Chuka Umunna joins government taskforce on tackling knife and gun crime

Former shadow business secretary says constituents 'would never forgive me' if he refused to take part in Home Office panel

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 09 April 2018 17:06 BST
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Labour MP Chuka Umunna has crossed party lines to join a government taskforce on tackling violent crime.

The Streatham MP said he had accepted an invitation from Amber Rudd, the home secretary, to sit on the Serious Violence Taskforce, which aims to address rising levels of knife and gun crime across the UK.

Pre-empting possible criticism from Labour members, Mr Umunna said his constituents “would never forgive me if I allow tribal, party politics to get in the way of us working together”.

​Ms Rudd announced the creation of the taskforce following a spate of fatal stabbings in London. It will form part of the government’s Serious Violence Strategy, which pinpoints the illegal drug trade and violence fuelled by social media as key factors behind knife and gun crime.

The Home Secretary said the panel will bring together charities, local councils, cross-party MPs, police and other organisations to help deliver the strategy. Aside from Mr Umunna, the Home Office declined to say who else has been invited to take part.

Announcing his decision to accept Ms Rudd’s invitation, that Mr Umunna said: "My community would never forgive me if I allowed tribal, party politics to get in the way of us working together to stop the extreme and serious youth violence that has been blighting our streets for far too long.

“This is why I have not hesitated in accepting the home secretary's invitation to join the government's cross-party Serious Violence Taskforce. We need a more joined up approach across the whole of the public sector and that must include parliament.

He added: “In addition to carrying out my duties as a legislator scrutinising government policy, this provides an excellent opportunity to hold the government to account and to see whether policy is being properly implemented in my community and in others affected by this violence."

Mr Umunna had earlier said reducing the use of the word “gang” must be part of plans to tackle violent crime.

Writing for The Independent, he said: “Part of the problem is the use of the term “gang” (I’ve been guilty of using it myself in the past), which needs to be expunged from the public debate about our young people.

“Labelling young people in this way reinforces the notion that they are gangsters when they are not. These terms enable officialdom to put all of these young people into a pigeonhole and carry on as if this is what one expects in certain communities.

“In any case, the term “gang” and the imagery it provokes is increasingly inaccurate. Ten years ago, there tended to be large groups of young people operating together, whereas now the groups are smaller and more locally based, sometimes in and around a particular estate. Social media has helped bring this about. Essentially, the situation is a lot more fluid than we might imagine.

David Lammy says he hasn't recieved a call from Sadiq Khan or Amber Rudd following deaths in his constituency

The Home Office’s 114-page Serious Violence Strategy focuses on the need for early intervention and commits £40m to tackling knife and gun crime.

Announcing the plan, Ms Rudd said: “This strategy represents a real step-change in the way we think about and respond to these personal tragedies, these gruesome violent crimes which dominate the front pages of our newspapers with seemingly depressing regularity.

“A crucial part of our approach will be focusing on and investing more in prevention and early intervention.”

She added: “We need to engage with our young people early and to provide the incentives and credible alternatives that will prevent them from being drawn into crime in the first place. This in my view is the best long-term solution.

“Because what better way to stop knife crime than by stopping young people from picking up knives in the first place?”

However, the strategy document was criticised for not including a single mention of police officer numbers, which have fallen by around 20,000 since 2010.

Amber Rudd claims no link between cuts to police and youth services and spike in violent crime

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said: "The Tories' concern about knife crime doesn't even run so far as providing new money or extra officers to tackle it.

"The Tories have slashed police funding and resources, leaving them struggling to cope with rising serious crime.

"This latest announcement looks like a cover up of their own failures."

Labour MP David Lammy, whose Tottenham constituency has been the location of four gang-related deaths since the beginning of 2018, has urged MPs to stop playing politics over the issue of violent crime.

"Frankly, I am sick of the political football”, he said last week. “What I want is a political consensus.”

It is understood Mr Lammy has not yet been asked to take part in the government taskforce.

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