Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (2): Crime

This is part 2 of this blogger's overview of the two main candidates for the position of Mayor of London, with regard to five issues of concern for Londoners.

Crime is the policy area that has received the second greatest amount of attention in this Mayoral race. Here a more consistent divide between the approaches of the two candidates becomes apparent.

Ken's crime policy section is based on building on quoted past successes - an annual average fall in reported crime of 5.5% per year for the past three years. Trouble is, as Dave Hill reports, these figures have been questioned by third candidate and ex-Met commander Brian Paddick, since British Crime Survey data, which isn't dependent on crimes having been reported to police, suggests that crime levels are unchanged over that period. Much of the rest of Ken's manifesto is along similar lines, with little new or innovative to suggest to voters not quite convinced that the impressive-looking statistics bear much resemblance to reality that Ken has the answers they are looking for.

As the challenger, Boris Johnson cannot make the sort of claims to be found in Ken's policy section - instead, he had to come up with eye-catching policies. His manifesto provides 34 pages worth of them. Some of these are the type of thing that few could object to but somehow never seems to actually happen, such as reducing the time police officers spend filling in forms (Making London Safer, pg11). Both candidates promise more police on the beat, and measures to reduce anti-social behaviour on public transport.

It is in the area of anti-social behaviour that Boris appears to have the firmest line. In the introduction to his Crime Manifesto, he talks of a 'broken windows' type of approach to crime, targeting petty crimes "systematically" with the aim of consequentially reducing serious crime (Making London Safer, pg18). However, the case history of the reduction of crime in New York in the 1990s is highly disputed, alternative theories suggest that a variety of other social changes during that period may have had as much effect if not more than the change in policing strategy.

The 'stick' of zero tolerance policing is something that might be expected from a Tory like Boris, but the flipside - youth work, community support, and provision of opportunities for young people who might otherwise be drawn into crime - is perhaps an area where Ken might be expected to be stronger and more positive, with a long-term view to keeping crime down. However, the lack of policy detail on Ken's site (unless I'm just being useless and haven't found it) makes this difficult to judge. There is no mention of these areas on Ken's crime page at all, though elsewhere Ken does pledge a £78 million investment in youth centres and services; in contrast, Boris highlights the work of charitable community groups such as EYLA and Kids Company and promises that an unspecified amount of LDA money will be ringfenced for these projects and others aiming to steer young people away from gang culture.

Some other more minor policies are again shared between the two candidates (CCTV on buses), baffling (inspectors can already take names and addresses of fare-dodgers) or trivial.

Overall: Ken Livingstone's crime campaign emphasises past glories - always a risky strategy since no matter what the statistics say if people don't feel safe (something that is, bear in mind, always distorted by the media) they are unlikely to go along with it. Boris's concentration on anti-social behaviour and his pledge to make policing more visible and effective are understandably popular policies. However, taking a longer-term view, a Boris Johnson mayoralty may result in a step backwards for community relations and a worsening of youth support. All in all, a mixed bag that depends on the veracity of Ken's statistics.
Verdict: Ken edges it

UPDATE (30/03)
: Ken Livingstone has now released a 15-page crime manifesto (PDF), 'Policing in 21st Century London', which was not available when I wrote this post.


a very public sociologist said...

In case you haven't seen, there's an unprecedented internet debate featuring Livingstone, Sian Berry, Paddick and Galloway(!) over at Comment is Free.



Dixon of Dock Green said...

The point you fail to sufficiently articulate in your assessment is that Ken has been incumbent for 8 years so comparing Ken's actual record on crime, which is poor, with Boris' stated intentions is unfair. Give Boris a chance to prove himself by voting for him I say!

The crime statistics are quite meaningless because they are dependent on reported crime, dependent on accurate recording (for which the police have a very poor track record) and highly vulnerable to tinkering to distort the picture in favour of the status quo, e.g. Ken and a very pro-Labour Met Police. The police have a vested interest in making crime appear under control.

Ken's record on crime is poor partly because he has focussed too much attention on police race relations issues to the detriment of grass roots policing. Whilst this has been essential in many respects, other areas where the police require hard scrutiny (such as policing profile, visibility, behaviour in the public eye, etc.) have been allowed to fall into shadow.

Ken has allowed personal interests to get in the way of the balanced scrutiny required of the London Mayor. In many aspects, although arising from a political stance, the London Mayor's role requires an apolitical approach to be truly successful.

If he represents anyone, The London Mayor should represent ordinary Londoners and ordinary Londoners care about crime and disorder in the round, not just the race relations aspects of it. I have more confidence in Boris reflecting this breadth of interest than Ken.

angelneptunestar said...

I was watching Ken being interviewed by the London Assembly on housing and a lady called Dee Doocey was absolutely nailing him on the inaccuracy of his figures. The first two were right and after that, he was away with the fairies and it all ended up being Lady Porter's fault - couldn't follow the middle part of his reasoning, but whatever.

I am sure that Ken's figures on crime are equally fanciful and I believe Brian Paddick. Ken is from the Hilary Clinton school of reporting, where it is all wildly exaggerated.

Ken cares so much about reducing crime, he has not even made it his primary issue in the election like Boris has. Boris was very sincere when he presented his proposals and convinced me that this issue is his main priority. In today's Standard, there are painful reports of two deaths: a cleaner, a grandmother battered to death on her own doorstep as she came home from her shift in Canary Wharf; also more details of the Matalan manager knifed as he cashed up alone in Hackney.

How can any electoral candidate make green issues the spearhead of hs campaign when awful things like this are happening, and I totally believe that Boris Johnson intend to do all he can to improve matters. Green issues are very very important but nobody in their right mind could fail to see that dealing with crime is the major issue.