PLEASE excuse the pun, but if her recent performance is anything to go by, Home Secretary Amber Rudd seems pretty rudderless right now.
She might have attempted to stage a diversion tactic by venturing into the dark web – as she did in her speech at a National Cyber Security Centre conference in Manchester yesterday – but it’s clear that the Right Honourable Member for Hastings and Rye is struggling to deliver a clear and consistent line on the frightening surge in violent crime in London.
At the time of writing, no less than 50 young people have lost their lives at the hands of a gun or a knife this year, caught up in the relentless turf wars driven by postcodes and drugs.
If it makes Ms Rudd feel better and more in control to talk about the dangers of the internet, good for her. And she does make some valid points about YouTube glamorising gangster chic; I know this because my bedroom is above my teenage son’s and I hear it all the time. N-word this and G-that. If it wasn’t so invidious and potentially lethal, it would be laughable. For my son and his friends, thankfully it is as much fantasy as a game of Fortnite.
There’s not much gang warfare where we live in a quiet semi-rural part of Barnsley, but we see with our own eyes the drug dealing that goes on seemingly unchecked in broad daylight. The young man on the police switchboard was almost apologetic when we rang to ask for something to be done. With police numbers cut by 21,000 nationwide since 2010, our concern is a low priority.
This Home Office harsh line on cyber crime doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. And it certainly won’t bring much solace to the London families who have lost sons and daughters since Christmas. To date, Ms Rudd has not found the time to visit a single one of the bereaved mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings. If she did, she might begin to understand – and I mean really understand – what is driving this devastation.
She would find that there are people living in the capital who consider themselves entirely above the law. There are families so scattered and damaged that young boys of 10 and 11 seek solace in gang culture, where older youths take on the mantle of “father”. She would find estates where no-one, not even the residents, walks alone.
And she would surely recognise that none of these factors are helped by swingeing cuts to local government and health funding which has left even basic support systems withered on the vine.
If you were in charge of council spending for your average cash-strapped London borough, what would you prioritise? Social care for elderly people, or a boxing club to keep teenagers off the streets?
This is not just a police matter. There is little point to any politician trotting out the rise in reported offences and better methods of detection as the main reason why crime is on the increase. Yes, it is a factor, but it doesn’t excuse 50 dead bodies. It has to be set against a much wider background of social fragmentation and dwindling public services. Is the Home Secretary, or indeed the Prime Minister, brave enough to accept this?
Instead, Ms Rudd is spitting out soundbites at machine gun speed. This smacks of panic when the first priority of a Home Secretary should be to appear calm and in control. Theresa May has faced her own share of criticism for the policies enacted in her own long tenure in the job before she became Prime Minister. In particular, the curtailment of police powers of stop and search has been singled out as sending a signal to wrongdoers that they might go about unchecked.
However, as Home Secretary, Mrs May never looked as rattled as her successor has done in these past few weeks. Ms Rudd should stop talking and start thinking logically. Talk to the police. Make resources available. Reconsider the stop-and-search powers curtailed under her predecessor.
And, for goodness sake, clamp down on the drugs trade. We law-abiding citizens have no idea of the huge multi-million global trade in illegal substances behind so much crime in every major city from Mexico to Manchester.
Yet time and again we hear politicians and police alike swerve the issue. Drugs have the power to ruin individual lives and bring communities to their knees.
Put simply, there is no option but to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Younger readers might be interested to learn that it was a Labour politician, no less than Tony Blair, who coined that phrase in a conference speech way back in 1995. The rudderless Ms Rudd could do worse than give it a read.