Yvette Cooper has declared that “only Labour is the party of law and order” in a speech setting out the opposition’s plans to reform policing, including through the introduction of a new ‘neighbourhood policing guarantee’.
In a speech to the Institute for Government this morning, the Shadow Home Secretary accused the Tories of “deliberately” running a “hands-off Home Office” and failing to take “proper action on serious areas of rising crime” and to introduce “serious policing reform”.
She told attendees: “They’ve totally failed to deliver a policing and justice system fit for the 2020s – there’s no sense of direction or urgency about the challenges policing and communities face.
“Too often, all there has been from Conservative Home Secretaries is rhetoric. The talk is tough, but the walk is woefully weak. And the Conservatives are weak on crime and on its causes too.”
The Labour frontbencher declared that her party would take a “fundamentally different approach” to policing and bring in reforms intended to “rebuild confidence” and help tackle “persistent challenges”.
She said: “30 years ago this year, the Labour Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair said our party would be “tough on crime [and] tough on the causes of crime”.
“It was right then, it’s right now. It’s what we did then, it’s what we’ll do again. Over 13 years, the Conservatives have let communities down. Only Labour is the party of law and order now.”
Cooper told attendees: “At the heart of our plans on crime and policing will be rebuilding and renewing the neighbourhood police who are at the heart of our communities and the fight against crime.”
She reiterated Labour’s proposal to put 13,000 additional police and police community support officers (PCSOs) into community teams, a plan she unveiled in her speech to party conference last year.
Cooper announced that the party would also introduce a new ‘neighbourhood policing guarantee’ and impose new statutory responsibilities on forces to “protect and deliver neighbourhood policing”.
The party said the guarantee would see increased town centre patrols, “substantially expanded” neighbourhood policing teams, a named neighbourhood officer for every community and “tough action” on antisocial behaviour and drug dealing.
Cooper also outlined plans for “new mandatory requirements on vetting, standards, training and misconduct”, which she said would be underpinned by new legislation.
She declared: “As the truly shocking cases of David Carrick and Wayne Couzens have shown, vetting, standards and misconduct systems have badly failed. Neither of those men should ever have been police officers or able to serve for so long.
“But systems to root out racism, misogyny, homophobia and toxic bullying culture are nowhere near strong enough – letting victims, communities and policing down. Confidence has fallen further in Black communities too.”
She said Labour would introduce reforms “right across the criminal justice system” to increase the charge rate and announced that the party would seek to overhaul technology in policing, declaring that technology and practice “hasn’t kept up” as crime has become “more complex”.
In her speech to conference in September, Cooper said Labour would bring in a new law to “crack down on criminals who lure young people into violence” and set out a plan to support young people at risk, involving mental health professionals, safer schools officers and mentors.
She said Labour would introduce new mandatory rules and safeguards on the strip searching of children and put domestic abuse experts into 999 control rooms in every police force to deliver specialist support to victims.
According to analysis of Home Office figures, published by the Labour Party last July, the number of officers and PCSOs in neighbourhood policing had fallen by 6,625 and 3,898 respectively in 12 years.
The data revealed that there are 6,252 fewer frontline police officers than there were in 2010 and that the proportion of frontline officers was at its lowest since 2010. According to the figures, the Tories have presided over a 30% cut in the numbers of police officers.
Below is the full text of Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s speech to the Institute for Government this morning.
Thank you to the IFG and to Hannah for hosting me today. Thank you too to all of you for coming this morning. Can I also just start by welcoming the work that the Institute for Government does through thick and thin to promote better government. Boy, do we need that right now. I pay tribute to the work of the IfG Academy who offer advice and support to every newly appointed cabinet minister and minister as they start their job. Also had a very busy 12 months.
With hundreds of newly appointed or re-appointed reshuffled ministers. In the last 12 months alone we’ve had: four Home Secretaries – two of whom were same person – three Justice Secretaries – two of whom were the same person, three Attorney Generals and four policing ministers. And it is a shocking level of chaos and it’s damaging.
But it’s not just the chaos and the incompetence that has caused the problems and issues around crime and policing. So I want to talk today about what’s been a complete collapse in Home Office leadership on crime and policing under the Conservatives, how they’ve stood back while neighbourhood policing has crumbled, while the charge rate has plummeted, while confidence in policing and the criminal justice system have fallen, while more victims are being let down and more criminals are getting off. And I want to set out the very different Labour approach that Keir Starmer and I and the Labour shadow cabinet are taking. And show why only Labour is the party of law and order now.
If you talk to people across the country about their experiences of crime, policing and the criminal justice system, you’ll hear countless stories of frustration and anger. Too often, there is a sense that when things go wrong, no one comes and nothing is done. Too often, as in so many other public services after 13 years of Conservative government, everything feels broken.
So I’ve heard from shop owners and residents who are sick and tired of nothing being done about rising crime and antisocial behaviour in their town centres that is dragging the area and the local economy down. I’ve heard from a taxi driver who told me about the local taxi rank being pelted routinely with stones by a small group of teenagers but nothing being done. An older woman who told me that she didn’t shop in town anymore because the street drinkers made her feel unsafe and she never saw the police. And a store manager who said they’d been burgled three times in the space of a fortnight and even though they thought they knew who was responsible, no one had been to see the CCTV. Policing is overstretched, but rising crime and antisocial behaviour in town centres is corroding the local social and economic fabric. And police patrols have been cut back.
I’ve heard too from parents deeply worried about what is happening to their children and teenagers. About them being bullied or harassed in the street, threatened with violence or drawn into crime, or being targeted or groomed online. And they are also worried most of all that if things start going wrong for their family, there will be no one to turn to, no one to help.
We lost two more young lives to terrible violence this week. In Cheshire and in Chelmsford. Knife crime has gone up by 70% since 2015 – with some of the biggest increases in the suburbs and in small towns. Yet early intervention services have been cut back. And again too little is being done.
And I’ve heard from pensioners, worried not just about antisocial behaviour on the streets, but about being targeted with scams and online fraud. Fraud now accounts for nearly half of all crime yet barely any of those crimes are actually investigated and less than 0.1% of them make it to court. So hardly anything is being done.
And all of us have spoken to women who are fed up of holding their keys between their fingers as they walk home in the dark, who are weary of having to worry about whether their drink is being spiked and who are angry that so little is done to support them or get them justice when things go wrong.
Today, across the country, 300 women are likely to be raped. 200 of those rapes will be reported. But barely three of those rapists will be convicted. Let that disgraceful fact sink in. Shamefully little is being done. And remember how much more angry everyone feels to see that basic standards of behaviour towards women haven’t even been enforced within the very police forces who are supposed to protect us from violence.
Over the last thirty years, traditional volume crimes like robbery and burglary have fallen as new technology like home alarms and car anti-theft devices have made a huge difference – and that is really welcome. But as long as people feel that in important areas like knife crime or town centre antisocial behaviour things are getting worse, and as long as people feel that vital public services won’t protect them or deliver justice, then confidence will fall and the sense of public frustration and anger will grow.
After 13 years of Conservative government, fewer crimes are being solved, fewer criminals are being caught. There will be around 7,000 thefts today in England and Wales, of which around 4,000 will be reported. Only 180 will face court.
Since 2010 under the Conservatives we’ve seen:
- Arrests halved
- Prosecutions halved
- Convictions halved
- Community penalties halved
- Court delays at record highs
- Record numbers of victims giving up on the criminal justice system and dropping out
The prosecution rate has plummeted by a shocking two-thirds since 2015 with only one in 20 recorded crimes now charged. So, quite literally, more criminals are getting away with it after 13 years of Conservative government. And the Home Secretary is doing nothing to turn that round. The collapse in prosecutions started in 2015. Successive Home Secretaries have just shrugged their shoulders and failed to act.
On policing, the Home Secretary is absent too. Across the country, I’ve met dedicated and brave police officers who are doing a brilliant job to keep people safe. Neighbourhood officers and PCSOs I spoke to yesterday in Milton Keynes who are working incredibly hard to tackle knife crime which has risen sharply in the area. Response officers I spoke to in Yorkshire who risked their own lives to stop a dangerous machete attacker. Detectives I spoke to in Merseyside working night and day to solve and investigate homicide or organised crime.
Yet for all that dedication and that hard work, public confidence in policing has fallen. And, according to some surveys, by 20% in just two years. Forces are facing growing and more complex demands. But they have fewer resources and badly inadequate policies to help them cope.
Austerity has been a double whammy for them. The 20,000 officers and thousands more PCSOs and staff that were cut. But other cuts hitting policing too, for example in prevention, probation, prosecutors, youth services, drug and alcohol treatment, social care, the NHS – all run into the ground, and policing picks up the pieces when other services fail. So mental health demand on policing has shot up, and sadly you will often see police officers sat waiting for hours trying to get serious mental health patients admitted before they hurt themselves or someone else, picking up the pieces for the strain in the NHS.
At the same time, crime has become more complex – whether that be dealing with rising fraud or new online evidence in abuse cases. But policing technology and practice hasn’t kept up. The police national computer – the once state-of-the-art technology and ahead of the game – is an unbelievable 50 years old next year. Digital forensics is a total nightmare.
Officers are spending hours more on bureaucracy – especially if they want to lay charges. One officer I spoke to said he now spends 12 hours preparing a case file that would have taken him just two hours two years ago.
And there’s huge workforce problems. A major shortage of detectives. Many officers feeling badly overstretched and unsupported, while training and recruitment processes are inadequate.
As the truly shocking cases of David Carrick and Wayne Couzens have shown, vetting, standards and misconduct systems have badly failed. Neither of those men should ever have been police officers or able to serve for so long. But systems to root out racism, misogyny, homophobia and toxic bullying culture are nowhere near strong enough – letting victims, communities and policing down. Confidence has fallen further in Black communities too.
All this is deeply damaging. But again where is the Home Secretary’s plan to turn this round? Where’s the action to upgrade police technology or deliver a proper national workforce strategy? Why isn’t anyone showing national leadership to sort out the really wasteful lack of coordination between 43 forces on shared services, technology or procurement? Where’s the plan for a new standards regime? Why, why did the Home Office not act after the awful murder of Sarah Everard when everyone demanded change? Why isn’t the Home Secretary working with the Health Secretary on reducing mental health pressures? Or with the Education Secretary on plans to prevent still rising knife crime? It is a dereliction of duty. The Conservatives are missing in action in the fight against crime.
But I want to talk about what underpins this because it’s not just about one Home Secretary. For 13 years, the Conservatives deliberately ran hands-off Home Office, failing to take proper action on serious areas of rising crime, failing to introduce serious policing reform. Conservative Ministers obviously made the decisions to hit policing, prosecution and the courts hard with austerity which caused deep damage to those services. But then they also walked away.
Under David Cameron and Theresa May, the Conservatives made a strategic decision to withdraw the Home Office from active policies on policing and crime and to leave everything instead to a very fragmented network of local forces, PCCs and weak national policing institutions. Successive Home Secretaries have maintained the same approach ever since. It has been a laissez-faire approach that in practice has let communities down.
They abandoned work the Home Office used to do on police standards, on workforce planning, on crime prevention, on anticipating new and changing patterns of crime. And they ditched partnership working with other departments or agencies even where that national leadership is needed. That’s why there’s no proper national workforce plan and why police technology is in chaos. They’ve totally failed to deliver a policing and justice system fit for the 2020s – there’s no sense of direction or urgency about the challenges policing and communities face.
Too often, all there has been from Conservative Home Secretaries is rhetoric. The talk is tough, but the walk is woefully weak. And the Conservatives are weak on crime and on its causes too. The action – or shall we say inaction – reflects deliberate decisions but also a deep-rooted set of values. It reflects the Conservative belief in a smaller government and inactive government, their lack of commitment to public services and a sense of walking away from their responsibility for what happens in communities or whether justice is delivered – leaving people to sink or swim alone. And it reflects the shocking carelessness that the Conservative Party has shown in recent years about respect for the rule of law itself.
I don’t think they gets how damaging this has become. Because confidence in policing and in the criminal justice system is increasingly fragile, and for some people, that is hanging only by a thread. And it matters. It threatens our British policing model – our tradition of policing by consent – if confidence is not maintained. Undermines respect for the rule of law – which underpins our very democracy and the safety of our communities – if people think that justice won’t be done. And it corrodes our communities if public spaces are downgraded and people don’t feel safe.
So that’s why Labour will take a fundamentally different approach. In the Labour Party, we believe in championing social justice – you don’t get social justice if you are denied justice and you don’t feel safe. We want Britain to be a country in which everyone can enjoy new opportunities – but security is the foundation on which all other opportunities are built.
Strong communities are safe communities. And that’s why we believe in upholding the law and standing up for justice and cracking down on criminals who destroy peoples’ lives and livelihoods. So we’re angry when women don’t feel safe at night or on the streets or in their homes. We hate the impact it has on our town centres. And we want to right those injustices.
Unlike the Conservatives, we believe in active government, we believe in high-quality public services. And we want more police, but we will expect higher standards from them and we’ll work in partnership with other government departments and agencies.
And we believe in those core Peel principles on which our British policing model was founded nearly 200 years ago, a model for which we should be proud – that the purpose of policing is to prevent crime and disorder, to uphold the law, pursue justice for victims and keep communities safe and strong. Policing by consent where the police are the public and the public are the police.
So Keir Starmer as head of the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted serious criminals and terrorists, stood up for victims and their families. And time and again he has shown leadership in upholding the rule of law.
