THREE cabinet ministers descended on Hammersmith this morning (April 13) to lavish praise on the Labour parliamentary candidate, rail against the local Tory council and accuse Boris Johnson of planning cuts to local policing in London.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson, Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and Environment Secretary Ed Miliband, joined Labour MP Andrew Slaughter at the St Paul's Centre, Macbeth Road, to condemn the Mayor's plan to cut 455 officers from the Metropolitan Police and boost the campaign for the key Hammersmith marginal.
Labour says the cuts will hit London's ward-based Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) – which consist of a sergeant, two police constables and three police community support officers - and lead to a rise in crime and public fear of offenders.
"Our fear, indeed prediction, is that under the Tories we will not see Safer Neighbourhood Teams at ward level as they are but some pushed to borough levels," the Home Secretary said. "Unless we can protect them I think we'll see the situation in London change in terms of policing."
The Mayor says the cuts are part of necessary budget restrictions for the Met but will not impact on front line policing, a claim rejected by Tessa Jowell, government minister for the Olympics and London. Speaking to the Fulham Chronicle she said: "If Boris Johnson thinks we're scaremongering than let him come out and reassure Londoners, let him give an unequivocal guarantee that SNTs will remain as they are across London."
A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London said: "London's Safer Neighbourhood Teams have played a vital part in reducing crime in the capital and will continue to do so in their current numbers under this Mayor. However tackling crime in a city as diverse as London is a huge task and policing flexibility is a must if we want to continue to make the city safer: What works in Soho may not work in Sutton. Under Boris Johnson the Met has a record number of warranted officers and as the Mayor has already stated he is committed to increasing it yet further."
Throwing his weight behind Andrew Slaughter's campaign, Environment Secretary Ed Miliband, who also crafted the party's election manifesto, told the gathering of local party loyalists that he expects Hammersmith to be a "very tight and close" election but said it was "incredible important" for Mr Slaughter to win in the borough on May 6.
The newly-drawn Hammersmith seat is widely seen as a key marginal for the general election and is being hard fought by Mr Slaughter and his Conservative rival Shaun Bailey. The council is seen by many observers as a blueprint for Tory local government across the country and has drawn equal amounts of praise and criticism for its commitment to cutting council tax by three per cent each year. Critics say the cuts have come at the cost of public services and are part of an ideological drive to reshape the make up of the borough. The council says it is delivering better public services for less tax.
Attacking the local council for its proposals to redevelop several large estates across the borough, moves which have stirred anger from many residents, Mr Miliband added: "The Tories have a new wrapper and a new salesman and they are trying to present a new image, but they are the same Tories of the 1980s and I think we see that clearly in Hammersmith. If you want a sneak preview of what a David Cameron government would be like, it's here."
The ministers spent half an hour listening to local activists and concerned residents, including Desiree Cranenburgh and her mother Annette, who expressed fear at rumours the local council wants to revamp their estate in Ashcroft Square. Desiree said: "We've been here for our whole lives, I've been schooled here and lived in the community and now the Tory council wants to knock down our homes. It's a disgrace and I've been catapulted into speaking out against it."
H&F Council refuted the claim saying it has "no plans whatsoever" to demolish Ashcroft Square. "In fact we are just about to spend millions on refurbishment to complete our decent homes programme on the estate this year.Our Chief Executive will be writing to all our tenants and leaseholders to put the record straight after this quite wrong and woefully misleading comment,"he added.
The council spokesman also said: "H&F Council was the first local authority in Britain to extend the hours of some Police Safer Neighbourhood teams to 24 hours-a-day, 7-day-a-week in April 2007. Getting more police on the streets has been the centrepiece of the council's crime fighting approach but it is important to remember that councils are not providers or commissioners of policing but, because we know that this is residents' number one concern, we have made it our top priority."