Typical short sighted, illiberal rhetoric on knife crime from Tories

When I was growing up people used to refer to a “crime” known as walking down the street in London while being black. People from BAME communities were disproportionately targeted fro stop and search and the like by the Police. Their concerns were not taken seriously.

Twenty years ago the Macpherson Report into the stabbing of Stephen Lawrence found that London’s Metropolitan Police were “institutionally racist.” A BBC report for its 20th anniversary showed that some think that is still the case.

So it’s troubling, if unsurprising, that the Tory Government in power 20 years on thinks that the appropriate response to the terrifying problem of knife crime is to give the Police more stop and search powers. It’s an illiberal response which just won’t work. The evidence from Scotland suggests that treating knife crime as a public health rather than a purely judicial thing is the most effective approach.

Ed Davey said:

Yet again, the Tories are trying to tackle knife crime on the cheap. It won’t work.

More random, suspicion-less Stop and Searches, carried out disproportionately on people from BAME communities, are not the answer. They will not only consume police time and erode trust in the police, but have little impact in actually preventing people carrying knives.

What we really need is more community police officers to build trust, turn young people away from crime, and target Stop & Searches on those who do carry knives.

The Liberal Democrats demand better than this ineffective and counterproductive policy. The Government must give police forces the funding they need to recruit more officers and combat this knife crime epidemic.

In an article on the party website just after the York Conference, Ed talked about the need to invest in youth services:

High-quality youth work has been proven time and time again to help vulnerable young people escape the clutches of gangs. We owe it to our children to fight for this funding to be restored.

Liberal Democrats demand better.

We’ve passed policy to refocus our fight against knife crime at York conference. We’re committing to:

  • a major reinvestment in youth services
  • making youth services a statutory service, protecting them from cuts
  • working with local government to produce clear guidance for councils for what they should be doing
  • enough grant funding to match that service provision

It’s time to do what works, not what appeals to the prejudices of Tory voters.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Mar '19 - 1:11pm

    Caron in the article there is no mention of that which is the headline, ie the rhetoric you criticise is illiberal etc., who said what that is thus to be called that?

    There is an argument that in the middle of the worst knife related epidemic ever, the increases in powers , reported thus far as modest, are understandable. Similarly there is evidence that short sentences are not a deterrent but very long ones are. This could mean that a substantial and harsh sentence for carrying , and especially, for using, a knife, would stop a number of young people doing both.

    If those who do violent types of wrong are in prison for years, they are no longer doing it. Thus we are safer from them. With prisons that are only or mostly used for the violent ,in the way they could, with strong puinishment and reducation, both, we could be far more likely to deal with criminality , than using prison for many low level financial crimes, and treating the violent with a soft approach. You are far more likely to be in prison for tax evasion than for knife carrying. How about a policy rhetoric on this from a supposedly liberal party.

  • Caron, No one should argue that a properly funded youth service, etc. will play a major part in reducing knife crime but such measures, even after the removal of this government, won’t happen overnight.

    Drastic action is needed now; if that includes a more rigorous ‘stop and search’ and longer prison sentences, so be it. It will save lives and we should not forget that each fatality costs two lives, the victim and the life sentence for the killer.

    I would rephrase your, “People from BAME communities were disproportionately targeted” to read “People from BAME communities are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators”

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Mar '19 - 6:21pm

    It is not a good idea to make this issue either a racial one or a political football. Violence has long been a characteristic of working class communities and where poverty is most concentrated (i.e. in inner-city housing estates) the greatest degree of violence is encountered.
    In London there is a dispropotionate number of BAME families living in urban council estates. Knife crime outside London is a white-working class problem.
    While it is only one arm of of a public health approach to knife crime, there is no substitute for adquate policing. That includes sufficient police numbers, the expanded use of targeted stop and search in crime hotspots and appropriate sentencing.
    Youth services are an important feature of addressing the issue, but direct engagement with youth by police, social workers, teachers and others in their schools is just as important as is involving families and the wider community in discouraging anti-social behaviour and involvement with gangs.

  • There are statistics on knife crime in a report compiled by the House of Commons library at https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04304/SN04304.pdf

    The statistics bob up and down a bit. In general I would suggest that it shows knife crime is fairly constant with perhaps a slight increase in recent years. Those treated in hospital for knife crime peaked in 2006/7. The percentage getting a prison sentence for knife crime and the length of sentence have both increased substantially recently which if knife crime has been going up suggest it is not in itself particularly effective at reducing knife crime.

    While it may take people off the streets, increased prison use has two drawbacks – they can act as “a university for criminals” and it is expensive – money better put into prevention such as youth work and better policing.

  • Knife crimes are overwhelmingly linked to drugs and gang activity. The real problem is the semi legalisation of drugs and de-policed zones. This is also what is behind the various grooming scandals. It’s much easier to contain drug related criminality in particular areas and to pretend that prostitution is a victimless crime, even though it plainly involves abuse and coercion through violence. Part of the way crime has been dealt with for more than a few years is by ignoring it until it spikes or a scandal breaks and then it becomes headline news. It has less to with class or race than it has to do with poor policing and turning a blind eye. When I was a student I used to live in a red light zone. I never saw the police unless they happened to be chasing a stolen car or something of that sort and even then it was mostly a helicopter hovering over head with the odd distant siren.

  • Richard O'Neill 31st Mar '19 - 10:59pm

    One thing I imagine has changed is that so many front line police in London are ethnic minorities, so the situation has moved on significantly in that regard. To say nothing of the fact they presently answer to an Asian Home Secretary. And stop and search has never disappeared as far as I’m aware. I was first frisked by the police when I was 14, and three and four times since. Many bars and nightclubs also routinely search for drugs and weapons. At first I was indignant, over time I’ve grown used to it.

    A significant point is how far the Tories have lost their reputation as a law and order party. It’s a sign of the ineptness of the current government that even this natural base group have no faith in them.

  • Given that Liberal Democrat’s in Government supported cuts of 40% in local government support and similar cuts in the police, and given that they supported a government that promoted the so called Academy system which has contributed to a massive increase in the expulsion of pupils to maintain its academic ‘status’ one has to be very charitable indeed to believe that the latest pronouncements will make the slightest difference.

    Stop and search seems in the immediate future to be the only possible short term solution.

  • To apply stop and search as a solution you first need the police number to implement the policy

    To be fair, there are not enough police officers left to carry out a ‘swamp’ operation.

    Brian Paddick

    So our politicians can order this, pass laws against that but if they don’t provide the resources well nothing will get done. Austerity was not cost free, but politicians who voted for it seem oblivious to that fact.

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