Richard North, 07/01/2020  

I cannot help but remark on the incongruity of the contrast between two sets of recent headlines, both from the Johnson fanboy club.

The first, from last Thursday, tells us that: "Police forces record thousands of hate incidents each year even though they accept they are not crimes". The second, published today reports that, "Just one in 400 chance of car criminals being brought to justice as conviction rate collapses".

In both instances, London's Metropolitan Police heads the league. On hate "non-crime, it recorded 9,473 incidents over the past five years, despite senior officers having warned how their officers are stretched beyond capacity and have "a real difficulty" in answering all critical calls.

As to vehicle crime, the Met led with 98,177 in the ten months up to October last year, accounting for 26 per cent of the total. West Yorkshire, surprisingly, only recorded 18,422, although the police made up for this by handing out 182,000 speeding tickets for the 2018-19 period, making it the all-time national leader in prosecuting drivers, raking in £3.3 million in the process.

Incidentally, I was one of those drivers, travelling with Pete on a quiet, rainy Sunday afternoon, on a stretch of rural road where the speed limit drops from 40mph to 30, just as the road widens out from a narrow twisty passage to a wide, open stretch.

Although that road is notorious for its speed cameras, I was caught by an additional camera van, positioned on the road verge just as it widened and the speed limit dropped. Formerly a posted 40mph area, I had forgotten that the speed limit had been lowered, and was caught doing a heinous 38mph.

In these instances, one is offered a corrective "speed awareness" course, but I declined the offer. Apparently, only two percent of offenders take part in such courses, perhaps indicating that people are increasingly aware that these are little more than an officially-sanctioned scam, from which police forces make a small profit.

Looking at the disparity between the "success" of police forces in pursuing speed offenders, against their lack of success on car thieves, we see the AA blaming the failure on decline in police in patrol cars. "If you don't have as many police in cars pulling over suspicious vehicles then you are less likely to catch the crooks either in the act or carrying off their ill-gotten gains", says AA spokesman Luke Bodset.

A while back, I had a long talk with a seasoned traffic cop, who told me that his unit also picked up more burglars than the dedicated (and generally useless) "task force" set up to deal with this menace. But it is so much easier and more profitable to rely on cameras, and it is increasingly rare to see a routine traffic patrol.

For all this blog's emphasis on Brexit, therefore, it is such issues that probably have more resonance with the general public. The ins-and-outs of trade policy are terribly arcane while policing (or the lack of it) has a very direct impact on peoples' lives.

But in some senses, there is a cross-over. Policing is a high-profile public service where the state claims a monopoly right of violence against the citizen in exchange for offering protection from criminals, and for maintaining a semblance of law and order.

The egregious failure of the police to perform their duties satisfactorily undoubtedly adds to the general air of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with government, which is said to have fuelled the "leave" vote in 2016.

And while there may be some residual sympathy with forces which have suffered the loss of 20,000 of their establishment, one suspects that the additional numbers will spend their time seeking out more hate-crime and traffic offenders, rather than on dealing with "real" crime.

If it really is that case, therefore, that the "leave" vote represented a more general cry of anguish against an inadequate and unresponsive government, and the expression of a yearning for improvement across a wide range of government activities, then there are going to be an awful lot of disappointed people over the next few years.

Not only is it unlikely that we see anything but a marginal improvement in public services – and more likely that we see continued deterioration – even in areas directly impacted upon by Brexit, the suspicion is beginning to emerge that we will see very little change arising from our departure from the EU.

Last month, I made the point that, four years ago, Open Europe made headlines with a piece of work which claimed that the cost of the 100 most burdensome EU-derived regulations to the UK economy stood at £33.3 billion a year at 2014 prices.

What was extremely pertinent to note in the OE work, though, was that £8.1 billion of their recurring costs were attributable to EU climate change measures, with the inference that leaving the EU would enable us to reduce (or even eliminate) these costs.

As I reported, though, in the latest Queen's speech, a government that is supposedly obsessed with deregulation is committing to continue "to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050", including hosting the COP26 Summit in 2020.

In actuality, this not only means that the EU regulation must be kept in place but also vastly extended, at a cost estimated by former chancellor Philip Hammond at over £1 trillion - by far the biggest spending commitment in the entire Queen's speech.

What that does, of course, is drive a cart and horse through any "Brexit dividend", knocking out one of the largest components of savings which might have accrued from leaving the EU.

Latterly, I have been hosting a debate about waste management, on the basis that this is an extremely intrusive and expensive EU policy domain that could benefit from substantial change once we leave the EU. This is certainly one area where the burden of regulation could be reduced, with an impact on virtually every household in the land.

Bemoaning the lack of a national debate on this issue, only yesterday did I find that there has in 2018 been a white paper on waste strategy, delivered by now-former environment secretary Michael Gove.

The distressing thing about this strategy is that, in effect, it is a copy-out of the EU's waste policy, with very little difference between the two. It includes support for the irrational landfill tax – brought in to pursue EU recycling policy – which has central government taxing local councils for delivering a service paid-for out of local taxes.

If that is the best central government can do in this important policy domain, one might ask what was the point of leaving the EU if we are merely to shadow EU policies.

The danger is now that this is becoming part of the bigger picture. Apart from suggestions that Johnson is attempting a somewhat unrealistic project of conducting "parallel trade talks with the EU and the US", with what will prove to be indeterminate results.

But what is entirely missing is any serious discussion about how policies generally, across the entire spectrum of former EU competences, might change once we have left the EU.

For sure, it could be considered early days to expect serious change, but one gets the impression that central government has not even begun to engage with the practicalities of carving out post-Brexit policies. And if the approaches to climate change and waste management are any guide, there can be very little expectation of even modest improvements.

One then wonders at what stage does the media and the population wake up and start asking why it is that we actually left the EU.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few