The Myth of Conservative Law and Order

Last month saw the Home Office release the latest batch of Crime Statistics for England and Wales.

There were few notable things about the blanket of numbers produced, but something did catch the eye. Burglaries have gone up by 14% since the Conservatives gained power, and violent crime 6%.

There are two respected measurements of crime in the UK. One is by the police, and the other is the British Crime Survey. As the BCS measures unreported crime, it is the more respected of the two, with the police having a reputation for under-recording crime. The police, with their under-representation of crime, recorded a 4% drop in crime levels. The British Crime Survey recorded a 1% rise.

This compares to Labours record in government, which saw a massive 49% drop in violent crime. There are many arguments that Conservatives may give for this. There was a global downward trend in crime, for example. There was also a recession, causing a lot of hardship and poverty. These are both seemingly good points, but can both be thrown into doubt by one simple comparison, and one that David Cameron has used a lot in recent Prime Ministers Questions – that of the comparison between Labour-run Wales and Conservative-run England.

You may have heard Cameron berating Labours record in Wales, claiming that whilst they are cutting the NHS, England’s Conservatives are actually increasing the budget (whilst carefully skating over the fact that the majority of this increase is going to the ‘reorganisation’ to privatise large parts of the NHS, not to patient care. He also ignores the fact a recent poll showed that 86% of Doctors in Wales are glad they aren’t in England). In crime statistics, however, this works against him. You see, in Wales, crime is reported to have dropped by 8%, compared to England’s 4%. Crime is dropping twice as fast in Labour-run Wales than it is in Conservative-run England.

This swiftly disposes of the argument that crime follows a worldwide trend – it’s hard to think of two countries more similar and intertwined than England and Wales.

The argument that the increases in crime are due to the recession, poverty and hardship also fall in the light of this evidence. Wales has a much higher rate of poverty than England. In fact, it was reported by the BBC last year that one in three children in Wales live below the poverty line (although it’s not all bad for Welsh youngsters – they were the most likely to respond that they had ‘lots’ of friends out of the four constituent countries, and of course they’ve got subsidised tuition fees to look forward to, again as a result of their Labour government).

One last alternate argument could be that crime and punishment is not actually a devolved issue. The phrase ‘clutching at straws’ would come to mind, but this claim can be disproved regardless. Numerous studies have shown that it’s not policies on crime and punishment that affect crime the most; it’s the social situation they find themselves in. For example, places in the Middle-East have highly authoritarian and strict laws and punishments, whereas places in Africa experience near lawlessness (the horrific statistic that a girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read comes to mind), yet both experience higher crime levels than countries like the UK. These social situations, that affect crime so highly, are devolved to Wales. Things like education and training, economic development and social welfare have been devolved, and they do affect crime statistics.

It therefore stands to reason that Labour policy has been twice as effective as Conservative policy in the reduction of crime – David Cameron can criticise Labours record in Wales all he wants, but he’d do well to take notice. They’re doing something right that he’s getting wrong.

Harry Thompson is a 17 year old Labour party member from Wiltshire, but originally from Wales.