Evening Standard comment: Can Rory Stewart solve the violent crime crisis? | Action to beat new virus | Saving art on the beach


There’s one big question facing every candidate in London’s mayoral election: what’s your plan for tackling rising violent crime? Today Rory Stewart gives us his answer.

The former Conservative MP’s solution starts with something simple. He states the obvious: it will take more police. He wants to see 2,350 extra officers at work, but of course he’s not the only one promising that.

The Prime Minister says the Met will get extra resources. The current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is adding to numbers, too. And Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, draws on his experience of growing up on a west London estate to argue he understands what it takes to tackle gang violence.

So what can Mr Stewart offer that’s different?

He says it is a detailed plan, led from the top, based on a clear promise to make a difference, fast. He argues that knife crime has gone up and the homicide rate has hit a decade-long high not because this is inevitable but because there hasn’t been a determined effort to stop it.

Excuses have come before action, with Mr Khan quick to blame funding cuts but slow to spring into motion.

The Met, and its capable Commissioner Cressida Dick, have had to deal with a whole range of challenges, including countering terrorism, online fraud and a much-needed new recognition of the seriousness of domestic violence.

But now violent crime has reached a point where Londoners want those in charge to get a grip — as a poll the independent candidate has commissioned shows.

Mr Stewart says that when he was minister for prisons he found even the best managers despaired of cutting the horrific rate of violence in the system.

He ordered a turnaround and it made a difference, giving people confidence that if we got simple things right, the situation would improve fast.

He wants to do the same thing in London, making sure all new police officers are focused on neighbourhood policing, and making the police more visible on the streets.

He says he will dedicate six officers to each of the capital’s 629 policing wards, and create “surge teams” which could send more to turn things around when violence hits.

It’s a practical, local way of dealing with trouble which will feel right to many people. Of course it will also require the extra officers to work with communities, not fall into conflict with them, as part of a public health approach — which this paper has championed — to prevent violent crime.

Mr Stewart isn’t the only candidate in this race promising a turnaround. But on the key election issue he’s come forward early with a compelling answer.

Now let’s see if his rivals can match it.

Action to beat new virus

In 2003 a viral respiratory disease threatened to spread from China. After almost 10,000 cases and 774 deaths, it was brought under control. SARS, as it was called, was beaten through good medical advice and co-ordinated worldwide action.

The lessons show that a worrying new kind of coronavirus, which has also emerged in China, can be controlled, too.

It will take honesty about the situation, a calm, informed response, international co-operation through the World Health Organisation, and screening to catch travellers who may have been infected.

Unfortunately, calm, honest international co-operation is just the sort of thing that has become harder to arrange in an age of social media scares and populist leaders.

Action, not panic, is needed.

Saving art on the beach

The film-maker and writer Derek Jarman created a mesmerising pebble garden at his home in Dungeness.

Now, 26 years after his death, the house is for sale and there is a campaign to raise £3.5 million to save the house and its contents for the nation.

This work of art needs to be saved.

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