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Starmer tells Big Tech ‘the free ride is over’ in speech on crime and policing

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Port Vale FC (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Port Vale FC (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir Starmer has told the Big Tech industry a Labour government would “find ways to make them accountable” if their platforms were used to spread online hate and misogyny.

Outlining the party’s crime and policing agenda, the Labour leader also promised to “reverse the collapse in the proportion of crime solved” and halve levels of violence against women and girls within a decade, if he wins power at the next general election.

He also pledged to halve serious violent crime and raise confidence in the police and criminal justice system after the damning report by Baroness Casey into Scotland Yard.

In a speech at Port Vale FC in Stoke-on-Trent, the former director of public prosecutions said: “It’s always working people who pay the heaviest price, working class communities who have to live under its shadow.

“As somebody who has worked in criminal justice for most of my life, I also know that far too often, the inequalities that still scar our society – class, race, gender – do find an expression in the very system that is supposed to protect us all, without discrimination.

“This is personal – it’s Labour’s plan to tackle the crimewave gnawing away at our collective sense of security.

“But it’s also unfinished business in my life’s work to deliver justice for working people.”

He added that justice “feels quite absent” from the country, calling the current charging rate of 5% “a recipe for impunity”.

Sir Keir also said the criminal courts were “backlogged”, leaving victims “trapped in a purgatory”.

Criticising the Tory Government, he said: “Their kids don’t go to the same schools, nobody fly-tips on their streets, the threat of violence doesn’t stalk their communities – they don’t see the problem, and so they’re complacent about the solutions.

Members of the shadow cabinet in Stoke
Shadow cabinet members Preet Gill, Sarah Jones, Yvette Cooper, Jess Phillips and Ellie Reeves listen to Sir Keir’s speech (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“This is the Britain they’ve created.”

He pledged to restore confidence in policing and introduce “proper victims’ law”.

Outlining an agenda to modernise policing in front of members of the shadow cabinet, he said: “Police must change”, especially in light of the “horrifying” detail set out in the Casey report.

Drawing comparisons with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Keir said: “If we can get Catholics to serve in Northern Ireland, integrate nationalist communities there into policing, then there can be no justification for any special pleading from the Met in London, or any police force.

“Policing must start to serve women and minorities, no more excuses.

“Modernising the police is also the first step we need to take on halving violence amongst women and girls.”

He said a Labour government would place specialist domestic abuse workers responding to 999 calls in every police control room, and set up a specialist rape unit “in every police force”.

“And we’ll also set up dedicated rape courts – the current prosecution rates are a disgrace.”

He said the importance of “visible neighbourhood police” was also “crystal clear”, repeating a pledge to recruit 13,000 extra officers and “get more police on the beat”.

Labour would also prioritise “fighting the virus that is anti-social behaviour: fly-tipping, off-road biking in rural areas, drugs”.

He promised “respect orders – anti-social behaviour orders with teeth”, and vowed to “get clever” with fixed penalty notices for vandals and fly-tippers, saying “you had better be prepared to clear up your mess”.

“It’s going to be a long, hard road,” he added, saying success would depend on partners outside government and policing, involving “education, media, health, community services, online regulation”.

Sir Keir also took aim at Big Tech, describing “tackling the evils our young boys are exposed to, following them in their pockets, wherever they go”.

“The reality of society, as every parent knows, is that our children need protecting in their homes, as well as on their streets,” he said.

“You can’t fight behaviour that is learned online, spread online, glorified online, armed only with the tools of the past.”

Keir Starmer visit to Stoke-on-Trent
Sir Keir Starmer delivered his speech at the Port Vale FC ground (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Labour would be “standing up to the Big Tech companies” in a world where a child could go online “and buy a machete as easily as a football”.

“It’s exactly the same thing with social media algorithms that bombard young minds with misogyny,” he added.

“Both are social evils, examples of where greed comes over good.

“So my message to the Big Tech companies is this: the free ride is over.

“If you make money from the sale of weapons or radicalisation of people online, we will find ways to make them accountable.

“You wouldn’t get way with it on the streets and you won’t get away with it online.”

The Tories said Labour was “too weak” on crime, adding that Sir Keir had “personally blocked the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals”.

That was a reference to reports published on Thursday in The Sun that Sir Keir, before becoming Labour leader, had been co-signatory to a letter calling for 50 offenders not to be deported to Jamaica, with some allegedly going on to reoffend.

Asked about that claim, Labour’s leader said: “Most people are fed up to the back teeth with a Government that is seeking to blame everybody else but themselves for the problems in the criminal justice system.”

Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said: “Keir Starmer is taking the British people for fools.

“Everyone knows he personally blocked the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals.

“Labour are too weak to keep our streets safe, time and time again they have shown that they do not share the values of the law-abiding majority in this country.

“Only the Conservatives can be relied upon to be tough on crime and tough on criminals – keeping dangerous offenders off our streets and giving the police the resources they need to make our communities safer.”