Sir Keir Starmer has spoken out about knife crime while on a visit to Hanham Woods Academy today.
The Labour leader said his “heart goes out” to the families of the two teenagers who were stabbed to death in Knowle West at the weekend, and pledged action if his party gets into power.
Sir Keir was visiting in support of Damien Egan, the Labour candidate in the upcoming Kingswood by-election, who used to attend the school when it was Hanham High School.
The party leader said: “My heart goes out to the family and friends of these two young boys, 16 years old and 15 years old. I have a 15-year-old boy and we’ve been talking to 15-year-old and 16-year-old children in this school. We have a real problem with this government, knife crime has gone up 77 per cent since 2015, so the government has clearly lost control.”
The two teenagers Max Dixon and Mason Rist were attacked on Saturday night (January 27) and died from their injuries in the early hours of Sunday morning. Their deaths follow several fatal stabbings in Bristol last year, and local councillors have called for more government action to clamp down on knife crime.
“We’ve got to take it more seriously,” Sir Keir said. “What I would do is three things. Firstly, ban the online sale of knives like zombie knives. That can be done very quickly, very easily. The government has announced that it’s going to do it 17 times, but still hasn’t done it.
“The second thing I would do is make sure we have a young futures programme, which would, with other experts and support agencies, reach some of the young people who are getting drawn into knife crime and take them back out of that, before they get involved.
“The third thing is, for those who do carry knives, be absolutely clear that if you carry the knife, you carry the consequences. Because at the moment, the sanctions available aren’t being used consistently or in some cases not really at all. We’ve got a plan to deal with this, but we cannot go on with these tragic stories.”
Students had the chance to talk to the two politicians and aired their concerns about safety, mental health and climate change. Another issue that came up was buses.
Mr Egan, who has resigned as the directly elected Mayor of Lewisham to fight the seat, said: “We need a public transport system that works, where the priority is around how many members of the public can we transport. That needs to be the absolute priority. It’s something that all of us in Kingswood really do notice, over the years how the bus routes have deteriorated.
“There was a woman who lives over in Bridgeyate, she was trying to get to the hairdressers near Hanham. Her appointment was an hour and half but she was out for five hours, because she had to get two buses.
“We’re seeing people stranded in their homes. There’s lots of places across the whole of Bristol now where they’ve lost their buses altogether. It’s something that absolutely needs to be addressed so that people can get around.”
The Kingswood by-election will be held on Thursday, February 15, and was caused by the resignation of Chris Skidmore. Costing £250,000 to organise, some have questioned the need for a by-election, given that a general election is expected to happen later this year.
Sir Keir said: “This by-election is only happening because the ex-Tory MP thought the prime minister showed no leadership on key global issues. What you’re seeing is chaos, division, falling out, and consequently we’re having by-elections. Nonetheless it does provide a fantastic opportunity for Damien Egan, our candidate, to show the difference that a Labour MP would make for this constituency, and the vision and the plan that he has.”
Both South Gloucestershire Council and Bristol City Council are facing major pressure on their budgets, due to rising costs for providing social care and temporary housing, and a huge loss of funding from the government. But one key issue is government funding being very short-term, making it difficult for councils across the country to plan for the future.
Mr Egan, who has been selected to contest the new Bristol North East seat for Labour at the general election said: “One of the biggest things in local government is long-term planning, and local government hasn’t been able to do that with this Conservative government over the last 14 years. People can’t plan and it’s having a devastating impact on the services that councils provide.”
The other candidates for the by-election are: Sam Bromiley, Conservative; Rupert Lowe, Reform; Lorraine Francis, Green; Andrew Brown, Liberal Democrat; and Nicholas Wood, Ukip.
By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporter