Spin and lies: an indepth look at the Tories and their police pledges - The Insider

Spin and lies: an indepth look at the Tories and their police pledges

Yesterday, the Government announced how it was going to allocate extra officers around the country. Remarkably, after crunching the numbers, it turns out that over half of our police forces (22 out of 43) would still have a net loss of officers compared to 2010. 

But as Boris Johnson’s policing announcement continues to unravel, following accusations over the summer of misleading the public, it’s important to look back at what exactly the Tories have done to policing over the last ten years…

2010-15: Promises made

While promoting his memoirs recently, David Cameron finally admitted to Sky’s Sophie Ridge that the swingeing cuts his Government had imposed on policing “clearly had an impact” on the rise in serious violence we have seen in recent years.

Despite this uncharacteristic outburst of honesty, the former PM couldn’t quite help repeating one of the Tories’ most egregious falsehoods on policing – that somehow, despite billions in funding cuts, the frontline had magically been protected.

“As we reduced police budgets, actually we were able to make sure that there was [sic] more on the frontline”

David Cameron, Sky News, 22 September 2019, Link

To truely understand the Tories’ history of misrepresentation and lies in relation to policing, you have to go back to 2010, when before entering Government, David Cameron told Andrew Marr: any cabinet minister, if I win the election, who comes to me and says, “here are my plans”, and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again”.

Again, a few months later, the then Home Secretary Theresa May assured the public that “we know that it is possible for the police to make significant reductions in their budgets without affecting frontline policing”.

When the cuts finally came in the 2010 Spending Review, the Government outlined plans to cut police budgets by 20 percent over the Parliament. But despite this, the following year David Cameron once again insisted: “There is no reason for there to be fewer frontline police officers.”

And in 2015, Theresa May repeatedly claimed that the frontline had been protected despite the funding cuts:

“The last five years have shown that it is possible to do more with less – crime has fallen, the frontline service has been protected .”

Theresa May, Speech to Police Federation, May 20th 2015, Link


“actually what HMIC said was that the frontline had been protected.”

Theresa May, Marr Show, November 1st 2015, Link

That year even Boris Johnson said it was ‘essential’ that frontline officer numbers were kept high.

2015-present: Promises broken

But then in 2015 the Home Office started publishing official police workforce figures, including statistics on how many officers were in frontline roles – so people could compare what ministers were saying with what was happening in reality.

The truth was that while the proportion of total officers put on the frontline had increased slightly (from 89 to 92 percent), the actual number of officers had fallen by over 12,000 since 2010. This led to the then-Policing Minister issuing a grovelling apology for making exactly the same claim as David Cameron.

“I stated that there are more operational police officers on duty now on the frontline than there were in the past. I must inform the House that my reply was factually inaccurate, for which I apologise … For clarity, there were 113,134 officers in frontline roles on 31 March 2015, 12,665 less than in 31 March 2010”.

Mike Penning, letter of apology to Jack Dromey, April 21st 2016, Link

So what do the latest statistics tell us about Tory assurances to protect the frontline? In fact, the number of frontline officers has fallen every single year the Conservatives have been in office, with a total of 20,564 now lost.

Even worse, of the 20,564 officers lost in total since 2010, 20,039 (or 97%) have actually been from the frontline.

Why does any of this matter now? Because with Boris Johnson’s latest announcement comes another wave of spin and mistruths.

False claim 1

One of the new PM’s first pledges upon entering No. 10 was on frontline policing, promising thousands of extra officers “on the streets”. The new Home Secretary also promised the same:

“I strongly believe that our campaign to put thousands of new police officers on our streets gives us a once in a generation opportunity to attract more police officers from all walks of life and professional backgrounds …”

Priti Patel, Telegraph, 5 September 2019, Link

However, a leaked letter from Priti Patel to the Mayor of London suggested that up 7,000 of the promised 20,000 will not be frontline officers at all. This was confirmed in Treasury documents released as part of the Spending Review which showed that officers were actually going to be allocated across different functions:

“The Home Office (HO) will provide further detail in due course on how these officers will be allocated between the territorial police forces, counter-terrorism policing and serious and organised crime

2019 Spending Review, Link

False claim 2

On 5 September the PM claimed the process to hire 20,000 officers had begun:

“I’m delighted our recruitment campaign for 20,000 new officers is now under way.”

Boris Johnson, 5 September 2019, Link

Yet last week, Government sources suggested that police forces will not even find out how much extra funding they will receive until December, when the draft Police Grant Report for 2020-21 is due to be published.

The Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, admitted as much this week in response to a Parliamentart Question, stating: “Force level funding will be set out in the usual way at the provisional police settlement.

None of these inconvenient facts seemed to stop the Home Secretary falsely declaring that police forces had already received funding and recruitment had begun.

“One of my first acts as Home Secretary was to start recruiting 20,000 new police officers. Giving them the strength in numbers they need. Giving them new and immediate funding.”

Priti Patel, speech to Conservative Conference, 1 October 2019, Link

False claim 3

Despite forces not yet actually receiving any funding to achieve the targets, Kit Malthouse took to the airwaves to announce that the Home Office had set targets for recruitment for each police force.

He confirmed that the force-level recruitment targets are based on the same formula used by the Home Office to allocate annual funding. However, Mr Malthouse has previously described this formula as “manifestly unfair”, before congratulating his party for having the “cojones” to reform it.

“Finally, I want to say something about the police formula. For many years it has been an unspoken secret—something that senior police officers sniggered about behind their hands—that the formula that was put in place 10 years ago was so manifestly unfair, but nevertheless politically sensitive, that politicians would never have the courage to meddle with it. During the four years that I was deputy Mayor for policing, there were constant complaints about the police formula and nobody really had the cojones, if that is parliamentary language, to get a grip on it. So I congratulate the Minister on finally dealing with it.”

Kit Malthouse, Hansard, 4 Nov 2015 : Column 1060, Link

Unsurprisingly, the Tories have broken their promise to reform the formula, kicking the issue into the long grass.

However, the impact of this is that, despite all the Tories’ promises to put more officers on our streets, some police forces will actually be left short-changed.

At the very least, over half of police forces are facing a net loss. On the more likely scenario that around 13,000 officers will be allocated territorially, 60% of forces would still be down on 2010-11.

Added to this, the Tories’ plan looks set to provide an unfair distribution of officers across the country.

For example, Surrey Police has seen a net reduction of 8 officers since 2010-11, but stands to gain between 169 and 260 officers in total – with large urban forces like Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands losing out substantially. Even Mr Malthouse’s local force Hampshire, which has lost 1,050 officers under the Tories, will only gain between 338 and 520 officers.

So what does all this tell us? That you simply cannot believe a word the Tories say on policing and crime.