass unemployment, the geographical concentration of the socially and economically disadvantaged through implementation of housing policies and growth of inequalities coupled with real term reductions in social benefits) which were conducive to the production of crime…

Conservative criminality

So are we seeing the effects of seven years of Conservative-led austerity, stagnating wages, persistent inequality and the degradation of housing emerging in crime rates? Are the cuts to the police service responsible? Or is it a case of a natural increase in criminal behaviour?

Only historians will be able to give us a definitive answer. But it is highly likely that seven years of Tory rule have now created a desperate society, angry and more willing to break the law. Either way, the idea that the Conservatives are the party of “law and order” has collapsed.

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