The National Bullying Helpline story is looking flakier and flakier

I listened to the Today programme’s coverage of the National Bullying Helpline allegations that they had received calls from people claiming to work at 10 Downing Street with mounting incredulity this morning.

First, the Chief Executive of the Helpline denied that Gordon Brown had been mentioned in any of the alleged calls, despite the impression she had deliberately created in earlier interviews.

Then, she admitted that she couldn’t say how many calls had purportedly been received and that she hadn’t spoken to any of her staff who had received the supposed calls.

Finally, she conceded that those calling the helpline were encouraged to use a commercial service run by her husband and herself, if they wanted to take their concerns about bullying any further.

It had always seemed bizarre that a serious charity should breach its own client confidentiality in this way – even Iain Dale had noticed this point.  And not surprisingly the patron of the charity has now resigned over this issue.

I have now read Adam Bienkov who raises a series of concerns about the National Bullying Helpline.  In particular, he highlights their links to the Conservative Party.  He also questions whether they are a functioning charity given that they are 206 days late in filing their latest accounts with the Charity Commission, that according to the last accounts they had filed they only had £852 of income, and that the people behind the charity run a “bullying business” that sells bullying investigations, that registered the charity’s website and that receives referrals from the charity.

The whole episode gets flakier and flakier.

It certainly reflects poorly on the BBC’s editorial judgement in not questioning the original story before running it so prominently.

But am I alone in suspecting that this smacks of a Conservative Party “black” operation.   I hope I am wrong.  Otherwise, we are in for a really nasty election campaign that will do nothing for the democratic process.

Prediction: James Purnell to run for London Mayor

Just remember you heard it here first.

There is allegedly shock at James Purnell’s decision to stand down from Parliament.  Actually, it is rather predictable.  If he had stayed on as a candidate, he would have been re-elected.  But what then?  A victoriously re-elected Gordon Brown is unlikely to have him back in the Cabinet.  And in the (unlikely) event of a Tory victory, he would not want to waste his conspicuous (to him, at least) talents in Opposition.

He knows that Mayor Boris Johnson has only a limited desire to run for a second term as Mayor and – in any event – Londoners are becoming increasingly dubious about what he is doing (or not doing) for their City.

James Purnell is nothing if not ambitious.  He can claim to be a Londoner.  He was an Islington councillor for nearly two years.  What more qualification would he need?

And my spies tell me that his intentions are clear – he wants to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor in 2012.

So once more, remember you heard it here first.

LibDem Equalities spokesperson, Lynne Featherstone, put on the spot over Baroness Jenny Tonge

My local MP, Lynne Featherstone, who is the LibDems spokesperson for Youth (she describes her age as 58) and Equality, has been put on the spot by the distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist, Nick Morris.  He has asked her to intervene in the row over Jenny Tonge and to call on Nick Clegg to withdraw the Liberal Democrat Whip from the noble baroness.

New readers start here: Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was Liberal Democrat spokesperson on health in the House of Lords made a public call for the Government of Israel to investigate allegations that Israeli Defence Force medical teams providing humanitarian assistance in Haiti had “harvested” organs from the injured.  This bizarre repetition of the historic blood libel against the Jews provoked widespread condemnation.

Initially, Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg, stood by her.  But then, as the row went on, showing the consistency and principle for which he is well-known, he sacked her as a Lords’ spokesperson.  However, he did not remove the Liberal Democrat Whip from her, despite her having been sacked before as a LibDem front-bencher for expressing her empathy with Palestinian suicide bombers.

So what stance will the Party’s spokesperson on Equality (who also is an MP with a sizeable Jewish population in her marginal constituency) take on the issue?

Nick Morris starts his letter by pointing out:

“I have voted Lib Dem all my life.” (I suppose somebody has to.)

And goes on:

“My late father Professor Norman Morris was one of the original signatories of the SDP in 1981, but after Baroness Tonge’s most recent outburst I will not be able to vote for your party while Jenny Tonge holds the whip.

