Ann Widdecombe – 2001 Speech to Conservative Spring Forum

Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the then Shadow Home Secretary, to the Conservative Spring Forum held on 3 March 2001.

Four years on, they have failed to deliver. Instead, they’ve been tough on the crimefighters. There are 2,500 fewer police since 1997. 6,000 fewer special constables. The Chairman of the Police Federation says that morale is the worst he has ever seen it.

They’ve been tough on the victims of crime. Remember what their manifesto pledged? That they would ‘ensure that victims are kept fully informed of the progress of their case’. But just this week, Labour’s so-called 10 Year Crime Plan said, ‘Victims and witnesses want to be kept informed. Current performance is not good enough.’

What a damning indictment of their own record. An admission that they have failed to deliver on their promises.

This week Labour made a new set of promises in their so-called Crime Plan. They’ve failed to deliver on the promises they made last time – their solution is to make yet another set of promises.

But let’s take their record into consideration. Broken promise after broken promise. In 1995, Tony Blair said Labour would put ‘thousands more police officers on the beat’. Instead there are 2,500 fewer officers. In 1997, Tony Blair said his child curfew orders would prevent ‘young children wandering the streets at night, getting into trouble, growing into a life of criminality’. Result? Not one child curfew has ever been made. Not a single child has been turned away from a life of criminality. Their manifesto pledged to support the police – but 250 criminals who have assaulted police officers have served less than one third of their prison terms on Labour’s special early release scheme.

This week, Labour talked about tougher sentences. Don’t you believe it. They’ve already let more than 31,000 criminals out of jail up to 2 months earlier than normal on their special early release scheme. Under Labour, if you get six months, you’ll be out in six weeks. Even John Prescott gets through more of his sentences than that.

And 1,000 extra crimes have been committed by those criminals, released early by Labour, when they should have been in prison. That’s Labour’s real approach – to let more and more prisoners out of jail earlier and earlier.

The next Labour Government will give the ‘get out of jail free’ card to even more criminals. Last week, Jack Straw’s special adviser admitted in a leaked memo that their new sentencing plans involve 11,500 more criminals spending less time in prison each year – something he described as ‘a significant softening of sentencing arrangements’.

Before the last election, Labour promised they’d be ‘tough on crime’. Now Jack Straw says that it depends on the criminals whether crime falls or not. An admission of failure.

The next Conservative Government will go to war on the criminal as never before.

Right now, the police force stands depleted and demoralised, burdened with bureaucracy and performance indicators. That has got to change, and fast. So the next Conservative Government will reverse Labour’s cuts in police numbers. We will ensure that they spend their time doing just what they joined up to do, and just what the people of this country want them to do – fighting crime.

Our ‘cops in shops’ proposals will mean that more communities see their local police officers out and about. It’s a simple, common sense initiative. The officer doesn’t go back to the station to write up his reports, he writes them up in shops and other public places. This has a threefold advantage. First of all, he’s visible. Secondly, he can interact with the community. And thirdly, he is a deterrent.

And we’re going to have a national police cadet force to make sure that more young people choose a career in the police, and to ensure that their first contact with the police is a positive, confidence-building experience. That’s Common Sense.

Labour have admitted that they’ve broken their promises to victims and given them a raw deal. The next Conservative Government will change that. We’ll overhaul the law so that it’s on the side of the victim, not the criminal. And victims will be given new statutory rights. The right to a named police officer and lawyer as a point of contact. The right to be kept informed of progress in their cases. The right of access to files if they want to mount a private prosecution. We’ll put Victims First.

Conservatives will put in place new laws to tackle drug dealers. Those who repeatedly deal to children will in future be given tough mandatory prison sentences. And why should we have laws which give the police powers to combat opium dens, but not crack houses?

We’ll end Labour’s special early release scheme, under which thousands of robbers, burglars and drug dealers have served less time in prison. Honesty in sentencing will ensure that the sentence handed down in court is the sentence that is served. And when they’re in prison, rather than lying around in idleness, prisoners will do meaningful work, work from which money can be paid to support their families on the outside and as reparation to their victims. Young menaces will be taken off the streets, put into Secure Training Centres, and given a real chance to change.

Labour will always spin and never deliver. They’ve broken the promises they made at the last election and now they’re making new promises to break after the next one.

Let’s leave the final word to Jack Straw’s own political adviser, who says that Labour’s policy “doesn’t look very impressive”.

There can only be one verdict on Jack Straw and Tony Blair: guilty as charged.

There can only be one sentence passed on Labour: to be thrown out of office for a term of at least five years.

The next Conservative Government will deliver. And with your help, we’ll win the next election and send the whole Labour Party down.