Home Secretary Amber Rudd was called “naive” for denying cuts to police have been driving the spike in violent crime on Britain’s streets.
Ministers took the airwaves on Sunday in a bid to tear down claims by Labour that the loss of 21,000 officers since 2010 was behind the rise in knife and gun crime plaguing mainly London.
Rudd used a Sunday Telegraph article to counter what she called “the same arguments and criticisms” by pointing out crime was actually lower in 2010.
“In the early 2000s, when serious violent crimes were at their highest, police numbers were rising,” said Rudd.
“In 2008, when knife crime was far greater than the lows we saw in 2013-14, police numbers were close to the highest we’d seen in decades.”
But in an interview with the Andrew Marr Show, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said Rudd was “naive” and was trying to “stick her head in the sand”.
Emergency plans to extend stop and search are in a tough package of measures the Rudd will be announcing on Monday. She also plans to challenge social media companies to do more to rid the web of gang-related content
For the first time ever, the murder rate in London has overtaken that of New York’s, with Scotland Yard launching 56 murder investigations this year alone.
Sajid Javid, also appearing on Marr, admitted “there is a real problem” with violent crime and accepted there are 15% fewer police officers than in 2010.
But the Communities Secretary echoed the words of his cabinet colleague and said the government’s decision to slash the policing budget was not to blame, adding: “If you go back a decade serious violent crime was a lot higher than it is today but so were the police numbers.”
Javid added: “We recognise there are pressures on police, of course there are, there are all sorts of pressures, that’s why from 2015 we have protected police budgets, there is a settlement for police funding.”
Policing Minister Nick Hurd, meanwhile, accepted that police forces were “stretched at the moment” but insisted “it is categorically not the case” a drop in numbers was driving crime.
Appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, he said “early intervention” would play a bigger role in stamping out crime.
When presenter John Pienaar challenged Hurd over whether, by extension the Government was denying officers played a “useful” and “positive” role in detecting crime, he said: “I’m not saying that at all, in fact I would go further.
“As I said at the top, a tougher approach to law enforcement is fundamental to the new strategy we are announcing tomorrow and of course police play an enormously important role.”
At least 35 of those killed since the start of the year were stabbed to death in an epidemic of violent street crime among young people. Four people, including two teenagers, have been killed in London in the last week.
In 2013 some 27% of stop and searches were carried out illegally, Javid said, as he attempted to explain why the measure had been rolled back during Theresa May’s time as Home Secretary.
“The police like everyone else need to act within the law and if they believe the powers need to change then they will rightly talk to government and as we have shown today we will listen and if we need to extend those powers that is exactly what we will do,” he said.
Rayner, however, said knife crime was “not just about London”.
She said: “We have seen knife crime increase in 39 of the 43 police forces across the UK.
“It’s not just about austerity but I think when the Home Secretary sticks her head in the sand and suggests that losing 21,000 police officers off our streets doesn’t have an effect then I think that’s a very naive position.”
Cuts to youth services and education also have a “knock-on effect”, she added.
“It’s not just about police - of course it’s not - but it’s about the wider public service and about us supporting families to make the right choices,” she said.
She said Labour supported “evidence-based” stop and search tactics based on local intelligence “to ensure that we know who those children are and we target them rather than targeting on ethnicity”.
“It’s targeting stop and search rather than just going randomly around saying ‘I think you look like you might be a gang member so therefore I’m going to stop and search you’,” Rayner said.