UK Politics

Labour Party: Alan Johnson's speech to Labour Party Conference

News   •   Sep 28, 2010 12:34 BST

Alan Johnson MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, speaking to Labour Party Conference today, said:

We meet in Opposition for the first time in fourteen years but under a new leader capable of ensuring that we won't be in Opposition for long.

A historian once said that nostalgia is like a grammar lesson, you find the present tense but the past perfect.

The present is indeed extremely tense as the nation waits for public services to be axed, VAT to rise and child benefit to be frozen.

But whilst we should be proud of our record in government, perfection was never something we aspired to.

Our objective was to leave this country safer, healthier, better educated and fairer than when we came to power in 1997.

And we succeeded.

I believe we also changed our society forever.

It's difficult to imagine any future Government introducing a measure like Section 28 - attacking the gay and lesbian community.

Hard to envisage any weakening of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Impossible to conceive of any future cabinet minister using a party conference platform to launch an attack on single mothers.

But let us not forget the long and winding road we took from what seemed like permanent Opposition to three consecutive periods of Government.

Many of you will remember when Labour shied away from debating the issues around crime and policing because it challenged our sensitivities.

Thus we appeared to abandon our core supporters who were the most frequent victims of crime whilst handing an entirely undeserved reputation to the Conservatives for being the party of law and order.

And yet the Conservatives were to law and order what Pavarotti was to hang gliding.

Here's their record.

Between 1979 and 1997 crime doubled. Violent crime rose by 168%; burglary by 405%. There were too few police chasing too many offenders.

In contrast, we were the first Government since the end of the First World War to leave office with a lower level of crime than when we came to power.

To put it another way, when the Tories were in power there was a 40% chance that you would be a victim of crime. Now there's a 21% chance. Still too high but on a declining trend even during the biggest global economic downturn since the 1930s. In the 1980s recession crime increased by 18%. In last year's recession it fell by 9%.

And we were the first Government to take anti-social behaviour seriously. To work with the police to establish the powers they needed, and to build the local partnerships necessary to tackle the underlying causes of such behaviour.

Conference - no one did more than Jack Straw to transform L abour's approach to crime and disorder. This is Jack's last Conference as a front bench representative of our party and frankly I've had enough of people joking about the length of time Jack has been around.

His experience has been of enormous benefit to the party.

For example when Clause Four was redrafted it was really helpful that Jack had worked with Sidney and Beatrice Webb on the original version.

The Shadow Cabinet has clubbed together to buy him a farewell gift. It's an express chairlift - it gets you upstairs before you've forgotten what you went up there for.

Actually there is no better Parliamentarian than Jack Straw and no one who's done more to root our policies in the every day concerns of working people.

It is now the Coalition Government that fails to understand those concerns.

For a long time I wondered why the new Government was taking such an extraordinarily lax approach on crime:

Reducing police numbers.
Slashing police budgets by at least 25%.

Restricting police powers to use the DNA database to catch murderers and rapists.

Reducing CCTV surveillance.

Removing ASBOs.

Then I heard that Nick Clegg wants to give prisoners the vote and it suddenly made sense.

This isn't a crime policy - it's an election strategy!

Aside from fewer resources and restricted powers, the police are also facing internal upheaval as the Government imposes a single elected commissioner to replace the diversity and experience of Police Authorities - this at a cost of £101 million - the equivalent of 600 police officers.

Under Labour we would have treated policing and counter terrorism as a priority in the spending review. We set out £1.3 billion worth of itemised savings to the policing budget. Savings on police overtime, on business support and back-office functions, in procurement and IT but preserving the central funding for police officers and PCSOs.

Protecting Neighbourhood Policing. Safeguarding Counter Terrorism.

And conference we w ould have maintained another priority.

We would have continued to bear down on domestic violence - a crime that killed two women every week - the biggest cause of morbidity for women between the ages of 16 - 40 - but all too often in the past treated as if it were a "family dispute".

With the introduction of Specialist Domestic Violence Courts, Multi-Agency Assessments, Independent Advisors and a police service that now takes this seriously, we've seen an incredible 64% decrease in the number of domestic violence incidents.

Indeed police officers in the Met have told me that one of the reasons why we have the lowest murder rate in the capital for thirty years is because the police respond to domestic violence more effectively, preventing it escalating into a murder statistic.

But there is so much more to do and with a Home Secretary who is also the Equalities Minister, there should be an added determination to do it. But Theresa May is no Harriet Harman.

Instead we've seen an incredible attack on women's security from this Government.

Almost the first act of the new Coalition was to announce their intention to allow anonymity for rape defendants.

Then we learnt that the introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders which I announced to this Conference last year and which ensures that the perpetrator of domestic violence and not the victim is forced to leave their home - is to be abandoned.

Now we see that the review of how police handle rape cases - which we instigated in response to the awful failures identified in the case of the taxi-driving serial rapist, John Worboys, is to be scrapped.

And to cap it all the Government has decided to opt-out of the EU Directive on People Trafficking thus putting Tory animosity towards Europe above the safety of women being trafficked for prostitution.

Thanks to the work of women on our benches including Maria Eagle and Caroline Flint, we defeated the rape anonymity proposal.

I hope it's the first of many U-turns as the Government is shamed into taking decisions that protect women rather than placing them in greater jeopardy.

Ed Miliband is crystal clear on this. Labour in power would introduce Domestic Violence Protection Orders and sign the EU Directive on People Trafficking.

And no Labour Government will ever allow rape suspects to hide behind a cloak of anonymity when it might prevent other victims coming forward to report crimes committed by the same defendant.

Our record on crime and security is one to be proud of.

It is one of our strengths not one of our weaknesses.

We were in Government at a time when the world faced new and unprecedented threats. When terrorists aimed to kill as many people as possible including themselves.

With a new leader and a new team in place it's time for fresh thinking and new directions.

But we must not forget our experience in Government as we re-examine our policies in Opposition.

The coalition is putting dogma before its duty to ensure public safety and it will return to haunt them.

Let me end by offering them four pieces of advice:

You won't cut crime by reducing police numbers.

Placing an artificial cap on the most highly skilled migrants will damage our economy rather than reduce immigration.

And if you really want to strike a blow against the surveillance state you should sack Andy Coulson rather than remove CCTV cameras that help to deter and catch criminals.

And you do not demonstrate your commitment to civil liberties by failing to protect the most important civil liberty of all; the right to be safe on our streets.