In 1995 Tony Blair talked about being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Police morale was low under the Conservative Government, anti-social behaviour was rife, and violent crime was rising. Blair wanted people to know that an incoming Labour Government would not be soft on criminals, but it would also focus on trying to prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place. When we did get a Labour Government two years later we increased the numbers of police officers, we boosted the resources available to the Police Service and we introduced Police Community Support Officers to bring security to our streets and cut down on anti-social behaviour. We also boosted the Probation Service to guide ex-offenders away from re-offending, and the Youth Offending Service to prevent young people from becoming hardened criminals. It worked, and crime fell to its lowest level for decades. It was the right approach then, and it is the right approach now.
Since the very first weeks after I was elected, I have taken every possible opportunity to strengthen the calls for more resources for our Police Service. Before the tragic murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens I had already had a joint meeting with the Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner, alongside David Ellesmere the Leader of the Borough Council, to urge more resources for Ipswich where gang violence and drug dealing was a clear danger. I met with the Police Federation, and with the representatives of the Police staff who provide the essential back-up without which the officers could not do their jobs effectively. I also spoke to some of the people who knew gang members, to try to understand who was involved and what motivated them.
I have attended debates in Parliament, and asked questions of the Prime Minister and of the Home Secretary. I arranged a meeting with the Police Minister and the Chief Constable at which the promise was made of some additional funding for the work dealing with gangs, and more importantly an acknowledgement that the funding for Suffolk Police is the second-lowest in the country and that it will need to change as part of a comprehensive review of police funding. We are still waiting for that review, but I have made sure that the Minister is aware of our need.
At the same time, I have tried to meet with as many of the affected communities as possible, and have listened to local residents concerns in parts of the town where drugs gangs are most active. I have regular meetings with the Chief Superintendent for Ipswich and discuss with her the cases which need to be resolved in order to keep our town safe. And I continue to discuss local community initiatives with the dedicated local champions who are determined to make their neighbourhoods safer to live in.
We need more police and more police staff, and that will continue to be my main message to the Government. But we will not reduce crime significantly unless we do more to prevent young people from getting involved in the first place, and find ways to guide them away from it before they kill or get killed. The privatisation of the Probation Service was a huge mistake, one which must be reversed. 4YP and other young people’s organisations need significantly more support if we are going to show young people that they are respected, and there is a better way without crime.
Joining gangs and dealing in drugs must stop being seen as a glamorous lifestyle. Just last week I was shown online videos which are still available for all to see, with gang members glorying in the money they have made from drugs, the cars they can buy, the girls they are abusing and the violence they intend to perpetrate on other gangs. It is completely wrong that these incitements to crime and violence should be allowed to remain available to watch. I am trying to contact social media companies to ask them why they don’t remove this criminal material from their sites. This campaign has widespread support across the political parties, and it is time for the Government to act.
We will never stamp out all crime, but the situation we now face in Ipswich is unacceptable. We can reduce crime, we have done it before, and we WILL do it if only the Government would give us the resources we need. I will continue to say so until it happens.