Show caption Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Boris Johnson was showing ‘a total lack of respect for the rule of law’. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Shutterstock Local elections Labour puts crime top of May election agenda to hurt PM Keir Starmer’s team senses that the partygate scandal is wrecking the Tories’ standing as the party of law and order Sun 13 Feb 2022 06.45 GMT Share on Facebook
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Labour will put the fight against crime at the heart of its campaign for May’s local elections amid signs that the scandal enveloping Boris Johnson over alleged lockdown-busting gatherings in Downing Street is badly damaging the Tories’ reputation as the party of law and order.
The move by Keir Starmer’s party comes as Conservative MPs say they are being told by local councillors and constituency associations that they don’t want the prime minister to go on the campaign trail or appear on party literature before the polls on 5 May because the issue of rule-breaking parties inside No 10 is so toxic.
One Tory MP told the Observer: “My association members told me it would be better if the PM stayed away and that they wanted it to be all about local people campaigning on local issues. They think our only chance of doing OK is to keep those associated with partygate out of sight altogether.”
Last week – in a sign that Johnson is seen by Tory strategists as more of an election liability than an asset – the Conservatives put out a party political broadcast that made no mention of him at all, referring only to what it claimed was a list of the government’s achievements, such as the vaccine programme.
Boris Johnson may now be seen by Tory strategists as more of an election liability than an asset. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
Labour, however, is determined to remind people of Johnson’s part in the scandal, and highlight the questions that the controversy raises about respect for the law and commitment to tackling crime. The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said there was a clear link between Johnson’s lack of respect for rules in No 10 and his party’s failure to prioritise tackling crime in local areas.
“Boris Johnson shows a total lack of respect for the rule of law in Downing Street and a total lack of respect for people who are suffering when the law breaks down in their communities,” Cooper said. “We will be campaigning strongly on crime in the local election campaign because our communities deserve so much better.”
Alarmingly for the Conservatives, the latest polling figures from Opinium show Labour is now in the lead on the issue of crime. Thirty-two per cent of people said that they thought Starmer’s party would handle the issue best, against 29% who preferred the Conservatives.
No 10 has confirmed that the prime minister, along with about 50 other people, had been sent a questionnaire by the Metropolitan police about parties in Downing Street which they are expected to complete “truthfully” within seven days.
Labour says Johnson and his party have also resorted to misrepresenting crime figures to hide their poor record. Earlier this month, the head of the UK Statistics Authority reprimanded the prime minister and the Home Office run by Priti Patel for saying that crime had fallen by 14%, when this excluded the fastest-rising category, fraud and computer crime.
Sir David Norgrove said he would be writing to the PM and home secretary to highlight what he called their “misleading” use of statistics. When fraud and computer crime are factored in, the latest official data shows that crime is now 14% higher than before the pandemic, with the rate of cases which result in charges having fallen to a record low of just 6% of reported crimes.
Police figures also show that since the end of lockdown last summer, recorded crime has increased significantly, including steep increases in violent offences, which are now 20% higher than in the same period before the pandemic.
At the same time, the proportion of cases leading to charges of violence against the person has fallen from 14.6% in 2016 to just 5.4% in 2021. That means prosecutions for only one in 20 violent crimes. Charge rates for robbery have fallen from 12.2% in 2015 to 6.9% in 2021, those for theft have fallen from 8.3% to 4.3%, and those for rape have fallen from 5.9% to just 1.3%.
The local elections across England, Wales and Scotland will be a huge electoral test for the Tories and a moment of high risk for Johnson, if he has not by then already been ousted from Downing Street in a confidence vote by his own MPs.
Cooper said Labour was determined to show it was the “true party of law and order” by promoting its own policies, including putting neighbourhood “police hubs” back in communities to tackle crime.
A newOpinium poll for the Observer shows Labour is now also neck and neck with the Tories when voters are asked which party would be best at running the economy, another area where the Conservatives have traditionally been strong. Some 30% say the Tories would run the economy best, against 29% who say Labour.
Overall, based upon on a new methodology used for the first time by Opinium last week, Labour is on 37%, with the Tories on 34%. The Lib Dems are on 11%, Greens on 6%, SNP on 3%, Plaid on 1%, and others on 8%. Opinium says the new methodology gives a more accurate picture of where voters sit. But the company says that the figures do not represent any fall-off in support for Labour – if the old methodology had been used, the headline figures would have put Labour up three points on a fortnight ago on 42% and the Conservatives down two on 32%.