At last, here's a Home Secretary who's prepared to terrify criminals

Home Secretary Priti Patel arriving at West Midlands Police Learning and Development Centre, Birmingham
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has said she wants criminals to "feel terror" Credit:  Jacob King/PA

Priti Patel, if you are reading this, please be the Home Secretary we need. Ignore the liberal lobbyists and the Left-wing civil servants, chuck identity politics out of the window: be a Home Secretary for the people. I ask not only for myself but on behalf of Noel Gallagher.

Yes, that Noel Gallagher. The former Oasis frontman says he’s leaving London, selling up and moving on, because his lovely mansion is squeezed between two housing estates. “They are currently at war,” he told a newspaper. “One guy was stabbed in the middle of the... day and an air ambulance had to come and land in the middle of the street.” His brother Liam has said separately on the BBC: “Every morning you wake up there’s some 16-year-old being knifed to death ... That freaks me right out.” Me too. You know things are bad when the Gallagher brothers think the city’s gone downhill.

But where to run to? Knife crime rose 50 per cent in rural areas in 2018/19. Across England and Wales, there were 43,516 offences involving a knife or sharp implement, the highest figure since comparable records began. Two hundred and fifty people were killed.

This is the outward manifestation of institutional rot. As the Telegraph reported at the weekend, the majority of criminals jailed for between six months and four years are now released less than halfway through their sentences – a policy allegedly sanctioned by the last justice minister, David Gauke, to reduce overcrowding in jails. The situation in prisons is indeed desperate. Eighty six inmates took their own lives in the year to June 2019; 57,968 self-harmed up to March.

Control has broken down due, no doubt, to a lack of money: between 2009/10 and 2015/16, day-to-day spending on prisons fell by about 21 per cent. We’re also minus thousands of police officers since austerity began. But the situation is explained, too, by policy choices that undermine the authority of prison officers, courts and the police – choices that imply Britain isn’t very serious about policing itself. For instance, on Saturday, July 6, there were several knife attacks in the capital. That same day, on-duty officers took part in the London Pride Parade in full uniform.

On July 6, there were several knife attacks in the capital. That same day, on-duty officers took part in the London Pride Parade in full uniform Credit: Wheatley/WENN

The website FullFact asked the Met for comment and was told the officers were fully equipped and could have been deployed to deal with an incident if necessary.

Our superiors seem to have forgotten some basic rules of running a society, things that the rest of us take for granted. For a start, the primary job of government is to maintain law and order. A police officer can’t simultaneously be your best friend and exert authority. If criminals know the police are likely to stop and search them, they’re less likely to walk around with knives. If a man tells officers that he was almost castrated at a party attended by Ted Heath, it’s unwise to blow £2.5 million looking into it. If the police want to prevent crimes, rather than just log them, they should patrol the streets. And when a man is given four years, he ought to serve as much of the four years as possible; prison must reform and rehabilitate, but it’s also there to punish and deter. I’d be willing to bet that a stricter prison regime is safer for convicts, too.

Every copper I’ve ever spoken to has agreed with all of this, so the problem begins higher up, with that cultural elite who set the tone. In Westminster, departments are ringed by lobbyists and suffocated by orthodoxy. Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove called this “the blob” when they ran Education, and it’s there at the Home Office as well, ensuring that every minister is pushed in a liberal direction.

Not that David Cameron’s Tories needed encouragement: many home and justice ministers since 2010 should have been arrested under the trades description act for calling themselves conservatives. They were ideological liberals, accomplices to the blob and slaves to the Treasury. If a minister is convinced that fewer people should be in jail or that officers should spend more time understanding criminals than chasing them, a budget cut can be easily swallowed. In fact, it’s yin and yang. The Tories could say “yes, we are cutting the money spent on police and justice”, which is nasty, “but we are also building prisons without bars and cutting stop and search”, which is nice.

Good relations between police and minority communities is very nice – vital – but those communities still expect to be protected from violence. One study did find that that black people in England and Wales are 40 times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched, which is unjust and perhaps an argument for the use of body cameras. But another analysis done in 2018 found that even though black people are just 13 per cent of London’s population, they account for nearly half its murder victims. When crime goes up, the rich can move out. Who is left behind? The poor.

What happened to their right to live in peace and freedom? Who speaks for the victims of crime? Where’s their lobby or their woke MP? The pensioner who lives in terror isn’t on Twitter and doesn’t get a seat on Question Time. He or she is powerless. Sometimes it feels as if the media gives a greater voice to murderers campaigning for the right to vote than they do people who want the right to walk to Tesco without having to run a gauntlet of gang members.

That’s why we really need Ms Patel to stick to her instincts about where the balance lies. We don’t have to be a cruel society to be a safe one: there’s a case for reform in many areas, and no cause to be mindlessly draconian. But the Home Secretary needs to send the signal that the nonsense is over, that the police have a job to do – prevent and investigate real crimes – and they won’t be doing anything else.

My initial sense is that everything the Left hates Ms Patel for makes her the most likely minister for some time to do this. She inverts their politics of identity. As an Asian woman, they believe she ought to be a liberal. But she’s not. I suspect that being Asian and a woman might be part of what makes her a conservative. Ms Patel has nothing to apologise for; none of the Cameron elite’s embarrassment of riches. She can say and do what she thinks is right without guilt – and one hopes she does.