Ed attacked Conservative police cuts and said that local elections are the opportunity to challenge them
Conference – my aim today is to boost your local campaigning.
To give you a message for your local voters. A reason to vote Liberal Democrat, wherever you live.
And it’s about the police.
We need a strong Lib Dem campaign against Conservative police cuts.
Indeed, against many aspects of how the Conservatives are treating our policemen and women.
With frozen salaries, pension cuts and, shockingly, Prime Minister-led anti-police attacks.
In less than two months, there are important council elections.
Elections that may bring big changes for local communities.
Elections that might even change the Prime Minister.
But who might come next?
We need a credible alternative to Prime Minister Johnson, Rees-Mogg or Corbyn
Prime Minister Johnson? If the Conservative Party really love our Queen, surely they must spare her from Boris.
Or might it be the MP for the 19th Century – Jacob Rees-Mogg. Wouldn’t that be tip top – for us!
Colleagues, whichever joker it is, our responsibility in British politics has never been greater.
With Brexit Conservatives and Corbyn Labour, the country is crying out for an alternative voice.
Liberal Democrats, we can be that alternative – but we’ve got to build on our recent council by-elections victories.
May’s local elections provide a great chance to do just that.
Local elections are a chance to explain our liberal message
Core to winning again, is the task of explaining our Liberal message - in new ways, that resonate with more voters.
Our position on Brexit resonates – but you’d be shocked to know that only 25% of voters know our position.
Our position on an honest approach to funding the NHS , that resonates too – but how many voters in your area really know Liberal Democrats are arguing for 1p on income tax for the NHS?
With the media squeezing us out nationally, the great opportunity of local elections is to make sure people do know what we stand for. In leaflets, on social media, with local press.
Crime is the local issue which comes up again and again
Inevitably in LOCAL elections, there are a wide variety of locally-based issues that won’t relate to these national messages.
In Kingston-upon-Thames, for example, we’re fighting to save the Council from bankruptcy. Kingston’s Conservatives have been almost as financially incompetent as the bankrupt Northamptonshire Tories.
In Kingston-upon-Hull, Liberal Democrats are fighting to stop Labour’s cuts to health services, including services to new mothers and vulnerable groups.
Yet as I travel round the country talking to local campaigners, one issue keeps coming up, time and time again.
And it’s the police. Police cuts. And rises in crime. Serious crimes like knife crime, gun crime, violent crime and burglaries.
Already many Lib Dem campaigners are focused on this.
ALDC and the Campaigns Department have produced campaign packs on crime, to help you make the case for more police, in your area.
The liberal case for more police
Instead, I want to make the philosophical case for more police. The values and ethical case for Liberals backing the police.
Because I believe the case for investing more in our police goes beyondthe important objective of cutting crime. For I think we and the British people value our police for much more than that.
We look to our police to step in when something goes wrong.
When bad weather causes some emergency.
When a community healthcare worker can’t cope with someone’s acute mental health episode.
At any crisis, big or small, people turn to the police.
Think of that brave police officer poisoned in Salisbury, when going to help people clearly in trouble.
And PC Keith Palmer – who gave his life protecting Parliament almost a year ago.
I’ve had the privilege of attending local police award ceremonies in Kingston – of commendations and bravery awards for amazing police officers in my patch.
When you hear their stories - of what these men and women have done, it brings tears to your eyes.
Conference, police officer bravery happens every day. Like Liberal Democrats, it just doesn’t get reported.
Liberal Democrats - the party of the police
And yet we have a Conservative Prime Minister who bashed our police more than any modern day Home Secretary.
And I recognise that the police aren’t perfect. Don’t pretend to be perfect. They’re citizens in uniform, after all.
And we will always need someone to guard the guardians.
But let’s remember the boring basic fact, that without a strong police force, how can you protect civil liberties?
Police protect freedom
Our freedom as individuals and communities requires the police.
Freedom to walk the streets without fear.
Freedom to know you won’t be burgled in your home by violent robbers, as 2 British Asian families in my constituency were last month.
Freedom for our young people – disproportionately the victims of crime – so they can enjoy their lives.
Yet what I see in Britain today is Conservative police cuts undermining people’s freedom – and Liberal Democrats, we must expose that.
Police promote social justice
But the case for Liberals championing the police goes beyond this well-known freedom case.
The Liberal case for more police is also about social justice. About protecting the most vulnerable. About creating the safe communities we all want to live in.
I first realised the police were vital for social justice back in 1989 – the year I joined the party. I’m an Oldie.
And the light bulb moment occurred when I was canvassing in my first ever Parliamentary by-election in Vauxhall. For our excellent candidate, a certain Mike Tuffrey.
I’d spent a Saturday morning canvassing tower blocks on a council estate in Battersea.
And I was confused.
Almost every person I spoke to, came to the door with a dog. Mostly a large dog. Holding the dog’s collar, as they held the door just slightly ajar.
And as a privileged middle class white young man, I wondered to myself – why keep a big dog, in a small flat, ten floors up in a tower block?
Was there some sort of dog owners club on the estate? Was there a local passion for entering Crufts, the world’s greatest dog show?
It was only in the pub afterwards when fellow canvassers explained. The dogs were there for protection. As a type of insurance– given people couldn’t afford a real insurance policy premium.
