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Michael Howard

Spoof Howard CV needs policing

Howard did cut 1,132 middle-ranking and senior officers but also put more bobbies on the beat...

"Michael Howard was appointed Home Secretary in 1993 with a commitment to increase police numbers. He cut them by 1,132."
Spoof Howard CV, Labour Party, March 2005

Michael Howard prides himself on a hard-line approach to crime and unquestioned support for the police. So anything that suggests his time as Home Secretary left the police weaker is political dynamite for Labour.

The fight over crime between the party leaders at this election mirrors the period between 1993 and 1994 when Tony Blair as Shadow Home Secretary confronted Mr Howard over the despatch box.

It was a period when Mr Blair coined his most famous soundbite - "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" - while Mr Howard faced some bruising battles over police reform and funding.

Recruitment of police officers was actually frozen in Mr Howard's first year in post, as his government kept a tight reign on public spending, leading to accusations from the Police Federation that he had failed to live up to a promise to provide 1,000 new officers.

Bobbies on the beat

It is true that over the next four years overall police numbers fell, but that is not the full picture.

Labour's figure of 1,132 comes from a document produced by the Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, part of the Office for National Statistics.

It shows that on 31 March 1993, total police strength was 128,290. By 31 March 1997, the number had fallen to 127,158; a fall of 1,132, or 0.9 per cent.

But while the official figures support Labour's allegation, they also support the Tories' rebuttal.

The Conservatives do not dispute that during Mr Howard's time as Home Secretary overall number of police officers fell. They respond that numbers of bobbies on the beat rose in the same period.

And the same document shows the number of constables rose by 1,413 between March 1993 and March 1997, an increase of 1.5 per cent.

The overall decline is explained by a fall in the number of middle and senior ranking officers.

When Michael Howard left the Home Office there were 821 fewer sergeants, 603 fewer inspectors, 454 fewer chief inspectors, 583 fewer superintendents and 31 fewer assistant chief constables than when he arrived.

Criminals at bay?

So did the drop in the number of more senior offices allow crime to rise or did the extra bobbies keep the criminals at bay?

The Conservatives say the extra frontline officers worked and crime fell during Mr Howard's time as Home Secretary.

They quote an 18 per cent drop between 1992 and 1997. And it is true that Home Office Recorded Crime Statistics for the period show offences fell by 994,000 from 5,591,717 - a drop of 17.8 per cent.

However, 1992 is the year before Mr Howard took over, and had the highest recorded crime figure of any year in the 1990s. Choosing 1993 as the starting point gives a slightly lower fall of 16.8 per cent from 5,526,255 to 4,598,357; a drop of 927,898 offences.

Nevertheless it is true to say that offences as logged in the Recorded Crime Statistics fell substantially during Mr Howard's term in office.

Spoof Howard CV, Labour Party, March 2005
The Guardian, 8 December 1993
Police Service Strength, 2002 (PDF), Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate document
Recorded Crime Statistics 1898-2002/03 (Excel), Home Office

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