What are the Welsh Conservatives up to?

Ok so maybe you weren’t wondering that – I wasn’t. I just assumed they were licking their wounds after last week’s election. But then I received the following tweet from them:

Intrigued, I looked up the reference. I don’t know what it’s like in your family, but in my family it’s not a big deal if I say something slightly different from my Dad. Ok so it has been slightly weird that we were both standing for election to similar posts recently, but whereas General Elections are about a large number of candidates standing on a common manifesto as they hope to form a Government, this election was about individuals standing for a post where they would personally be responsible for important decisions.

Nobody from the Labour Party at any stage of the campaign attempted to “control me” or even to influence what I said: I was saying similar things to other Labour candidates and we did get together and swap notes – but the reason we said similar things is fundamentally that we have the same values, rather than anything else.

What I read in the article was unsurprising – you can see the full text here. Winston Roddick says “The important thing is to ensure there are enough police officers on the streets, so they are able to cope with the crimes taking place.” He said similar things at hustings during the election campaign, as did the Conservative candidate, Colm McCabe, who said he wanted the police to be more visible, ignoring the impact of his Government’s cuts.  I explained to those meetings that I wanted the police to be where they are needed the most, not where they will be most seen.  This means striking a balance between proactive patrolling, responding to calls, investigations and other activities which keep the public safe such as checking on registered sex offenders.

The section in the article that has the Welsh Tories hot and bothered is this:

[Alun Michael] rejected the comments from Mr Roddick about more police on the streets.

“It’s too crude. People don’t want people on the beat just for the sake of seeing them,” he argued.

“The public are more sophisticated than just asking for bobbies on the beat.

“What they want is to know that the police are there when they need them, that they are tackling their priorities and that they respond quickly when they need to ask the police to deal with an incident or events.”

Sounds pretty similar to what I was saying – but the Welsh Tories reckon that this article was saying something different. But they quoted selectively. The context was as follows:

The biggest issue facing policing is the 20% cuts imposed by the Tory/Lib Dem Government at the same time as their economic policies drive the country back into recession – leaving the police to pick up the pieces with fewer resources. Labour’s priority is bobbies on the beat not tax breaks for millionaires.

Rather than looking for inconsistencies in what Labour has to say (which I don’t think are there: I am happy to stand by everything I said in that article), shouldn’t the Tories be doing some careful thinking about what they are saying to the electorate – and more importantly, what their Government is doing to the country?

Remember this was not an election that Labour wanted. I was clear throughout that I did not support the creation of this post, as I did not think a single individual should wield such influence over policing.  I sought election so that I could take a consensual approach and consult widely. The Labour Party has said the £100 million they cost would have been better spent on 3,000 police constables. I could add (as I have elsewhere and as the then Home Secretary, Alan Johnson did in the last General Election Campaign) that if you want to protect the frontline, you do that by looking after the whole of the policing family – cutting a “back office” post usually has an impact on the frontline officer and may end up with them sat inside typing on a computer instead of being out and about. So a crude numbers game about the number of police officers is not important; what matters is the overall resources – and of course it is the Tories and Liberal Democrats in Westminster who are cutting the contribution from central government by 20%.

It is the  Tories who were determined to get rid of a consensual approach and wanted to get their people elected so that they could tell the police to act like ratcatchers. Their message did not resonate with the people of Wales and although they managed to win in Dyfed-Powys, their share of the vote across Wales as a whole was derisory:

I think it would be more sensible for the Tories to focus their minds on where they are going wrong. Stopping their various attempts to undermine the police would be a good start if they want to rebuild public confidence.

Action to get the economy moving would be a good idea too: the best way to reduce the deficit is not cutting public services, but boosting economic output. The cause of the deficit wasn’t that Labour built too many schools and hospitals or that it employed too many nurses, teachers and police officers. It was that the international banking crisis caused an economic downturn which in turn caused income from taxes to go down and expenditure on benefits to go up. Get the economy moving again and the deficit will come down – as it did between 1997 and 2007.

The Tories tax cuts for millionaires in April showed that the public service cuts were never about the deficit – that was just a convenient excuse. It was really about political choices. And I think the British people are with me on this one: they would prefer to see bobbies on the beat rather than tax cuts to the Tories’ millionaire funders.

Over two hours have passed since I pointed out the context:

They have been uncharacteristically quiet since then!


What do you think?

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