Yvette Cooper today staked out what is likely to be one of the major battlegrounds between Labour and the Conservatives between now and the next election in her speech to the Labour Party conference. Echoing Tony Blair, she said that Labour was still committed to being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” In what was, perhaps unsurprisingly a very well received speech by delegates in the hall, she attacked the Conservatives’ record on law and order repeatedly: “Every Tory government since records began has seen crime go up not down,” she claimed. They just “don’t get it,” she sneered, “and I don’t think they ever did.” She labelled the frontloaded cuts currently being made to the police “shocking” and “reckless” and said the government was going “too far, too fast and it is communities that are paying the price.”
What’s more, with the Olympics coming to London next summer, it’s especially important that there is no repeat of this summer’s riots. It took 16,000 police officers on the streets of London to quell the violence this August, she reminded the assembled delegates, pointing out that this was precisely the number of officers who would be losing their jobs as a result of the government’s cuts. “The job of government is to act to prevent crime, not just stand back and lament crime,” she said, accusing Cameron of talking tough on crime in the wake of the riots, but failing to match deeds to words. She ridiculed the prime minister for toying with the idea of sending in the army: “Prime Minister, you don’t need to bring in the Army if you have enough police.”
She addressed Labour’s record in office with admirable honesty and frankness. ”We didn’t get everything right,” she admitted. Specifically she said that Labour had been wrong to push for 42-day retention periods, let alone 90 days. And she accepted that Labour had woken up to the problems surrounding mass immigration too late. They should have introduced a points system sooner, she said. But she also said that Labour should be extremely proud of its record on cutting crime – by 40% between 1997 and 2010.
There was only one joke in the whole speech – appropriate given the seriousness of the subject matter – and that was a quip about Cameron and Osborne not even being able to control Boris Johnson.
The speech received a standing ovation in the conference hall, but it was clear that it was pitched at a much wider audience than that. Cooper sounded credible and authoritative, and she has well and truly thrown down the gauntlet to the government on law and order. Theresa May has her work cut out next week if she is to convince the country that this government has the resolve and the right ideas to tackle crime. Unless the coalition government can deliver over the next three and a half years, “Labour is the party of law and order” is going to be a very powerful slogan come 2015.