David Cameron’s police cuts are the biggest threat to our national security
By Jenny Jones
We can all understand the urge, in the wake of the IS attacks in Beirut and Paris last week, for the government to be seen to act swiftly. And we can also understand that public security should be a major part of any decisions.
The problem is, in his rush to speak and act, the prime minister has forgotten the importance of first thinking and considering. The PM's first reaction on Monday was to announce plans to spend an extra £2 billion on the SAS and other special units between now and 2020. He also called for the fast-tracking of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, which is designed to enshrine in law the UK security services' unprecedented access to all our online activities.
Unfortunately the rehashed Snoopers’ Charter is a bad Bill. It would legalise the surveillance that we now know has previously been carried out, against current UK law, by our security services. It is a classic example of defending our rights and freedoms against those who might wish to take them away, by taking those rights and freedoms away ourselves. If adopted, the Bill will spell the end of privacy in the UK.
The Paris and Beirut attacks were shocking, and evil, but they do not justify the surveillance of every single person's communications data in the country.
The prime minister's response is also incoherent. At the same time as Mr Cameron talks about spending £2bn on the SAS and other security services, his government is also preparing police budget cuts which will lead, amongst other things, to the loss of 22,000 police officers across the country.
These cuts are on top of five years of government slashing of police budgets, which have already left some areas with no visible police presence at all. In the London borough of Hampstead, for example, the local police station was closed and sold in January 2014, leading to no dedicated officers patrolling parts of the area. Local residents believe crime has increased at an alarming rate as a result, and have started to raise money to pay for their own policing.
This is a worrrying development. After all, we do still have a system in which UK citizens contribute to policing. It is called taxation. The point is, of course, that the security of the average UK citizen – whether from theft, violent crime, or in extreme cases also conspiracy to commit acts of widespread violence – relies upon a well-staffed, well-regulated police force.
If £2 billion can be spent on attempts to improve security for the UK by increasing our activity overseas and spying at home, some money can surely be found to provide proper policing for our communities. After all, it's the police who gather much of the intelligence that actually prevents terrorist attacks in the first place and it's the police who have to act if and when a terrorist attack does take place.
In all the talk of military action abroad we are at risk of forgetting that security should begin at home. It is time the government recognised this, and acted accordingly.
Jenny Jones – Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb – is the Green Party’s representative in the House of Lords, and Member of the London Assembly
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