Today’s big question

Are the Conservatives still the party of law and order?

Priti Patel and Dominic Raab unveil latest plans for cracking down on crime

The Tories are making their case for being the party of law and order today as Priti Patel and Dominic Raab give speeches at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Manchester.

In his first public address speech to the Tory faithful as justice secretary, Raab said his “number one priority” would be to protect women and girls, following the high-profile murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

The home secretary followed this up with the announcement of an inquiry into the “systematic failures” that allowed Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens to be a police officer. Patel also used her speech to lay out plans to tackle Insulate Britain protesters on the M25.

But amid claims that justice in England and Wales “is on its knees”, is the government doing enough to tackle crime?

Tags and asbos

The Tories’ latest “law and order crackdown” includes proposals for the “return of chain gangs”, reported the Daily Mail. Criminals will be ordered to wear high-visibility “Community Payback” tabards to carry out unpaid work, such as cleaning streets and towpaths, although “unlike the historic ‘chain gangs’ in the US and Australia, offenders will not be shackled”, the paper added.

Raab also wants to double the number of offenders wearing electronic tags by 2025 and, in a separate programme, to force 12,000 criminals leaving jail to wear “sobriety tag” devices that can monitor alcohol intake.

Patel is planning a raft of new measures too, including criminal disruption prevention orders that “will effectively create a new type of anti-social behaviour order to crackdown on disruptive protests by Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion”, said The Times. She also announced a new offence of criminal interference of critical national infrastructure.

According to the paper, the new measures were dubbed “Asbos for crusties” by a government source.

Party of law and order?

The latest plans come amid faltering faith in the police and justice system. In July, The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee argued that “the Tories have lost control of law and order”, with huge court delays leaving justice in England and Wales “on its knees”.

The “handcuff-rattling” home secretary “likes announcing draconian new sentences”, Toynbee wrote, “but without adequate police, prisons and, above all, law courts to hear cases, her bombast is empty”.

At the Labour conference last week, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the government of “defunding the police” through a decade of cuts, and claimed that the Conservatives were actually “the party of crime and disorder”. 

Meanwhile, the “dreadful” murder of Everard by a serving police officer “continues to cause an earthquake in the criminal justice world”, said The Telegraph in an editorial on Monday.

The “grotesque actions of Wayne Couzens cannot be allowed to undermine the entire system”, said the paper, which is calling for a wider debate about the protection afforded to women by the police and the courts. “We need a criminal justice system that is accountable, responsive and swift backed up by a police force that can be trusted and is visible.” 

While many commentators have cast doubt on whether the Tories can deliver such a system, voters appear to have more faith in the governing party.

The Conservatives continue to top a monthly poll by YouGov that asks more than 1,600 people which political party they think would be the “best at handling law and order”. Although the Tories are now on 32% - their lowest level since September 2019 - the party is still far ahead of Labour, on 16%.

Following the sentencing of Everard’s murderer Couzens last week, Patel offered “powerful” statements on violence against women during an interview with the London Evening Standard, wrote the paper’s Susannah Butter and Nicholas Cecil. But, they added, “can she offer more than just words?” 

The prime minister has also insisted that “no woman should have to fear harassment or violence”.

“Now,” concluded Butter and Cecil, “it is up to him and his government to make things happen.”

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