And my work in my constituency – in the pockets of genuine deprivation that we have in Kingston – has only served to re-inforce this view.
That it is the most vulnerable and least well off in our society who need the police the most.
Maybe you’re not yet convinced. But I think modern British political debate has failed to see the police as champions of social justice – as I believe they inherently are.
Liberal Democrats championing the police
In the past, those on the centre-left of politics have either been critics of the police – with say a Corbyn-style analysis of so-called police oppression. Or the centre-left has tried, Blair-like, to ape and to copy the right’s rhetoric on crime and police.
So I think there’s a gap here. A political opportunity that fits our values. That would help Liberal Democrats to explain our values – and who we are - in a new way. To more people.
In our leaflets, in our campaigns. Yes. Keep it basic.
It’s about stopping the Conservatives’ cuts to our police. And arguing for more bobbies on the beat.
But the underlying philosophy. The Liberal values we bring to that simple message. We need to state them with greater clarity and greater confidence.
Police and crime is an equalities issue
Just look at the statistics of who are the victims of crime.
You are more likely to be a victim of crime if you are disabled. More likely to be a victim if you are poor. If you are long term unemployed. If you are black. Of mixed race. Or Asian. Or a young person.
So - if we want to reach out to the young. To Britain’s diverse communities. And be the voice of the most vulnerable.
Then a message, that Liberal Democrats will invest in the police, is a strong one.
Some of our opponents of course will choose to mis-interpret this.
There are less well-off communities who have a mixed relationship with the police.
Who don’t see the police as on their side. Who see people backing the police, as
also not on their side.
But the answer to the fears and concerns of those communities, is to improve community policing.
With more resources, not less.
And with better techniques. With new approaches to recruiting a more diverse police service.
Let’s be honest. If the police are stretched, then the first thing to go, is the pro-active, community, relationship building element of their work.
Inevitably, the reactive work – the response teams – the detection of the most serious crimes – the anti-terrorism work – those vital areas will rightly be prioritised by police managers when budgets are tight.
But at a huge cost to community policing. In London for example – mainly thanks to
Mayor Boris Johnson – we’ve seen our neighbourhood police teams halved.
And that means the positive contribution the police make, ends up getting sacrificed.
I was reminded this morning of an old gag of Eric Morecambe, when he heard the siren of a passing ambulance:
“He'll not sell much ice-cream going at that speed.”
The same is true for the police.
If police cuts constrain them to dashing around in cars with blue lights, as they fire fight, they won’t sell any ice-cream.
They won’t have the time to get to know people – for people to get to know them.
For people to realise that the police are just you and me. In a uniform – albeit professionals, with a lot of training and equipment.
The police have changed for the better
People go into the police to serve. It’s no longer the Metropolitan Police Force – it’s the Metropolitan Police Service.
And while re-naming something doesn’t itself change it, I think the police have changed in recent years – for the better.
Community Safety Partnerships. Action on honour-based violence. Work to tackle gangs.
And colleagues, it’s that crime prevention work, that brilliant community policing – that’s the police work that turns round lives.
That stops crime happening to our most vulnerable.
Yet it’s that work that the Conservatives’ police cuts are destroying. Shame on them.
The Conservatives are anti-police
But people should no longer be surprised at how anti-police the Conservatives are.
As Home Secretary, the Prime Minister herself endulged in police-bashing rhetoric to serve her own political ambitions.
In 2015, she accused policed officers of “crying wolf” over cuts. “Of scaremongering”. And she justified it by falling crime figures.
Well, she’s now been proven wrong on 3 accounts.
First, the police were just doing their job. The cuts are doing damage. The police were telling the truth.
Just as the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, was telling the truth, when 4 months ago she warned that police cuts in Conservative budget plans would make it more difficult to tackle violent crime and extremism.
Was Cressida Dick scaremongering Prime Minister?
Second, despite what Theresa May says, recorded crime is now rising. Burglary up 8%. Knife crime up 21%. Gun crime up 20%.
After a period of falling crime, it looks like that trend has changed. But Tory policy hasn’t.
Third, the police officers the Prime Minister accused of crying wolf, weren’t just warning of the impact of police cuts on crime – they were worried about the impact of Conservative cuts on community and neighbourhood policing.
The truth is, Conservative Governments have form on police cuts. They have been guilty time and time again of cutting police budgets.
The Tories don't value police
You know why I think Tories do that? It’s because they simply don’t value enough the role of police in our communities. The police’s role in defending the most vulnerable. In protecting those who suffer from crime the most – the least well off.
After all, the Conservative paymasters live in gated communities, with sophisticated cameras and alarms, and have the best contents insurance!
So Liberal Democrats, we shouldn’t just see the police’s role as responding to crime and cutting crime – vital though that is.
We need the police to make the positive contribution only they can – to help us build a more liberal and socially just Britain.
Policing by consent
It’s called policing by consent.
That’s why we were right at the last election, to be the party offering more investment in Britain’s police than any other party.
That’s why we are right in councils and communities up and down the country to fight for more police.
And I believe we would be right now, to tell the British public, loud and clear, if you want to back our police, back the Liberal Democrats.