Don Brind on the shadow HomeSec
There was something churlish about Diane Abbott’s attempt to put down Tony Blair recently — “no one can now remember that they supported Tony Blair.”
She surely can’t have forgotten how the then Labour leader came to her defence in one of the most uncomfortable phases of her career when she sent son to a fee paying school.
She is now Shadow Home Secretary the job in which Blair made his name. If she could shed her ideological antipathy she would acknowledge that Blair did an outstanding job for Labour in that role. In a 1993 New Statesman article he first offered to pledge to be “tough on crime and tough on the underlying causes of crime”.
Law and order had been an issue that played well for the Tories but with flair and persistence Blair invaded their territory. It was a vital strand in Labour’s campaigning through to 1997 and played a part in getting Blair the leadership in 1994.
Criticising Abbott doesn’t come easy for anyone in the Labour Party because of the fear of finding yourself in some unsavoury company. She has, without doubt, been the target of some deeply unpleasant racist and misogynist abuse. She explained to the Guardian how she tries to avoid allowing it to interfere with her work.
It’s also true that she was not the only campaigner to be involved in a “car crash” interview during the General Election Boris Johnston and Jeremy Corbyn also got maulings from interviewers.
But when all the alibis are in, the judgement must be that as a Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott is not a patch on Tony Blair.
Other Labour MPs are making the running in this key area, notably backbenchers Sarah Jones and Vicky Foxcroft on the issue of knife crime
and junior frontbenchers Gloria De Piero and Louise Haigh, the shadow justice and policing ministers. They argue it’s time for Labour to reclaim its position as the party of law and order.
De Piero and Haigh are unafraid to celebrate the record of the Blair-Brown governments. “Under the last Labour government we invested more in our police and criminal justice system than any other country in the OECD and slashed crime rates by over a third. It took a Labour government to pass the Race Relations Act and tough laws on LGBT and disability hate crime. It was Labour who first introduced legal aid to ensure everyone had the right to obtain justice whether rich or poor.”
They declare “The Tories have vacated the ground on law and order, it’s time for Labour to occupy it as our natural territory once again.
As I found last June Labour’s key policy of recruiting 10,000 police officers played well on the doorstep but as Mike Smithson argues Labour must be ready for the long haul.
Policing and crime needs to be in the forefront of Labour campaigning. As De Piero and Haigh point out “deprived communities suffer most” when police are cuts lead to rising crime. Half of the communities with the highest crime rates are found in the top 20 per cent of areas with the highest levels of chronic health problems.
Suggesting that the Labour leader should get himself a new Shadow Home Secretary would be a waste of breathe. Jeremy and Diane go back a long way –during a romantic period in early 80s he took her on a first date to Highgate cemetery. The mutual affection and loyalty persists.
So perhaps the best we can hope for is that the Labour leader says to his old friend “If you want me to be Prime Minister you have got to raise your game.”