Daily Archives: 25 November 2005

Is the Lib Dem Front Bench completely descending into Daily Mail la la land?

Lib Dem DCMS Shadow Don Foster has today released a press release announcing the alarming ‘fact’ that alcohol related crime has increased by 20% in the last two years. You can read the written answer from Hazel Blears that this was based on here.

This is mind numbing, head banging, bat-shit crazy talk. A sprinkling of other ‘facts’:

  • This is a measure of recorded crime which isn’t reflected by the British Crime Survey. According to this, violent crime fell from 2003/4 to 2004/5 by 11%.
  • This is a new measure that was introduced in 2002. As such, one would expect the stats to be all over the place, especially when recording something as subjective as ‘violent offences committed in connection with licensed premises’.
  • Even if you ignore the two points above, the statistics suggest that the police are starting to turn things around. ‘Crime’ increased by 14.9% in 2002/3-2003/4, while in 2003/4-2004/5 it went up by just 4.7%. Meanwhile, total recorded violent crime rose by 14.5% in 2002/3-2003/4 and 8.3% in 2003/4-2004/5. Relative to everything else then, the police are getting pub related violent crime under control.
  • The figures don’t show all policy authorities and are most notably missing the Metropolitan Police. The City of London police meanwhile are recording a drop. Presumably it is quite okay to introduce relaxed licensing laws there then?
  • Even if that doesn’t give you cause for comfort, then realise that this all happened at a time when we didn’t have relaxed licensing laws and there is nothing to suggest that relaxing licensing laws will have any significant effect.

Finally, it can’t be emphasised enough that recorded crime is just as much an indication of the police doing their job as it is a case of crime increasing. As Hazel Blears correctly states:

These figures relate to violence recorded by the police rather than violence committed. Therefore they should not be taken as a complete illustration of the number of violent offences committed in connection with licensed premises.

For example, in certain areas where alcohol-related violence is particularly prevalent, local police are more likely to police city centres on Friday and Saturday nights thus recording more incidents of violent offences committed in connection with licensed premises. If football-related violence is a problem, the choice to send police officers to the match will undoubtedly lead to more violent crime being recorded than if they did not attend. There are other examples, such as the pro-active policing of antisocial behaviour which can increase recorded crime.

We are stuck with the age old problem of the wide discrepency between recorded crime and the BCS. But I don’t think this is terribly hard to explain. Aside from the explanation given above, just as people’s aspirations tend to increase at a faster pace than the economy, so it is that as crime falls we start getting increasingly concerned about every minor infringement. While there are fewer victims of assault than ever before, every clip round the ear which would have been ignored is getting reported.

By all means read the BCS with a critical eye, but it doesn’t then follow that you can ignore the thing entirely.

Why are the Lib Dems playing this Daily Mail game so whole-heartedly? Cynical Labour hacks would argue that it is because we’re shameless opportunists and I’d like to say they’re wrong, but I’m finding it more and more hard to justify. “Tough liberalism” appears to amount to nothing more than running around screaming like Chicken Licken about the sky falling (apologies – I promised not to mention childrens stories again this week). That doesn’t sound terribly “tough” to me; in fact it sounds like a position of weakness.

It really angers me that the party plays this game while simultaneously accusing the other parties of playing fear politics when it comes to terrorism. What’s worse, I just can’t see it doing us any good whatsoever. The other parties will continue to accuse us of being ‘soft on crime’ and we fail to carve out a distinctive platform. I didn’t get into politics to play this game and when I read this sort of shit being churned out I really do wonder if it isn’t time I jacked it all in.

I’ll let Don Foster himself have the last word:

These last minute spurious arguments smack of desperation.

Quite.

UPDATE: I’ve just had another look at the government figures and noticed that the “incomplete” figures that the Lib Dem press release doesn’t mention almost all indicate a fall in crime from 2003/4-2004/5, including Essex, Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, West Mercia and Wiltshire.