The reasons for this are both personal and professional.  My brother David, who is a physician in Montreal was seconded to the IDF hospital in Haiti, along with Canadian Nationals and Columbian Health care workers.  He wrote to me about the great pride he felt in working alongside the Israelis.

He too is a Liberal but lives in Canada – a country where outrageous comments such as those made by the Baroness would be taken much more seriously.  She has slurred not only Israel but also all the health care professionals who went for humanitarian reasons from Canada and Columbia.”

His brother’s account is here.

Nick Morris calls for the Liberal Democrats to remove the Whip from Baroness Jenny Tonge and he urges Lynne Featherstone to take the issue to Nick Clegg for action.

I hope he is not holding his breath waiting for a positive response …..

Is the “Bridge to Nowhere” going to be a bridge too far for the National Police Improvement Agency?

Last Sunday’s revelations in The Sunday Times that the National Police Improvement Agency has spent £750,000 on repairing an ornamental bridge (overlooked by the grace-and-favour flat provided to the NPIA’s Chief Executive, Peter Neyroud) come at a bad time for the Agency.  I am told that patience is rapidly running out with the failures of the NPIA to deliver the improvements promised by its own name.

Senior police officers apparently never have a good word to say about the Agency and civil servants roll their eyes when its name is mentioned.

The Conservative Party – after a flurry of Freedom of Information Act requests about the costs of the NPIA – have put it on their A-list of candidates for the Quango-cull in the (remote) event of their being in Government after the General Election.

And my spies tell me that current Home Office Ministers have signaled their limited confidence in the Chair of the Agency, Peter Holland (a failed candidate for Chair of the Association of Police Authorities) and “Chief Constable” Neyroud (who distinguished himself at a Home Office Christmas Party two years ago by being the only police officer to turn up in uniform) by only renewing their contracts of appointment for a short period.

The problem that no-one has yet solved is what is to be done – in the event of the NPIA’s demise – about the important functions that it is supposed to carry out.  After all, somebody does need to get a strategic grip of national police technology procurement and the training of senior police officers cannot be left to chance ….

William Hague makes a pr*t of himself on the “Today” programme

I always thought of William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, as one of the Tory Shadow Cabinet’s better performers.  However, his performance this morning on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme in an interview with John Humphrys was dire and I will clearly have to relegate him to the also-ran status of most of his colleagues.

He was being interviewed about the assassination in Dubai of a leading Hamas commander.  However, he started by asserting that his default position was that any statement made by by a Minister was a lie – rather a repudiation of his Leader’s promise that Cameron Conservatives would not stoop to old-style “Punch and Judy” politics.  This sort of comment debases the political process and undermines democracy itself.

His key message seemed to be that the Foreign Office should be seeking an assurance from the Israeli ambassador that no Mossad agent would ever in the future pretend to be a British citizen.  At first sight that seems to be fine – except, of course, that to date there doesn’t seem to be anything more than newspaper supposition that Mossad were involved in this case: so any ambassador is likely to respond that the question is hypothetical.  Incidentally, I wonder what the response would be from any British ambassador called into another country’s foreign office and asked to give a categorical assurance that no agent of MI6 would ever in the future pretend to be a national of that country.  So perhaps William Hague needs to get real if he seriously expects to be taken seriously as a prospective future Foreign Secretary.

He resorted to saying that he condemned extra-judicial killings.  Again, absolutely right.  However, John Humphrys then asked him about the US use of drone aircraft pursuing Al Qaeda personnel in Pakistan and killing civilians.  Hague repeatedly refused to answer.  He left the clear impression that he was condemning Israel for killing the Hamas leader – condemning a country with which the UK has strong links on the basis of newspaper supposition – but that he was condoning the actions of the US.

Hardly consistent, hardly convincing, but definitely Conservative.

