Bournemouth day 2: catching criminals. And Vince.

The big debate this afternoon had the catchy title: “Cutting crime by catching criminals”. It may seem an obvious approach; but under this Government, only 1 crime in 100 ends up with a criminal conviction. And then the punishment does little to prevent future crime, with reoffending rates so high, and mental health and addictions going untreated.

Crime and the fear of crime are, with the cost of living, among the top issues for Islington residents. Knife crime makes the headlines, but we need the police to be there to deal with all the crime that damages our lives – and a prison system that works to put it right.

I put in a card (a request to speak) for this debate yesterday. So there I was this morning, busy declaiming my speech to the bedroom mirror, much to the surprise of the chambermaid.

On my way to the conference centre, I got a call from a journalist back in London, asking about cycle safety. I had just reached the pier, so there was a surreal moment: me on the mobile demanding action from Mayor Boris on Islington’s cycle blackspots, with fairground music from the roundabout in the background. It makes a change from sirens.

By now the PFI debate was well underway (conclusion: have them where they work, but don’t fiddle the figures) and I’d missed Vince Cable’s opening speech. Consoling myself with the thought of catching Vince at the lunchtime fringe, I rushed on to an event with Steve Webb MP, on climate change.

The centrepiece was a map of Britain showing what will happen with rising sea levels if we don’t act against global warming. You can get a bit blasé about this stuff – green fatigue? – but these images are truly shocking. What got me was seeing childhood holiday spots vanished under water, lost in our lifetime.

Arriving 15 minutes early, I thought I was in good time for Vince’s lunchtime fringe speech – but not early enough: full house. But we’re spoiled for choice, and I went to hear Chris Huhne on unlocking democracy through electoral reform, including an inspiring message from Brian Eno.

Under the ‘first past the post’ voting system, only a handful of voters in a handful of seats, decide who runs Britain. Islington South is one of the lucky constituencies where your vote makes a difference, but it’s just not good enough for a modern democracy that so many voters miss out. Meanwhile the Government is consulting on changing the day of the week on which you vote, which is really missing the point.

After lunch, I went to a candidates’ briefing on ‘Make it happen’. Lib Dem policy documents are many, worthy and in depth. Tell a Lib Dem candidate that our party doesn’t have any policies and hollow laughter is guaranteed. When we say we have policies for home insulation, it’s the literal truth.

‘Make it happen’ is different (hooray!) with a fresh presentation of key policies in the kind of language real people use (no endogenous neo-classical Balls here).

Then off for the crime debate (which, inevitably, clashed with a Vince Cable session at the other end of the building). One of Labour’s great lies is that Lib Dems don’t care about crime or the victims of crime. The conference hall was packed out, we heard excellent speeches (although not mine…), and a genuine debate on how best to make the police accountable to the communities they serve.

I’m really pleased with our approach – to cut police red tape, use the ID card budget to get bobbies on the beat, reform prison to reduce re-offending through education and treatment – all things that will help reduce crime and the fear of crime locally.

And afterwards we legged it through the conference centre and finally caught up with Vince: result.


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