"The Prime Minister will know that there has been a drop of a hundred and seventy-three police officers across England and Wales in the first six months of this year. He will also know there has been a cut of two hundred and sixteen police officers in Greater Manchester. Bearing in mind that his staff believe that there has been too much police attention to his area, and my constituents believe there has been far too little attention to policing in my area, will he arrange for a transfer of resources so that both he and I can have a good night's sleep?"
The reply was classic Blair. First, he did not answer either the direct question or the implied ones. Second, he attacked the Tory record (after ten years, that is becoming irrelevant). Third, he reeled off a set of statistics. Finally, he lied about Liberal Democrats' voting record on crime legislation.
"Well, first of all, let me remind the honourable gentleman that actually we've got record numbers of police - over 140,000 - that is some 14,000 more than we inherited in 1997. In addition to that, of course, we've got thousands of community support officers and in addition to that of course as a result of the anti-social behaviour legislation that in areas such as his we're now able to take action against those people making life hell for people in their communities. And what have all three of these things got in common? The Liberal Democrats voted against every single part of it. So, I am delighted if Liberal Democrats ask about law and order."
The Prime Minister could have confirmed or denied the accuracy of Mr Stunell's figures. (Incidentally, they have worrying implications for the city which will host Britain's first super casino. Academic comparisons between casino locations worldwide show that success or failure depend on regulation and policing.) He could have said that he could not comment on an ongoing police investigation.
For the record:
- we voted for the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, which incorporated the ASB provisions;
- we value community support officers, though not as replacements for trained police officers;
- we have continuously pressed for more police officers, and would never vote against an increase.
The government, on the other hand, is in effect cutting community support officer posts and civilian support staff, while removing police officers from the street, by cutting its annual support in real terms. For the explanation, see the blog of the Chief Constable of North Wales.
He writes: "Our 2006/07 budget was reduced by £2m. In 2007/08, a further cut of £3m is anticipated. This has required me to reduce staff because about 85% of my budget of £125m goes on people, and any cut inevitably means employing fewer people. In order to cope, I have to reduce both police officer and civilian staff numbers. This just cannot be done without severe impact on frontline services, and upon neighbourhood policing in particular, because we simply cannot stop answering the phone, or refuse to deal with serious crime - but we can do less neighbourhood policing, even though this is clearly contrary to the loudly expressed wishes of the public. A real dilemma."