A false conclusion from the Ali Dizaei case would be to dilute police accountability to police authorities

The Daily Telegraph seems to be running a campaign to dilute the accountability of the police to police authorities on the back of the Ali Dizaei case.  Yesterday, they ran a story headlined:

Commissioner must appoint senior officers following ‘disastrous’ Ali Dizaei case

and this was followed up this morning by:

Metropolitan Police chief set to pick own team under Tories

The main thrust of this is rather undermined by a letter – also in today’s Telegraph – from Len Duvall AM, my successor as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority from 2004 until the advent of Mayor Boris Johnson, which points out that the present Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had sat (as Deputy Commissioner – the then Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, having given him a hospital pass/decided not to sit on the Panel himself) on the Panel that had appointed Ali Dizaei as a Commander and as Len puts it:

“The Met already has a significant say in the appointment of their senior officers. The police role on interview panels is clear. They can and do give their professional opinion on the suitability of candidates. This was no different for the appointment of Ali Dizaei, and the record of his interview will confirm that he was certainly not appointed against the Met’s wishes.”

It is certainly ironic that the issue of who should appoint senior police officers has suddenly become so prominent again.

I know that Sir Paul has strong feelings on these matters.  He is entitled to his views, but the Dizaei case does not strengthen his argument.

Indeed, the Metropolitan Police’s record (largely before Sir Paul’s time) over Ali Dizaei is rather a strange one and certainly does not suggest that the judgement of senior Police officers over the years has been either consistent or a model of exemplary soundness.  There was, of course, the botched Operation Helios investigation.  But even furthur back, there was the decision to accept Ali Dizaei’s transfer into the Metropolitan Police.  I am told that the officers who interviewed him recommended that he should not be accepted into the Metropolitan Police, but that this was over-turned against their advice by a more senior officer.

Len Duvall’s letter also points out:

“…. in the time I chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority, the resistance I encountered when trying to deal with controversial officers invariably came from the Met itself; not politicians or other MPA members.”

And my memory is that on all the senior police appointments panels that I have sat on there was no occasion in which the panel failed to act on clear advice from the Commissioner (or his representative) that an individual should not be appointed.

More significantly, I also remember (occasional) instances where a previous Commissioner pressed very hard for  particular candidates to be appointed and that this swayed what would have otherwise have been the judgement of the Police Authority members in favour of those individuals.  Some of the appointments made as a result of such pressure have been notably less than successful.

What did Archie Norman mean about peerages and the Conservative Party deficit?

I am reading “A View from the Foothills” by Chris Mullin.  It is enormous fun, a good read, and entirely convincing about the misery of life as a Junior Minister.

There are also some fascinating asides.

Like this entry from 5th April 2000, recording an encounter in the tea room with Archie Norman, then an MP and Chairman of the Conservative Party, now of course not-an-MP and Chairman of ITV:

“Later, half an hour in the Tea Room with Archie Norman.  He said it costs about £9 million a year to run the Tory party and about another £10 million to run an election. ‘There won’t be any more big poster campaigns because we can’t afford them.’  He added quietly, ‘It is amazing what some people will do for a peerage.  I know stories I could never tell.'”

I wonder what it is he could never tell?

Of course, Cameron’s Conservative’s are spending big on posters at the moment ….

Meanwhile, ConservativeHome records the search for a hundred new Tory peers ….

Now is there a pattern here?

Labour Transport Secretary backs Tory Council Leader: Mayor Boris Johnson is off-the-wall on proposed new airport

In yesterday’s Lords Question Time, the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Andrew Adonis, in answer to a supplementary question I raised, put the boot into Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for a new London airport in the middle of the Thames.

The exchange went as follows:

“Asked By Lord Trefgarne

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy with regard to a third runway at Heathrow.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the Government’s policy with regard to a third runway at Heathrow remains as announced to the House in January last year. We support a third runway at Heathrow, subject to conditions, including an initial limit on the overall number of flights. It is for the airport operator, the BAA, to bring forward a planning application in the light of this announcement.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Is he satisfied that the consultations conducted by the BAA are being properly conducted? They have been widely criticised. In the light of things that have happened since the Government made their announcement in this matter, is he satisfied that their original decision is still correct?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am satisfied with the consultations that have been conducted. If the noble Lord wishes to draw any particular matters to my attention, I would be glad to look at them, but I am not aware of any which give me cause for concern. The decision to allow a planning application to come forward for a third runway, subject to conditions being met, has stood the test of time, despite two years of recession. Heathrow is still running at near 100 per cent capacity, despite the downturn in business at other airports. It is our main international hub airport. The lifeblood of our national economy depends on it. This Government will not betray the national interest by refusing to take a decision which is manifestly in the best interests of the country.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Mayor of London has taken up a position opposing a third runway at Heathrow on the grounds of noise and pollution, but in favour of building a new airport floating in the middle of the Thames to the east of London? Will my noble friend comment on whether that policy position is consistent and in the national interest?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the proposal for an estuary airport has been widely dismissed by sensible commentators, including most of the official spokespeople of the Conservative Party. The official Tory spokesperson says that Boris takes an independent line as Mayor of London. I thought he was a Conservative, but clearly this is not the case for the purposes of this and so many other decisions. Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council, the second largest Conservative-controlled authority in the country, says:

“There is a growing consensus that the estuary airport is undeliverable, unaffordable and unnecessary”.

I could not put it better myself.”

Cameron’s Conservatives perform another policy flip-flop – this time about Parliamentary privilege

Parliamentary privilege is precisely that – a privilege.  It was intended to ensure that Members of Parliament (of both Houses) should be able to speak freely in Parliament without the threat of litigation related to what they might say.  It did not – quite rightly – exempt Parliamentarians from the criminal law.

However, listening to the howls of outrage about the attack on Parliamentary privilege from Conservatives when an investigation into alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act – an investigation that the Police had little choice about having to conduct – led to Damian Green MP, you would have thought that the Conservative Party wanted to adopt the Russian mode of Parliamentary privilege where members of the Russian mafia get themselves elected to the Russian Duma to avoid criminal charges.

Now – suddenly – the Tory Party position has changed – at least it is in a sensible direction this time.  David Cameron has now adopted the Labour Party position articulated by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, who made it clear yesterday, in relation to the MPs and the Conservative Peer charged over their expenses, that people wanted to see MPs treated like everyone else:

“They are entitled to a fair trial and the public… would be aghast if they thought there was some special get out of jail card for Parliamentarians.”

Conservative policy shifts to spending more on publicity, but they will need a better justification than this

When I chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority, there was an annual ritual at budget time, when the Conservative Group on the London Assembly would propose swingeing reductions in the public affairs budget of the Metropolitan Police.

I always took the view that for a police service the size of the Met it was important to spend money on public information and on anti-crime campaigns.  Therefore, it was pleasing to see that now that Mayor Boris Johnson – who I understand still dabbles in weekend journalism to supplement his modest £144,000 Mayoral stipend – is in control at City Hall, he is proposing an increase of £1 million in the budget of the Met’s Directorate of Public Affairs (from £6,046,000 to £7,084,000 – a rise of 17%%).

And today, at the MPA’s Strategic Operational Policing Committee (SOP as it is known), Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s Director of Public Affairs, had the opportunity of presenting his Directorate’s performance report to show how hard-pressed it was.

Unfortunately, his report didn’t seem to convince all of those present.  Indeed, no less a personage (if such a thing were possible) than Caroline Pidgeon AM (for it is she) was heard to say that the LibDem Shadow Budget (sic) clearly hadn’t asked for enough cuts in this area.

The big problem was the performance measures used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the 50 staff working on news, media management and corporate communication (to say nothing of the 5 working on internal communication, the 3 on e-communication and the 6 on marketing/publicity plus their 10 administrative staff and not counting the estimated 70 other staff working on publicity dotted round the organisation).

Impressively the report claims that publicity staff had “dealt with” 138 new murders in 2008/9 and “managed” 18 public order events – although presumably the police officers deployed to catch the murderers and those policing the various public order events may also have played a part ….

And the statistics on calls answered (78,192) and made (28,335) over a year led to the doubtless deeply unfair, but arithmetic, conclusion that 50 communications staff were each dealing with less than 5 incoming and 2 outgoing calls a day …..

Perhaps the Directorate needs to spend some of its £1 million increase to employ a spin-doctor to help it present itself to the wider world …..