We will shortly see what the parties' manifestos have to say on crime (though a characteristically insightful piece by Anthony Wells argues that the actual content of manifestos penetrates remarkably little into the minds of most people and therefore has far less effect on voting decisions than the politically involved like to assume:
This is neatly borne out by polls on reactions to Labour's leaked manifesto – basically, people quite like the policies, but don't like Corbyn, and think the party is divided:
While we wait, it's revealing to look at the changes over time in what issues the public think are important to the country, in MORI's time series (which importantly, asked that question unprompted).
People are far less concerned about crime nowadays than for many decades. The MORI data shows concern about crime actually increasing in the 2000s – despite the extraordinary fall in crime since 1995, a phenomenon across the developed world. But since 2010, crime has fallen right down the list of concerns and a poll last month showed only 12% of respondents mentioning it, less than for almost any political issues (not surprisingly the EU, NHS and immigration are top, ahead of the economy).
(The cynic in me wonders if these trends are related. The Right trades on fear: if crime wont supply it, maybe foreigners - EU/immigration - will do the trick?)
Now one might wonder if the downgrading of crime as a political issue might make some kinds of reform easier politically – notably, doing something about our costly addiction to imprisonment, given all the evidence that it doesn't do much for us.
Unhappily, it seems like issues work as a one-way ratchet – when they are important to people, they influence policy making (and drive spending up), but when they decline in importance, it isn't politically attractive to take money out. The best one can hope for, seemingly, is that the use of incarceration should stop rising, not that it will fall: that's what has happened in the State, where 'peak prison' was around 2008.
No such luck here, though. We've seen the virtual extinction of Liberal Toryism of the Ken Clarke variety, which historically was brave enough to tackle this issue (we forget that the only policy-led fall in prison numbers was under the Tories, in the early '90s – Labour followed Howard's lead in driving numbers up and up). Instead we have the dim-witted Truss celebrating the doubling of prison numbers as a triumph and a source of pride all round:
and then promising a huge building programme to increase capacity still further.
Not that Labour are any wiser. Their leaked manifesto promises an extra 10, 000 police officers (Diane Abbott's car crash of an interview in which the numbers, both of officers and the cost, totally escaped her and playfully ran riot in the studio, can be heard here:
though I find it too embarrassing to take pleasure in (and too symptomatic of the complacent innumeracy of our political class).
But why on earth prioritise spending on police, when crime has halved – and when the public no longer see crime as a major problem? Is this further evidence that Corbyn is stuck somewhere back in the 1980s, when his political development seems to have come to a full stop?
re to edit.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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