Labour is attempting to take on Boris Johnson’s government over law and order with a raft of community policing policies and a clampdown on antisocial behaviour.
In an evocation of Tony Blair’s 1990s slogan, the shadow home secretary will tell delegates at Labour’s annual conference on Tuesday that Priti Patel’s department has been “soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime”.
Under a Labour government, the party would launch a “major recruitment drive” to boost the number of special constables after unpaid officer numbers fell sharply over the last decade, Nick Thomas-Symonds will say.
He will also set out a vision for a national rollout of “police hubs” with their own neighbourhood crime prevention teams to crack down on antisocial behaviour.
A “next-generation neighbourhood watch” using technology including video doorbells and WhatsApp groups would be tasked with bringing people together to share information to tackle crime.
The move also returns to David Blunkett’s push in the early 2000s to bolster neighbourhood policing with community support officers.
Critics have claimed that Conservative cuts have decimated neighbourhood policing. Thomas-Symonds is expected to tell party delegates in Brighton: “In Tory Britain, people say you never see police on the beat any more. That schoolchildren feel afraid at the bus stop. That people feel unsafe going out after dark. This is the price of years of Tory cuts to neighbourhood policing.”
In a pledge designed to move into the law and order territory once successfully occupied by Blair as shadow home secretary, Thomas-Symonds will say that Labour will increase police visibility across the UK.
“With me as home secretary, if there is trouble on your street, Labour will make sure that someone is there. You will see officers on the beat,” he will say.
The police hubs would be visible and easy to access for communities, and each neighbourhood crime prevention team would be tasked with bringing together police, community support officers and youth workers.
He will also lay out plans for a new child exploitation register. Those convicted of modern slavery offences linked to county lines drug dealing would be added to a list similar to the sex offender register. MPs hope that the move would help monitor offenders and increase the stigma attached to such crimes.
Labour plans to fund the proposals to tackle antisocial behaviour by scrapping the government’s new maritime national flagship, set to cost an estimated £200m to build and £83m a year to run.
Labour also wants to tackle the underlying causes of addiction as part of its policy on drugs. Starmer has backed Scotland’s move to allow officers to issue police warnings to people caught in possession of class A drugs, rather than prosecuting them. The scheme will allow police to use their discretion in cases of individual use. Those caught supplying drugs to others will still face criminal charges.
Thomas-Symonds said at a conference fringe event on Sunday that the leadership might adopt a similar policy in England and Wales. “Keir and I are not in favour of changing the drugs legal framework, but within that, we have to be tackling the underlying causes of addiction. Part of that has always been about non-court disposals for possession,” he said.
Blair’s slogan “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” was widely seen as a successful tactic at undermining the Conservatives’ hardline policies under John Major’s government. Thomas-Symonds has also taken a critical view on protesters from the Insulate Britain group, which has disrupted motorway traffic across the country.
Oliver Dowden, the chair of the Conservative party, said: “Labour have shown time and time again that they are weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime. They voted against tougher sentences for the most serious offenders, refused to back giving our frontline officers greater powers, and it was revealed this week that they would issue warnings to class A drug users instead of prosecuting them.”