Christians sometimes ask “What would Jesus do?” We have no intention of misattributing sinlessness or divinity to the Environment Secretary. But other Ministers should sometimes ask: “What would Gove do?”
This isn’t because he is always right. Indeed, Mark Wallace recently questioned where his combativeness has gone. Further to the point, one might divide Gove, like some old master of the visual arts, into Early Gove, the man who couldn’t enter a classroom without picking a fight with the teacher, and Late Gove, the man who can’t leave a dew pond before cuddling a great crested newt, and assuring it that he feels its pain. But he is unquestionably the Cabinet Minister who most sets the pace in his department – whether mulling a ban on live animal exports, ordering CCTV into slaughterhouses, proposing tougher sentences for animal cruelty, backing a ban on bee-harming pesticides or introducing a bar on the ivory trade.
So let us apply the WWGD question to knife and gun crime. The first place that it takes one to is to the Serious Violence Strategy launched yesterday by Amber Rudd. As Peter Walker wrote on this site last weekend, there are people who look for simple alternatives – none of which hold. Yes, the use of stop and search is essential. But its reduction by the Metropolitan Police was followed by a fall in stabbings and shootings. Yes, there must be enough police officers to carry it out effectively. But a fall in police funding under the Coalition was mirrored by a fall in crime. And in any event the Met has a high officers-to-people ratio compared to other forces.
Walker pointed to the success of the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow, and the reduction of knife crime in the city: “no young people died as a result of such crimes last year”. This is exactly the sort of early intervention model that the Home Secretary’s strategy looks to follow. Home Office ministers worry about similar trends abroad, and rising demand in the crack cocaine market. There is talk of hosting an international summit.
Neither is it the case that Rudd has rushed out a strategy to meet media demands (it has long been pencilled in for this week, before the local government elections really get going), or instead dithered for several days before producing one (ditto). None the less, the issue first cropped up on our site post-Easter exactly a week ago, when James Frayne wrote in his weekly column that “violence is set to become a mainstream political issue in London”. He was probing the previous weekend’s Sunday Times report that London’s murder rate now rivals New York’s (itself a claim that demands a bit of statistical attention).
So the best part of a week passed between a head of steam gathering about violent crime in the capital – and elsewhere – and the publication of the Government’s strategy. One view is that this doesn’t matter: that Ministers are too easily pushed around by the media, Government is too responsive to it, and a welcome development of the post-Cameron, May Government era is that it tends to run to its own timetable. None the less, it is worth asking, if only as a thought experiment, WWGD.
Here is a list of what he might have done. Some of the ideas are arguably not very good; as a whole, they are self-contradictory, and he would almost certainly not have done all of them, were he running the Home Office. But here we go.
- Wangled £40 million from the Treasury. The Home Secretary will have to find this sum from her budgets in order to fund the new strategy. That has led to questions about where the compensating funding reductions will come from. Gove might have sought to avoid these, dodge a media trap, and proclaim that the plans are backed up by new money by screwing more cash out the Treasury. Easier said than done. But £40 million is not a massive sum in terms of the Government’s overall spend, and he might have had a bit of a go.
- Visited the families of people who have been killed. Rudd’s allies say that she is reluctant either to be or to seem exploitative, and that she has visited victims’ families before. And it might be that Ministers would not be welcome. But there is a view that Sadiq Khan, criticised extensively last week for not carrying out such visits last week, was let off the hook by Ministers acting likewise. Theresa May took no detour to meet family members when visiting Waltham Forest mid-week, where she went canvassing for the local elections.
- Distanced himself from the Prime Minister over stop and search. This would be politically ruthless; shameless playing to the tabloid, party member and populist gallery; and, in internal government terms, just a bit chancy. (May is mindful of her record at the Home Office and unlikely to forget criticism of it.) None the less, a less loyal Home Secretary than Rudd might have placed just a bit of distance between herself or himself and May’s approach to stop-and-search by a bit of behind-the-hand off-the-record briefing.
- Kicked Khan…or embraced him. The London Mayor sets priorities for the Met, controls its budget, and holds the Commissioner to account. Many voters no more know this than they did when Boris Johnson was mayor and so, like his predecessor, Khan tends not be held to account by them when it comes to policing matters. Early Gove would have kicked the Mayor hard when he hit his troubles last week. Late Gove might have kissed him instead – making a point of moving in when the Mayor was weak, promising him resources and support, pledging an all party front against violence crime. It wouldn’t have been popular in all sections of the party with local elections looming. But still. (Rudd has covered the all-party dimension by recruiting Chuka Umanna to a Home Office panel on violent crime.)
- Got “all over the story”. Up and about on Today last week…walkabout in Walthamstow…a sitdown with David Lammy…a dash to Glasgow to see how crime prevention is being done there…going on Sunday with Niall Paterson himself, rather than giving his junior minister the opportunity…taking ownership of the Dear Colleague letter to other Conservative MPs. One can despise all this as dancing to the media’s tune, or applaud at least some of it as savvy politics. But either way it is hard to imagine Gove not doing at least some of it.