Who will win the summer battle over crime – Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer?

The prime minister hits back as Labour accuses him of being ‘soft on crime’, writes John Rentoul

<p>Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel at Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford</p>

Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel at Surrey Police headquarters in Guildford

It feels as if politics has gone back in time. Not just to the time before Covid-19, but to the time before Brexit, before David Cameron, and before 13 years of New Labour government. The latest photo opportunities for the prime minister and the home secretary with police officers take us back to the mid-1990s, when Michael Howard and the shadow home secretary, Tony Blair, fought it out over crime.

People’s fear of crime was a huge unexploited issue for the opposition then, and Blair made the most of it. It is not such a big deal today – it doesn’t feature in the top 10 “issues facing Britain today” in the latest Ipsos Mori survey. But then people used to say that about the question of EU membership, and activists who canvassed in the four recent by-elections will tell you that crime and the wider issue of antisocial behaviour kept coming up on the doorstep.

Keir Starmer and Nick Thomas-Symonds, Blair’s successors as Labour leader and shadow home secretary respectively, were astute enough to spot this early and to attack one of the government’s potential weaknesses. With a simple message about cancelling the plan for a national yacht and spending the money on measures against antisocial behaviour instead, Labour put Boris Johnson and Priti Patel on the defensive, reworking Blair’s slogan to accuse them of being “soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime”.

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