Less stabbing, less burglary and less vandalism: Crime may be falling, but it's not a Tory victory

The causes of this decline go far beyond party politics

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You can’t blame David Cameron and Theresa May for being out and about with television crews to highlight the “good news” of the latest sharp fall in recorded crime rates.

Labour would be doing exactly the same thing – shaking hands with bobbies on the beat and inspecting crime-busting technology – if it was in power today.

The Coalition Government’s relief is even greater because the continuing drop in almost every category of offence runs counter to the previous conventional wisdom that crime rises in times of austerity.

It also appears to refute the argument that cuts in police numbers – down by more than 14,000 in four years – would inevitably lead to an increase in lawlessness.

One Whitehall source admitted recently: “The figures have not behaved as we had expected and prepared for. We have been waiting for crime to start rising again and it simply has not happened.”

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary will understandably try to make political capital out of the 30-year low in numbers of offences, not least because of the Conservatives’ historic reputation as the party of law and order.

The truth is that ministers can take precious little credit for the fall in recorded crime, any more than Labour could when it presided over similar sharp drops.

Something so big is happening that it is beyond the power of individual politicians to affect, apart from at the margins.

Crime rates are declining rapidly across most of the western world, regardless of the complexion of governments in power and despite the global squeeze on living standards.

Part of the reason is practical. It is far harder to break into a house or car than a decade ago, given the proliferation of burglar alarms and the routine installation of immobilisers in vehicles.

What is more, the electronic goods that used to be stolen in vast numbers have fallen in value so dramatically that they are hardly worth taking.

High street crime – robbery, mugging and vandalism – is a much riskier enterprise today because of the millions of closed-circuit televisions monitoring our every move.

Why is violent crime – with the exception of sexual offending, which may be explained by the greater reporting of previously taboo incidents – also falling?

One theory is that recession can take some of the “credit” as youngsters have less cash to spend on alcohol and are less at risk of getting caught up in drink-fuelled brawls.

Another possible explanation comes down to demographics, with fewer young men – the group most prone to violence – in the population at the moment. Perhaps they are also working off their surplus aggression by playing shoot-‘em-up computer games at home?

One idea is that has gained international currency is that the removal of lead from petrol has played its part as large concentrations in the atmosphere are said to be linked to belligerent behaviour.

Criminologists posit that the explanation for consistent declines in recorded offending is a mixture of these factors and many more.

But they don’t really know – any more than the politicians basking in the reflected glory of the official statistics.