Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
As we look to August and the five weeks of the Conservative leadership campaign, the topic of who will be the next Prime Minister dominates. On issues such as the economy and taxation there appears to be some clear blue water between the candidates. In other areas we are likely to see Sunak and Truss more aligned to a continuation of the current Government policies, perhaps with a promise to do more, better, faster.
One area where I do not expect to see much of a radical departure from the 2019 manifesto commitments is on crime and policing.
Having set an ambitious uplift target of 20,000 extra officers across England and Wales, it is one area of the manifesto which, despite Covid and the interruption to normal business, is quietly being delivered. We know that Conservative Party members and the wider electorate want to see more officers and want to know that when they need to call the police, someone will turn up.
Preventing crime, tackling criminal behaviour in our communities and supporting the criminal justice process to bring offenders before the courts should be the focus of our police forces.
So how can the next leader ensure that the Party that has always been seen as most effective on law and order, stays that way?
· I fully expect to hear both candidates commit to Boris Johnson’s Police Uplift Programme, which is well under way and delivering more officers onto our streets every week. Clearly this is enormously welcome, but we must ensure that the funding to deliver on those extra officers is also forthcoming, and this means a commitment to carrying out the long-awaited review into the police funding formula. The current formula was designed under a Labour government and favours urban areas – chasing crime rather than reducing it. With a fairer formula, we will be able to reduce crime more effectively, particularly in our rural areas.
· News stories about the toll on victims of crime and their families at the hands of a slow and weak criminal justice system are sadly all too common. We hear frequent promises to tackle the backlog, to deal with courtroom shortages and a lack of judges, and to bring those who commit some of the worst crimes in our communities to justice, and yet there is a sense (and evidence) that nothing much is changing.
It is time to get a grip and it needs to start with the Crown Prosecution Service which has become too removed from delivering in the public interest, and too political. The new leader needs to make this a priority if Conservatives are to be taken seriously on law and order.
· Rather than delivering constant change, voters want to see our public services get the basics right. The next Home Secretary must recognise that policing is being overwhelmed by stealth. Every new initiative, every new law, the endless forms, every new addition in criminal justice – from requirements around disclosure to redaction rules – should be costed for time and training.
If our armed forces declare ‘we simply can’t do Afghanistan’ then we don’t. In policing our theatre is our neighbourhoods and we are fighting a war of attrition with our residents as the victims and their safety as the casualty. Every new initiative must be better costed and assessed for impact on current service provision. We need to get back to policing in the public interest.
· Speaking of the public interest, it is time to tackle the politics and policy creep in policing. I have written here before of the madness of insisting that every officer either has a degree or completes one during probation. Let’s get back to the core skills. It will help diversity and ensure that the police look more like the communities they serve.
The next leader also needs to be clear that there is no role for police in ‘non-crime hate incidents’, and that being offensive isn’t an offence. There have been positive words in recent days from the new head of HMIC (HM Inspectorate of Constabulary), but the new Prime Minister must also be clear with the College of Policing that its new guidance must focus on solving actual crimes. That must include an end to the constant virtue signalling and flag waving.
I am pleased to see a much more diverse workforce in policing than 20 or even 10 years ago, but to regain the trust of all our communities, we must demonstrate that our forces favour none. And that includes an end to the funding of Stonewall, and any organisation over which there is genuine political debate.
None of the above will cost the new Chancellor more money and all are based on strong Conservative principles. I hope that whoever is handed the keys to Number 10 in September puts the public first, and that has to mean keeping our communities safe.