April 26, 2023 - 6:01pm

We have reached the point in the life cycle of this government where tough talk on just about any issue is almost entirely undercut by the simple fact that the Conservatives have been in office, in one shape or another, for thirteen years.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s speech this morning is as clear an example as they come. Certainly, there will be plenty of voters who instinctively support the idea that police should spend less time “pandering to politically correct preoccupations” and more, you know, catching criminals. And many will agree that stop and search policies constitute “common sense policing”.

But haven’t we heard all this before? Braverman’s talk of “back to basics” is making the same appeal as her predecessor (notwithstanding Grant Shapps’s six glorious days in post) Priti Patel, who last year called on the force to “get the basics right”. Going back further, there is the then-home secretary Amber Rudd who said in 2017 that “political and cultural sensitivities” must not get in the way of investigating child sexual abuse. But even she was taking a similar line to her predecessor in the role, Theresa May, who claimed that “institutionalised political correctness” accounted for the grooming gangs scandal. 

The Tories have enjoyed single-party control of government since 2015; since 2019 they have commanded a handsome overall majority too. We are now more than halfway through the maximum possible life of this parliament — why is the Home Secretary reduced to talking like all the ministers who have come before her? And why haven’t any of them fixed the problem?

Moreover, where’s the analysis of why the police seem so often to prioritise social justice over the criminal sort? Where is Braverman’s explanation for why people can track their stolen phones and bikes to particular properties but the authorities then refuse to take further action?

Overall, the problem with the Conservatives’ rhetoric on law and order is increasingly that they seem not to have any understanding of how the systems of policing and justice actually work. The party has repeatedly railed against police officers blindly following “politically correct trends”, yet has done little to stem the flow despite being in some form of power for almost a decade and a half.

Thus we have a scramble to hit a recruitment target which has seen forces inviting back failed applicants, even as those same forces are urged to raise standards and dismiss bad actors in the wake of successive scandals. Appearing on Good Morning Britain today, Braverman was left flustered by host Susanna Reid asking her to acknowledge that “20,000 police officers were cut under the Conservative government.” 

If Braverman wants the public to take her seriously about a shift in approach from the police, she first needs to demonstrate that she and the Government understand what has gone wrong, and then explain it to the nation. If she merely regurgitates the same anti-woke platitudes as those who have overseen her brief in the recent past, this home secretary will make as little difference as her predecessors.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.