It was meant as a headline-grabbing, agenda-setting declaration of the Conservative Party’s intention to be tough on crime, while at the same time illustrating to the ever-important youth vote their knowledge of the latest must-watch television show.
But Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s claim that parts of Britain are becoming like the American crime haven of Baltimore, as portrayed in The Wire, today brought derision – and the embarrassing revelation that he was not as familiar with the cult show as he would have people believe.
Grayling made the remarks in a speech on drug and crime culture in which he said: “The Wire used to be just a work of fiction for British viewers. But under this Government, in many parts of British cities, The Wire has become a part of real life in this country too.
“Far too many of those features of what we have always seen as a US phenomenon are now to be found on the streets of Britain as well.”
But his comments are not backed up by facts. With 234 murders in 2008 Baltimore had nearly twice the number of London, despite having less than one tenth of the population. In fact the chance of being murdered in Baltimore, a city with a population of about 650,000, is one in 2,700. In Britain the chances are one in 85,000.
You are also more likely to be robbed in Baltimore than in the UK – the chances being one in 150 compared with one in 1,000. And more likely to become a victim of burglary – one in 80 compared to one in 90.
But Mr Grayling also appeared not to be that familiar with the fictional either. In a radio interview he was forced to admit that he had not even watched all of the acclaimed shows, saying: “I’ve seen most of the first series. I’ve seen a number of the other episodes.”
The comments had echoes of other occasions when the Tories have attempted – and failed – to ‘get down with the kids’, most notably when William Hague wore a baseball cap and when he once claimed to have drunk 14 pints of beer in one day. Today politicians and police rounded on Grayling.
Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: “The connection between The Wire and Chris Grayling’s grasp on the problems of modern Britain is that they’re both fictional.
“The serious problems being tackled in our communities will not be diminished by his embarrassing habit of making glib references to television programmes that he thinks will make him sound ‘cool’.”
Julia Goldsworthy, the communities spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “The fact that the Tories can only comprehend the issues real people face through box sets watched in the comfort of their own living rooms only highlights their total detachment from the concerns of Britain’s inner cities.
“We look forward to Chris Grayling’s reassessment of the devastating impact of Thatcherism on this country once he’s watched series 2.”
It is not the first time Grayling has referred to television shows when discussing policy. He has previously spoken of a ‘Growing ‘Jeremy Kyle’ generation of young men, alienated and drifting without a purpose in life’. And once used Frank Gallagher – one of the main characters in Shameless – as an example of how society no longer knows how to bring up children.