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Message to Corbyn and May: enough is indeed enough – start thinking long term

June 6, 2017

I have a message for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn:

Enough is enough. Please stop using policing and national security as a political football. Neither of you have all the answers and you know it.

You, Mrs May, cannot prove that reductions in police numbers since 2010 have had no effect on terrorism or any other form of crime. You, Mr Corbyn, cannot prove that by recruiting more police you will make any impact on the current rate of terror attacks.

You both know that potential attackers have thousands upon thousands of potential targets. You cannot protect them all with a few thousand extra bobbies on the beat, armed or otherwise. You know that when attacks take place, too often the police can only minimise casualties, just as happened thanks to their swift intervention at Borough Market.

You both know that to deploy armed response teams in every town and city in the UK to guarantee intervention within minutes would be prohibitively expensive, and you have no intention of doing so. The public have no reason to expect the arrival of an SAS helicopter to back up the police in Plymouth, Loughborough or Norwich. And you know that sooner or later there will be attacks on softer targets less intensively policed than London and Manchester.

You agree that the number of armed police must increase. Fine. You agree that the security services must hire more people to keep watch on the high number of potential jihadis across the country. Fine again. But what you don’t tell us is that the kind of people MI5 and GCHQ need to hire are not lined up outside job centres ready to sign the dotted line. It takes time to recruit and train them, and until they do, the security services must make do with what they have. The same goes for the police.

In other words, what you don’t tell us – unless the whole issue of extra numbers is a red herring – is that in terms of our ability to anticipate and defend ourselves against attacks, for a while things are likely stay as they are, or possibly get worse, before they get better.

And while we’re on the subject of red herrings, you should not be preaching certainty where it doesn’t exist. When you trot out statistics on crime, and correlate them with police numbers, do you take into account changing demographics, the effect of poverty, wage stagnation, financial insecurity and other factors that affect crime rates?

In your quest for differentiation, you seem to be ignoring the same reality that advertisers have long recognised, which is that “50% of our advertising is a waste of money – the problem is, we don’t know which 50%.”

Can you, Mrs May, tell us in words of one syllable why police numbers have fallen? What services are affected? What has been the impact of reduced numbers? What “smart policing” actually means? And can you, Mr Corbyn, tell us how your proposed recruitment drive will materially improve what is currently deficient, other than that you will increase the number of front-line officers?

Can both of you guarantee that our membership of cross-EU security organisations such as Europol will continue after Brexit? Can you guarantee that the current level of cooperation between security services in the UK and the rest of the EU will continue after Brexit? Of course you can’t, because these matters are subject to the Brexit deal. But at least you can make clear that this is the UK’s intention.

I will not criticise you for failing to elaborate how you propose to minimise online recruitment of jihadis. This is a complex issue which requires the cooperation of the social media and search companies. But you are not pointing out that draconian action can have unintended consequences. Do we wish to become even more of a society under surveillance than we already are?

Mr Corbyn, Mrs May, these are issues that transcend party politics. They call for coherent policies that survive the lifetime of a particular government.

Both your parties have since 1997 been agreed on the benefit of devolving monetary policy to an independent body – the Bank of England. For centuries we have had an independent judiciary that is much admired throughout the world.

Now is the time to create an independent authority, accountable to but not controlled by the government of the day, to build and implement a consistent, coherent, long-term policy on policing and national security.

It should be an authority that recommends changes to legislation, takes opinion from all sections of our society, including our ethnic and religious minorities, and delegates tactical decisions to the Home Office and security services.

Just as the Bank of England has a duty to explain changes in monetary policy, so the new body should be accountable to the public as well as to the government. It should explain policy changes, highlight uncertainties and threats as well as achievements, and interpret statistics in a clear and consistent fashion.

There will always be secrets relating to national security that it cannot disclose, but the rationale for secrecy should be clearly set out.

You will no doubt bristle at the suggestion that the safety and security of your fellow-citizens is too important to be left solely to the discretion of whichever of you forms a government after June 8th. But I suspect that I’m not the only citizen deeply frustrated by the inability of successive governments over the past two decades to build a national consensus on issues that are fundamental to our well-being, and by your personal failure to demonstrate that you are speaking for all of us, rather than in the interests of the political parties you represent.

We need the best brains available, regardless of their political affiliations, to take a long-term view. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, this is a long-term problem – way longer than the five years that await you.

Enough is indeed enough.

From → Politics, UK

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