For 25 years, I have worked on different aspects of crime, justice, public safety, national security – from the very first briefings I received from MI5 and MI6 as a member of the intelligence and security committee a quarter of a century ago, through to being a courts minister and Shadow Home Secretary and select committee chair. Keir and I have both seen the challenges the Home Office face, but we know how much more it could be doing to serve our country now.
So Labour will bring in new reforms to policing to rebuild confidence and help tackle some of those persistent challenges we face. Reintroducing new work on crime prevention and policing standards into the Home Office. Most urgently, we will introduce new mandatory requirements on vetting, standards, training and misconduct underpinned by new legislation. It means new leadership from a Labour Home Office to set out active strategies in vital areas – including on violence against women and girls, on fraud, on youth violence and on antisocial behaviour. And we will work not just with the police and the criminal justice system but with councils, community groups, businesses, the NHS, schools and the voluntary sector.
And it means reforms right across the criminal justice system so more criminals can be charged and punished while more victims get justice. And yes, serious leadership too on overhauling technology so policing can use modern equipment and proper collaboration on procurement and efficiency across 43 forces. We will develop a proper national workforce strategy too to support the police but also raise standards.
At the heart of our plans on crime and policing will be rebuilding and renewing the neighbourhood police who are at the heart of our communities and the fight against crime.
And I want to conclude by saying a bit about why Labour is making this such a priority as part of our reforms. Over the last 13 years, we’ve seen policing become a reactive, crisis response service. Instead of proactive and problem-solving. Only 12% of officers are in neighbourhood policing now, compared to 19% in 2010. 6,000 neighbourhood police and more than 8,000 PCSOs have gone since 2015 alone. But the real figures are worse than that, because even where teams have stayed in place, they’re covering bigger areas, they’re merging with response teams and officers are routinely abstracted from those neighbourhood teams to cover elsewhere, sometimes for months at a time. The people who were the eyes and ears of policing in communities have gone. And the people who solved local problems are too often not there.
Neighbourhood policing is always the thing that gets squeezed when everything else is overstretched. Town centre patrols have gone. Half the country say they never see the police on patrol anymore – a proportion that has doubled since the Conservatives came to power.
But you can’t rebuild trust in policing without rebuilding neighbourhood police. You can’t build the relationships that generate intelligence that helps catch offenders or crack down on local crime, if no one knows who to talk to. Neighbourhood policing shouldn’t be seen as the Cinderella service, it should be the building block on which the rest of policing is based. Not left on the edges of policing but protected and prioritised.
There is a good reason why Sir Mark Rowley, the new Met commissioner, has made neighbourhood policing a critical part of his plan to restore trust in London. In Yorkshire, in my constituency and across the coalfields after the miners’ strike, we saw confidence in the police collapse, but it was the neighbourhood policing introduced under a Labour government that rebuilt that confidence again.
That is why Labour will put 13,000 more neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs back on Britain’s streets – paid for with £360m delivered from our shared procurement plan.
We will introduce new neighbourhood police guarantee – restoring patrols back to town centres, making sure communities and residents know who to turn to when things go wrong, with new statutory responsibilities on forces to protect and deliver neighbourhood policing.
So yes bringing officers and PCSOs back in our town centres, bringing them back into our communities to work on knife crime, back into neighbourhood teams to keep the streets safe for women at night. And restoring those officers and teams to pick up that vital intelligence to catch dangerous criminals.
Drawing on the traditional core of British policing – the bobby on the beat – but modernised for a new age, equipped with new training and technology so they can use data to target hotspots, react quickly and build partnerships to solve problems.
Across the country, through the years, I’ve met inspiring neighbourhood officers and PCSOs doing incredible work. The officer I spoke to was working with troubled primary school children to stop them going off the rails, and he knew whose dad was in prison, whose mum had been a victim of domestic abuse. He knew the problems those kids faced but also what was needed to turn things round. The PCSO who worked with domestic abuse victims – their port of call when they were afraid.
Catherine Cawood may be fiction. But the stories of police officers like Catherine who know their communities, who pick up the things that everyone else misses, who solve crimes and keep people safe, are all very real. And we need more of them.
So preventing crime, keeping people safe, punishing criminals who wreck lives so victims get justice, protecting communities from the blight that drags everyone down and upholding respect for the law that underpins our democracy – these are the things that Labour will do.
30 years ago this year, the Labour Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair said our party would be “tough on crime [and] tough on the causes of crime”. It was right then, it’s right now. It’s what we did then, it’s what we’ll do again. Over 13 years, the Conservatives have let communities down. Only Labour is the party of law and order now. Thank you very much.