James Forsyth

The Tories’ crime crackdown

The Tories' crime crackdown
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Dealing with crime is a political necessity for the Tories, I say in the Times today. Whenever Labour outflanks them on the issue, as Tony Blair did, the Conservatives are in trouble. But law and order has taken on even more importance for this government because of its link to levelling up: Boris Johnson is convinced you can level up only if you deal with crime. He believes that places are poor because of crime, rather than the other way round. So, next week we’ll see a slew of announcements, with a particular focus on increasing drug rehabilitation efforts.

The public are not sure what levelling up means but, as far as anyone can guess, dealing with disorder is seen to be part of it.  Polling from Public First, one of whose founding partners co-wrote the Tory manifesto, found that more than half of those who think where they live is worse than it was a decade ago cite crime and antisocial behaviour as one of the main causes.

There is growing concern in Tory circles that there will not be much evidence of the results of levelling up before the next election. As Germany’s post reunification experience shows, narrowing regional inequality isn’t cheap or quick. But tackling crime and antisocial behaviour can show rapid progress.

Yet even on measures that could be taken quickly, there is little agreement. At a recent cabinet awayday, Michael Gove asked everyone to say what levelling up must, or must not, mean in a sentence. Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury and a Teesside MP, said it must involve bringing devolution to more places. (Ben Houchen, the popular mayor of Tees Valley, has succeeded in securing both government and private-sector investment for the region.) Jacob Rees-Mogg shot back that levelling up mustn’t mean what Clarke had just said. So while levelling up remains confused, tackling crime is the easier option that the Tories can all agree on.