Jeremy Corbyn backs calls for Theresa May to resign over police cuts

5 Jun

Jeremy Corbyn has backed calls for the prime minister to resign over cuts to police budgets in the aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attacks.

However, the Labour leader’s spokesman immediately sought to clarify the remarks, saying Corbyn meant voters should judge Theresa May on her record at Thursday’s general election.

Corbyn later stressed he intended only that the prime minister should be removed by voters. The comments came amid a wider Labour attack on May’s record as home secretary.

Also on Monday, Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, held a press conference with officials from six unions representing the emergency and public services to highlight what they all said was the impact of May’s cuts on security and counter-terrorism.

The prime minister has faced questions over cuts to police funding while she was home secretary, since the latest UK attack at the weekend, the third in little more than two months.

Asked whether the Labour leader backed calls – including from former David Cameron aide Steve Hilton – for May to resign over the issue, Corbyn said: “Indeed I would, because there have been calls made by a lot of very responsible people who are very worried that she was at the Home Office for all this time and presided over these cuts in police numbers, and she’s now saying that we have a problem.”

Corbyn added: “We’ve got an election on Thursday and that is the best opportunity to deal with it.”

However, there was almost immediate confusionover the comments. Corbyn’s spokesman sought to clarify the remarks, saying: “Jeremy is saying he believes the public will judge her on her record. We have an election on Thursday where there is an opportunity to vote in a Labour government for the many not the few, one that will invest in police and security services rather than cut them.”

Corbyn later told the BBC: “There’s an election on Thursday, that’s the chance. And there’s a call by people being made in the emergency services who say the cuts in police numbers during her time at the Home Office are appalling and that has to be challenged, and it’s been challenged.”

The press conference with Starmer was attended by union officials representing civilian police staff, fire officers, rail workers and others condemning cuts.

One of the union leaders, Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents police community support officers (PCSOs) and other civilian staff at the Metropolitan police as well as border force workers, denied it was insensitive to air such complaints less than 48 hours after the London Bridge attack.

“Nobody here will say: ‘If it wasn’t for this cut, that wouldn’t have happened.’ It would be folly to say so,” he said. “But what we can say is that the figures speak for themselves and questions need to be asked – you need to put resources into continually keep people safe.

“It would be a dereliction of duty if those people representing frontline workers did not get the message across that the swingeing cuts that took place under Theresa May’s watch are having a very real impact.”

Serwotka said the number of PCSOs in the Met had fallen 68% since 2010, while Ben Priestley, from Unison, which represents civilian police staff outside London, said the equivalent fall outside the capital was 38%.

Fiona Farmer, from Unite, said low pay made it hard to recruit civilian police staff: “People can earn more working for Vodafone and other call centres than they can working as police support staff.

“You can only imagine the difference between having to deal with a member of the public who can’t quite get their phone to work or dealing with one of the calls that someone had to pick up over the weekend.”

Dave Green, of the Fire Brigades Union, added: “Our members will attend anything they’re asked to attend, but we’re constrained by numbers, by resources.”

Serwotka was asked about May’s assertion that she had protected counter-terrorism resources,. He said this was not the case in London: “We believed from the information we have that there has been a significant cut in the counter-terrorism budget in London in the period when Theresa May was home secretary.”

Starmer and the union officials stressed they blamed only the assailants for Saturday’s events and did not hold May responsible for the recent attacks.

Priestley said union members wanted him to speak out about funding. “We’re all sensitive to the victims and their families and friends. But it must be right that we are able to examine what the impact of the cuts has been,” he said.

“Our members have been trying to get that story across for a long, long time. It’s a real shame it’s taken these events to throw some of these cuts into relief, but I think that debate has got to happen.”

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