Research and action for fair and accountable policing

About Twitter Instagram Facebook Donate
Multi-party debate 2024 election smiling

What do the 2024 election campaigns tell us about the future of stop and search and policing?

For the first time in 14 years, both the Labour and Conservative manifestos do not mention stop and search. By the looks of the leading party’s election campaigns, the only stop to stop and search on the horizon is by name.

This year’s general election kicked off with seven parties taking part in the multi-party debate. A grand total of seven mentions of stop and search featured in the debate, with references spread quite unequally across the parties on stage. In fact, almost every time it was brought up, it came from a booming tirade by Nigel Farage in response to questions on knife crime. An impressive three mentions alone crammed into his first 19 words: ‘Stop and search, stop and search. We know the areas in which knives are most prevalent. Stop and search’. Reform may be talking about stop and search but their commitment to ‘increase Stop and Search substantially’ in their first 100 days as a ‘proven deterrent to knife crime’ is both factually incorrect and dangerous (Guardian, 2019). The Liberal Democrats were the only other party to broach the subject. Although deputy leader Daisy Cooper supports its continued practice, she rightly denounced the use of suspicion-less searches.

Now that the parties’ manifestos have been published, it is striking that for the first time in 14 years both Labour and the Conservatives to not make a single mention of stop and search. Nor does Plaid Cymru. At least the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats each make a welcome call for the end of the routine use of stop and search by police officers.

Labour and the Conservatives’ former promises on stop and search

Discussion of stop and search have been more common in previous Tory manifestos. While there was no mention of stop and search in Labour’s 2010 and 2015 manifestos, the Conservatives dreamt big in 2010. Under the banner of ‘Reform the Police’ they sought to address the most important concerns with stop and search… reducing the amount of paperwork involved. In 2015 they boasted about the 4.5 million hours of paperwork that had been cut and their reform of ‘stop and search’. This reform was the introduction of ‘Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme’ (BUSSS); safeguards by then home secretary Theresa May, which aimed to reduce discriminatory use of stop and search. The same BUSSS protections the Tories then tried to get rid of in 2021, fortunately prevented by legal action brought by StopWatch and Liberty.

2015 did bring the first mention of the need for stop and search to become ‘more targeted’ and the need for stop to arrest ratios to improve (note: it was just 14% in 2015, and remains 14% in 2023). Following this trend, in 2017, the Conservatives spoke about stop and search only under the banner of ‘the race gap’, promising to make changes if ‘stop and search does not become more targeted and ‘stop to arrest’ ratios do not improve’. That election, Labour also pledged to ‘work to eliminate institutional biases against BAME communities, that mean you are still far more likely to be stopped and searched as a black or Asian man.’

Labour made a similar promise again in 2019. They called for only ‘proportionate stop-and-search based on intelligence’ as stop and search practices ‘mean black and Asian men are still more likely to be stopped and searched, poisoning relations between the police and the local communities they serve’. Meanwhile, the Conservatives toned down their concern about race discrimination. They promised that ‘they will empower the police, backing the increased use of stop and search as long as it is fair and proportionate’.

The 2024 manifestos

This year, the Conservative manifesto doesn’t look far beyond the police. Their manifesto pledges to recruit an additional 8,000 police officers, dedicated to neighbourhood policing, and continue to ‘back the police’ with new powers and tools. They have also promised to ‘fund every police force to roll out Hotspot Policing’. By cherry-picking statistics from two hotspots areas from Operation Dial, the Conservatives claim that hotspot policing can reduce anti-social behaviour by 50%. Whereas, systematic reviews of hotspot policing have identified far more underwhelming reductions (Braga et al, 2019). For the Conservatives, ‘tackling’ violent crime, especially knife crime, has become synonymous with increasing stop and search. During Channel 4’s Law & Order debate, Policing Minister Chris Philp asserted ‘I believe in stop and search as a way of taking knives off the street. The evidence is there, reduce stop & search and knife crime soars’. Reform Chairman Richard Tice chimed in along similar lines a few minutes later. No matter what either of them believe, the evidence is not there; stop and search does not deter nor reduce crime (Tiratelli et al, 2018).

Labour is taking a different approach to their pledge to half knife crime by 2034. Their plan includes a focus on intervention through a new ‘Young Futures programmes’ centred around youth hubs, as well as improving rapid intervention and introducing a new offence of criminal exploitation of children. They will also honour Ronan Kanda through the introduction of Ronan’s Law to clamp down on the sale and possession of knives. Disappointingly, Yvette Cooper’s ‘Respect Orders’ make a re-appearance, a new civil order which would effectively reintroduce ASBOs.

The Green Party intend to ‘tackle structural injustice and transform our policing and justice system.’ They have pledged to restore funding to youth services and focus on community-based policing. Their manifesto includes mention of the tragic murder of Adam Ali Ibrahim. In response, his friend, Councillor Mohamed Makawi, passed a motion in Bristol City Council to tackle knife crime with a focus on prevention. This has seen an increase in school education visits, greater CCTV funding and greater engagement with community organisations (BBC, 2023).

Finally, the Liberal Democrats pledge to take a ‘public health approach to the epidemic of youth violence’, arguing that they will focus on the identification and treatment of risk factors as much as the symptoms, including investing in youth services.

Protes clamp downs front and centre

The curbing of protests rights is another area where the manifestos have centred their attention. It is a topic which stop and search is at the heart of, with the Public Order Act 2023 granting the police the newest addition to their arsenal of stop and search powers. Both suspicion-based and suspicionless powers were expanded through Section 10 and Section 11 of the Act respectively.

The Conservatives use their manifesto to take a victory lap on the topic – stating that they ‘have passed tough new laws to curb disruptive protests… giving the police new powers to intervene where protests cause serious disruption to communities, leading to the arrests of over 600 Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion protestors in London alone.’ And they’re not stopping there, promising to ‘introduce further powers to ban face coverings, pyrotechnics and climbing on war memorials’ and ‘strengthen police powers to prevent protests or marches that pose a risk of serious disorder’. The irony of their opening statement on the matter – ‘we cannot allow a small and vocal minority to destroy our democratic values’ – is not lost.

On the opposing end, the Green Party call for the scrapping of the Public Order Act ‘and other legislation that erodes the right to protest and free expression’.

Equally, the Liberal Democrats call for scrapping of the ‘Conservatives’ draconian anti-protest laws, restoring pre-existing protections for both peaceful assembly and public safety, and immediately halt the use of live facial recognition surveillance by the police and private companies.’

Lo and behold, Labour chose once again not to touch on a contentious topic, remaining noticeably quiet on the subject.

All in all, this is the first election since Baroness Casey stated plainly that ‘the use of stop and search… needs a fundamental reset’. It is at best a dereliction of their duty for Labour and the Conservatives to propose not even the mildest reform of the excessive and disproportionate police practice.

By Georgia Allen, StopWatch volunteer

All blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of StopWatch UK.

About the author

Georgia Allen.

Support our work

Any amount we receive helps to support us in our mission and keeps us independent


Sign up to our newsletter

For regular updates on our activities and to learn how you can get involved with us