In British Parliamentary-style debating, a point made by your opposition, regardless of how outlandish or inaccurate it may be, will stand unless you rebut it. I have some sympathy with this rule, as all too often in political debate, parties will make claims and spout rhetoric in the hope that the opposition won’t check the facts. This is very often the case in political campaigns, and is a method that has been employed by the Liberal Democrats for years. The problem perhaps stems from the need for a political campaign to be constantly on the offensive – it is seen as a weakness to be back-footed by your opponents – you need to have your own material. But the need for a good soundbite is never conducive to the debate that we need in order to hammer out the real issues, and expose the spin.
I have had a number of crime figures thrown at me recently on the BUCF blog which have, directly or otherwise, challenged me to respond, whether due to their selectivity and so misrepresentation, or just complete inaccuracy. Let us start with Iron Mike’s article, where he states:
“violent crime has DOUBLED under this government.”
The British Crime Survey begs to differ with Mike, however. In fact, the data on the Home Office Crime Statistics website appears to indicate a huge fall in violent crime since 1997. Another Labour success, I’d say. Mike goes on to say:
“In particular, with the most serious offence- homicide (murder and manslaughter), the number of crimes that have been committed since 1997 has risen by a quarter”
Let’s go back to the Crime Statistics, which show – wait for it – no change in the number of homicides between 1997/98 and 2005/06. In fact, there is a caveat to the data, stating that the figures for 2005/06 were skewed due to the 52 victims of the London bombings. Discounting these victims, there is a significant decrease in homicides from 1997, but in any case it is difficult to see where any increase could come from, let alone a 25% increase. Perhaps Mike has taken his figures from a better or more independent source than the Home Office – the National Daily Mail Crime Figures, perhaps?
The next gauntlet laid down was from prolific Tory blogger, praguetory, who said:
“John R – here’s a selective figure for you. Throughout the whole of the UK robberies with knives rose by 72% last year.”
Praguetory appears to have gleaned his figures from this BBC article. Rather than peeling off the most convenient figure from the article or simply copying the article’s soundbite verbatim, let’s look at the full range of statistics that accompany the article (I’ve put the party of government in square brackets to assist your analysis of whose policies might be succeeding here):
Violent crime in 1995 4,256,000 [Conservative]
Violent crime 2005/6 2,420,000 [Labour]
Interesting – a 43% decrease in violent crime between the last Tory and current Labour governments.
Violent crime involving knives in 1995 340,480 [Conservative]
Violent crime involving knives 2005/6 169,400 [Labour]
This isn’t going well for the Conservatives – more than a 50% drop in violent crime involving knives! Of course the 72% increase in robberies with knives that was originally referred to accounts for only 17,730 of the total violent crimes committed in 2005/06 – or less than one percent of all violent crimes. Not that impressive in my mind any more – but a good negative headline/soundbite when you need it.
praguetory goes on…
“And it’s not just us Tories having a moan. On a recent return to Brum several non-Tories said to me that they can’t recall there ever being as many shootings and knifings in Birmingham as has been reported as late. Can’t wait for you defence of the government on your rejuvenated blog.”
Well, here it is. The Tories can attempt to slate the government’s law and order policies in blind opposition (and without any of their own), and choose to selectively glean figures to suit the matter in hand. A look at the figures from the British Crime Survey tell the real story. This selective gleaning of figures and misreporting helps to do nothing other than cause a mood of panic amongst the public and create a false perception of a crime problem greater than is actually the case. Very much in the interests of an opposition party to create this impression, but certainly not in the interests of community cohesion – but I suppose the Tories never cared much for that. So yes, there may be a perception of an increase in crime which may well prompt people to say there is a big problem – but I think the reasons for that have less to do with the government and more to do with the Tories and their cronies in the right-wing press.
In your reference to Birmingham, as a candidate in the City Council Elections in Birmingham next year, I can see how council policies have a significant effect on community crime levels, not least in the ward I am fighting to represent. You can criticise the government for national crime trends, but local crime needs to be, to a great extent, the responsibility of the local authority and its policies. In answer to your point, therefore, I suggest you have a think about who was in control of Birmingham City Council a few years ago, when things were apparently better, and who has been in control “of late.”
I’ll let you fill in the square brackets yourself this time… good luck.
John Ritchie is Chair of BULS