Sir Keir Starmer has announced a new Labour pledge to tackle the growing epidemic of knife crime, stating that his government will “give young people real support to achieve their potential and stay on track”, but warning if they flout that chance “they’ll feel the full force of the law”.
Leaning into his credentials as former director for public prosecutions, the Labour leader has set out ambitious proposals to tackle the growing scourge of youth violence and halve knife crime by the end of his first five years in office.
This includes the introduction of a major new programme of prevention and sanctions, in the form of a “youth futures” programme and tougher punishments for those caught with offensive weapons.
In a statement announced today, Sir Keir said he would bring an end to existing rules that mean young people carrying knives can escape any further sanctions simply by writing an apology letter.
Yesterday, Labour said it would urgently crack down on the availability of machetes and zombie-style knives and introduce tougher sanctions on those found to be carrying these weapons.
The party also said it would introduce tough criminal sanctions on tech executives who allow knife sales on their online marketplaces, such as Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Instagram.
“The number of these deadly weapons on Britain’s streets is terrifying and unacceptable,” Sir Keir said.
“For years, the Tories have made grand promises of action, but by failing to bring a proper ban on these killer knives and to crack down on online sales to kids, they’re letting a generation down.
“The tragic cost is being felt by too many. Young people are being killed or maimed, and communities are blighted by fear.
“Labour will act. There will be nothing short of a ban by my Labour government. And we won’t stop there – we’ll crack down on online sales, too. No child should be able to buy a deadly weapon as easily as they can online today.”
Labour’s crime blitz comes in response to a sharp increase in recorded knife crime incidents. Since 2015, knife crime has risen by 70 per cent, yet almost half (49 per cent) of knife possession cases led to no further action.
Labour analysis has revealed that over 100 people every single week received a death threat involving a knife last year – an increase of nearly fourfold since the Tories came to power in 2010. It also revealed that nearly 5,600 people received a knife-enabled death threat last year – the highest number since 2010. Ministers will today lay before parliament plans to ban dangerous zombie-style knives and machetes, first announced by the prime minister last year. Under the measures, it will be illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport them.
Sir Keir has now pledged that his government will take a much stronger approach to possession, introducing a bespoke action plan to prevent reoffending, with increased sanctions such as curfews, tagging or behavioural contracts.
The plan forms part of the party’s mission for safer streets and is part of Labour’s push to become the more trusted party on law and order. On Wednesday, Sir Keir told journalists that law and order was a “priority” for him:
“Crime prevention and dealing with the consequences of crime has been a central feature of a decade of my working life. So yes, that’s why I want to fight on crime, that’s why it matters to me. And yes, I’m very happy to have that fight with the Tories going into the next election.”
Sir Keir’s law-and-order push is reminiscent of New Labour’s plan to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Back in April last year, Starmer said that “nothing is more important – more fundamental – to a democracy like ours” than the rule of law.
Yesterday, the Labour leader also told journalists that he was worried about the safety of young people in this country, and that “they ought to be able to walk the streets feeling safe”.
“I know it sounds obvious, but is basic, it’s really important. After 14 years of this government, we do not have that level of confidence in our young people feeling safe that we ought to.”
The youth futures programme is likely to echo the last Labour government’s education and prevention programme, SureStart, and would require coordination of local services to identify young people most at risk of knife crime and prevent them from ever picking up a knife.
Sir Keir told The Independent: “If you look at the information the police have, the health authorities have, the schools have, the referral units have... it is perfectly possible to map those that are of greatest risk.
“By putting that information together, it is possible to better identify those at risk, and that helps with the intervention side and support that’s needed, but also for intelligence-led targeting, whether it’s stop and search or the consequences of carrying a knife. That co-ordination is vitally important in a significant number of cases.”
The programme will cost up to £100m a year, which Labour says will fund new youth workers and mental health hubs in every community, youth workers in A&E and mentors in pupil referral units.
Labour says it plans to fund the programme through ending tax breaks for private schools and full cost recovery for gun licensing.
Announcing the new policies in Milton Keynes on Thursday morning, Sir Keir is expected to say: “Too many young people are being drawn into squandering their life chances by getting involved in crime. A government that I lead won’t think we can press release away soaring youth crime.
“No more apology letters, no more weak warnings. If you carry a knife, you’ll carry the consequences. But this is not just about sanctions once the choices have been made. I saw as chief prosecutor the power of prevention – lives are being lost to knife crime because Tory governments don’t.
“Labour will turn this around. We will give young people real support to achieve their potential and stay on track, but flout that chance, and they’ll feel the full force of the law.”
The Home Office and Ministry of Justice have been approached for comment.