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Opinion: 'We've come a long way from being told to hug a hoodie as parties promise crackdown on anti-social behaviour'

There aren’t many certainties in council elections but one thing that can be predicted is the parties will all promise a crackdown on crime and anti-social behaviour.

These pledges tend to overlook the inconvenient fact that policing policy lies outside the remit of local councils and rests with the crime commissioner.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

And there is much to gain from positioning your party as the toughest on crime and castigating your opponents for being light on criminality.

So, it’s no surprise, particularly as councils are involved when it comes to anti-social behaviour, that the issue is seen as a legitimate area of debate - which explains why the Conservatives and Labour have been setting out how tough they will get on crime.

The underlying theme of both is a focus on the kind of low-level nuisance behaviour that blights communities who often complain that they are ignored when it comes to taking any action.

There’s a sense of deja vu about the pledges being made by both parties - and it’s not just about the obsession with getting offenders out in public wearing high-vis jackets.

In the case of the Conservative party, we are a long way from the party’s former leader David Cameron’s exhortation to hug a hoodie, believing that society needed to be more tolerant towards those from troubled backgrounds.

Paul Francis interviews Prime Minister David Cameron in 2014. Picture: Darren Small
Paul Francis interviews Prime Minister David Cameron in 2014. Picture: Darren Small

That policy approach was miles away from the steadfast resolution of rank and file members that believed that hanging was - to coin a phrase - too good for serial offenders.

Sunak has adopted measures that in part remind us of a half-baked plan under Tony Blair in which vandals were to take out cash to pay for an on-the-spot fine and then fix things they had broken, preferably straightaway,

What that means in practical terms, heaven only knows. Who escorts the drunken lout who caves in a shop window to the nearest DIY store for a glass pane to replace the one he’s just kicked in? Perhaps fortunately, we never really found out.

The PM said "people have had enough" and he was determined to restore people’s confidence that those responsible would “be quickly and visibly punished”.

Of course, this has prompted the obvious question - why nothing had been done by the government over more than a decade in power to address the complaints of those who ‘“have had enough".

Can the Conservatives really end antisocial behaviour "once and for all?"
Can the Conservatives really end antisocial behaviour "once and for all?"

Sunak has also created a hostage to fortune by declaring that he would end anti-social behaviour “once and for all”. That may come back to haunt him.

Labour’s policing policy plans are not dissimilar, at least in tone, with a pledge that they, too, would introduce zero tolerance punishments for low level criminality.

While it is encouraging to hear politicians commit to tackling anti-social behaviour, it is less so to hear solutions that are a rehash of previous policy.

On that front, we do not need more habitual offenders in our communities.

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