Local Elections 2023: Labour says it’s ‘tough on crime’ - what do voters think of Keir Starmer’s new approach?

A Labour Party source told NationalWorld that crime is an issue “constantly raised when you talk to voters on their doors.”

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Recent campaigning and political adverts from Labour have indicated an increased focus on ‘being tough’ on crime, with the party apparently looking to position itself as more hardline on the topic than the Tories.

In a now notorious social media post on the @LabourUK Twitter account, the party wrote: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.” This was accompanied by the caption: “Labour is the party of law and order.”

Despite widespread backlash - from both opposition parties and his own Labour MPs - party leader Sir Keir Starmer said he makes “absolutely no apologies” for the ad. Writing in the Daily Mail, the Holborn and St Pancras MP said: “I stand by every word the Labour Party has said on the subject, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel.

When 4,500 child abusers avoid prison, people don’t want more excuses from politicians – they want answers.” He also claimed that the Tories are “insulated” from the impacts of criminal activity, whereas he knows “exactly who suffers when the government goes soft on crime”.

It’s an interesting move from Labour, as while the Conservatives have long had a clear stance on the matter, a hardline ‘tough on crime’ slogan is not one you typically see from a party on the left of the political spectrum. It’s also interesting that this issue is cropping up again and again for Labour - both on social media and in comments from members of the shadow Cabinet - because it isn’t the issue at the top of voter priorities, according to recent polls.

The Labour Party is pedalling a new ‘tough on crime’ campaign approach. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorldThe Labour Party is pedalling a new ‘tough on crime’ campaign approach. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld
The Labour Party is pedalling a new ‘tough on crime’ campaign approach. Credit: Kim Mogg / NationalWorld

YouGov recently asked voters what the “most important issue” facing the country was, and, of course, the cost of living crisis and the economy came out on top at 57%. Health came next at 47%, then immigration (33%), the environment (23%), housing (19%), Brexit (18%), and crime at 15%.

Statistica painted a similar picture. The economy and cost of living crisis was ranked the “most important issue facing the country” with 59% of votes, followed by health at 42% and immigration at 37%. Next was the environment at 21%, housing at 19%, then crime and Brexit were tied at 18%. Issues which ranked lower in these polls included education, pensions, defence, and transport.

A Labour Party source however told NationalWorld that while “polls show of course the cost of living crisis is the main concern for voters, crime is one of those things that is raised constantly when you talk to voters on their doors.”

“People often talk about generally feeling unsafe, and concerns about an increase in anti-social behaviour are brought up too.”

However, the source said that one of the main reasons the Labour Party is “pushing so much on crime” is because “we see it as a social justice issue”.

They explained: “The worst areas for crime are overwhelmingly the areas that are lower income and more deprived, so it impacts poorer people the most. Therefore, solving crime is part of a wider approach to tackling poverty and ensuring social justice.”

The source also suggested it was worthwhile talking about crime as “it is an issue that crosses generations”. For older people, they said, fraud is a huge issue - and “we also talk to older women who feel they don’t want to go into town alone.

“Then, with younger people, we’re seeing increasing knife crime - and there’s also of course the ongoing debate about young women’s safety too.”

What do voters think?

NationalWorld spoke to voters to find out how much crime mattered to them ahead of next month’s local elections. In Guildford, Surrey, Inger Ward, 83, agreed that crime was an issue she worried about - citing violent knife crime as a main concern. James, 54, disagreed, saying he was far more worried about the state of the economy, particularly after the “disaster of Liz Truss”.

Jack, 37, said: “As a father of four, the cost of living crisis is of course the thing that’s most important at the moment.” Patrick, 23, added that he was concerned about the fact that “no one can afford a house and no one can see a doctor”, but did add that he was worried about “violent crime” and “terrorism threats”.

Daryl, 46, said he “didn’t care about politics and never would”, while Olivia, 53, said that crime was an issue in terms of the fact that “there’s no point in calling the police if there’s a burglary as no one will come”, but added that the “NHS, cost of living crisis, and possible recession” were much more important to her.