Broken promises – not just from the Lib Dems, but the Tories too – have been brought into stark relief over the last few weeks. People in my constituency – and many of the voters I spoke to in Oldham last week – are appalled by VAT being hiked up to twenty per cent this month. And they’re especially angry that this is happening at the same time as sharply rising petrol prices and in a really difficult year for the economy and family budgets.
A leaked memo to shadow cabinet ministers over Christmas rightly said that Labour must pin the blame for what is an ideological choice to cut public spending and raise taxes in this drastic and unfair way on what is, essentially, a Conservative-led government. As I wrote in my column a month ago, we must not let David Cameron and the Tories off the hook by playing into his strategy of using the Liberal Democrats as his human shields.
So now is the time to take the gloves off and win the argument that David Cameron and George Osborne have made the wrong choice on the economy. As Ed Miliband said in his new year message we must expose the recklessness of spending cuts which are too fast, too deep and take huge risks with jobs, growth – and the deficit too.
On VAT, people are angry – but not everyone is surprised. Older voters know that the Tories always choose to raise VAT. It’s an unfair tax, which I guess is why they like it so much. And those people who have seen the Liberal Democrats take power in local government are not too surprised to see promises on tuition fees or education maintenance allowances broken so brazenly now that this party has had a chance of power nationally too.
But it is on policing that voters are really taken aback. Pretty much every voter I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks – whether it’s in my constituency or in the Oldham by-election – were shocked to learn that the Tories and Lib Dems are cutting the police so drastically.
They know it’s no coincidence that a sharp fall in crime under Labour happened at the same time as we invested in a record number of police officers and PCSOs. In a recent You Gov poll over two-thirds of the public said policing should either be protected from cuts or subject to smaller cuts than other areas – the highest figure after the NHS and schools. Just two per cent said it should take a bigger cut than other public services. But that is exactly what has happened.
People recognise that all public services need to make some savings, but they can’t understand why the police are taking such a big hit – a twenty per cent cut in just four years – compared to other vital services like schools and hospitals.
Of course savings can be made while protecting police officer and PCSO numbers, as Labour set out in its White Paper a year ago, but cuts of this speed and scale go way beyond what independent experts believe can be achieved simply from efficiencies and better procurement.
In Greater Manchester, for example, 1400 officers will be lost and a similar number of police staff too. Every chief constable has been put in a very difficult position by the government and will do their very best to continue delivering a decent service to the public. But the idea that this will not damage frontline police or undermine the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour, as the government claim, is absurd.
That’s why over the coming months, alongside supporting Alan Johnson as he takes the fight to the government on the economy and broken promises on VAT and tuition fees, we will be campaigning hard on what the Tory-led government is doing to policing in our communities.
Just four weeks after the funding settlement for the police, a survey by my team this week showed that 14,500 police jobs, including over 6,000 officers, are already set to go. But this is just the tip of the iceberg from a third of police forces. The vast majority of police forces have not yet announced how many jobs will go and some of those which have are only currently putting figures on job losses for one year.
The fact is that Theresa May totally failed to stand up for the police in the spending review negotiations and now we are starting to see the consequences of that mistake. And David Cameron didn’t foresee this either. His political antennae just aren’t working on this issue. When it comes to policing, he has a blind-spot. He just doesn’t get it.
At a time of rising public protest, an ongoing terror threat, the security challenge of next year’s Olympics and an expensive reorganisation of policing, these cuts are a reckless and dangerous gamble.
They will undermine the fight against crime and take unnecessary risks with national security and the safety of our communities. The government should go back to the drawing board and think again.