Reinvigorated and boasting big ‘new’ ideas, Boris has sprung from the comforts of enforced covid isolation at Chequers (swimming pool, lovely walking in the Chilterns, and a tennis court – while the rest of us are paying through the nose for a mini-break with an en suite and a tepid pool).
The British hotel industry has greeted the ending of restrictions by ramping up prices to cash in on the fact that it’s still so difficult to go abroad, so my trip to Scotland is costing about the same as one to the South of France or the Hamptons.
Cocooned at Chequers, with Dilyn the randy dog chewing up briefing papers and humping legs and Carrie the First Lady of strategy and planning weaving her magic, the Prime Minister has burst back into the headlines, determined to appear in touch, on top and in control. (Do I hear hollow laughter?)
Boris Johnson, with Home Secretary Priti Patel, speaks to a police dog handler on Monday during a visit to Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford, Surrey, to coincide with the publication of the government’s Beating Crime Plan
We’re now witnessing the rebranding of Boris, Mark 2, the man with a masterplan to knock Britain back into shape.
Mind you, someone else has usually done the work, he just nicks the paperwork and reads out the juicy bits – as he did this week, announcing a ‘new’ crime strategy in front of Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose job I actually thought it was to be in charge of reducing crime (when she’s not telling Kent police to buy up inflatable boats).
Instead, Boris walked all over Priti – elbowing her out of the way at a visit to a Police HQ in Surrey this week and hogging the limelight with a speech that was sketchy, gimmicky and, like his levelling up speech just before he got pinged, probably written on the back of an envelope.
He wants to ramp up stop and search, force ‘chain gangs’ of those convicted of anti-social offences to wear high-viz vests to litter-pick and carry out unpaid work in the community, and tag criminals when they are released on probation. Every neighbourhood in England has been promised a named police officer who will ‘understand the area’.
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I hear hollow laughter. How many of our high streets have boarded-up buildings which once sported signs saying ‘Police Station’ with a blue light outside. I’ve seen some even turned in to pubs.
And how many villages have an old ‘police house’ which like the vicarage was long-ago flogged to a well-off incomer?
Centralisation resulted in widespread closures, and instead we were offered shop fronts branded ‘local Police’- with opening times displayed on the front, so local criminals knew exactly when there was no one in the area.
My local ‘police shop’ seems permanently closed – and the best place to find a copper is outside the petrol station, when they’re parked up buying sweets and coffee.
There’s one big drawback with Boris’s Crime-Busting Bran Tub of New Initiatives. Making them reality when the police in England lost 21,805 officers between 2010 and 2017. Although Boris recently promised funding for 20,000 more officers, staffing levels are still below 2010 levels.
I know that Artificial Intelligence is advancing in leaps and bounds, but robots will be no match for the gangs in my postcode. And who will monitor all the tagged criminals, tracking and tracing their every move as they take their first steps out of jail? When they pitch up at the local drug dealers, the Dog and Badger, the bookies and not the Job Centre?
We can’t even run and Test and Trace service that the public have any confidence in (even NHS staff have deleted the App), and that’s had billions thrown at it, so tagging criminals is pointless if it can’t be monitored.
And if they break the terms of their release – what will happen? As for returning them to jail – our jails are full to bursting, so should we build more? (No money for that.)
Mr Johnson struggles with an umbrella at the dedication ceremony of the new national UK Police Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire yesterday
Boris’s Big Crime Busting Bonanza was badly timed – just four days after Priti Patel told the force that anyone earning over £24,000 would not get an annual pay increase – which led the Police Federation to announce they had lost all confidence in the Home Secretary.
His announcement was met with sneers and concealed smirks by our boys in blue. So don’t expect to see any chain gangs in your postcode in the near future..
And why did Boris announce a new strategy anyway? Crime recorded by the police (excluding fraud) actually fell by 13% in 2020. Burglary and theft was down by a third. Sexual offences were down 10%.
The crimes that did increase were domestic violence and drug offences. But they require cash and resources. Not enough money has been allocated to help councils fund refuges for victims of domestic violence. And children drawn into drug dealing need to be helped to escape their surroundings and local gangs, not locked up in juvenile detention centres.
Boris should be concerned about the re-offending rate – one in four for adults and a third of juveniles. And short sentences are even less of a deterrent – almost two thirds of those receiving custodial sentence of less than year will break the law again.
So instead of coming up with daft ideas like High Viz vests and chain gangs – ideas obviously culled from a Coen Brothers film he watched in lockdown – Boris needs to consider why people commit crime in the first place. Poverty, lack of education, lack of social support.
Theresa May realised that Stop and Search was alienating the black community, and introduced restrictions ensuring it was only employed with good reason. Now, Boris wants to remove those, so the police can intervene and search the public without ‘reasonable suspicion’ if they think that serious violence may occur.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that black people were more that 18 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, is this likely to improve race relations? Employing more black officers will make no difference.
There has been a huge increase in Stop and Search in London over the last few years, but that has not led to any decrease in gang violence. The number of teenage murders in 2021 is the highest since 2008. The police might have seized 11,000 weapons in a year, but the stabbings continue at an increased rate. Boris described stop and search as a ‘loving act’ but to the black community it is anything but.
The Prime Minister and Home Secretary petting dogs during their visit to the Surrey Police HQ
I’m afraid that Boris declaring a ‘Blitz on Crime’ is nothing more than a re-hash of old ideas in order to burnish the one thing he cares about more than anything – his own image as action man, a leader destined for the history books.
Expect regular Boombastic Boris Bulletins in the coming days, and here’s the reason why; his poll ratings have slipped disastrously, only 4% separates Tory and Labour.
He’s cocked up the great unveiling of the real Freedom Day on August 16th by constantly introducing new exemptions and travel freedoms.
From bin men to lorry drivers, there seem to be a lot of important workers who will not be isolating over the coming weeks if they get pinged. Anyone attending London Fashion Week in September can stroll right through immigration and Border Controls even if they’re not double jabbed, because they are a ‘special case’.
So we can’t go on holiday to a whole heap of countries without expensive tests, but an over-dressed blogger or influencer from Belgium or Marseille can waltz over here in the name of planet fashion and be welcomed with open arms because they might help keep a sock factory open?
Another reason why Boris loves a diversionary photocall coupled with a big announcement; his government is sitting on a pile of debt.
His pet macho projects like HS2 are in danger of hitting the buffers. He wants bridges, monuments, and fast trains as his legacy, hopefully with his name on them.
But we can’t afford any of them if we are going to help fund social care for the elderly, build domestic refuges, pay for more police officers, and spend money on building youth clubs, educating kids about gangs and drugs while they are primary school.
Boris is also facing the unpalatable truth that we’re so broke he might have to tell pensioners that they won’t get their annual rise they were expecting – the triple lock could see a whopping pay-out of 8%.
Expect to see a lot of photos of Boris tussling with an umbrella, patting dogs and trying to drive a tractor over the coming days.
Anything to divert us from the unpalatable truth – that he hasn’t a clue what to do next.