So will Cameron’s euro-sceptics fall for the oldest trick in the book

Listening to all the hype today about David Cameron allegedly persuading other EU leaders to limit the EU budget, I immediately assumed that this was the old LibDem trick of declaring victory over something that was going to happen anyway, and that the Commission and the European Parliament had put forward an inflated budget bid, so that the European Council could cut it back to the increase they wanted in the first place.

So I was gratified to see my web-master, the excellent Jon Worth, who has forgotten more about the minutiae of EU politics than most of us ever knew, confirming my supposition.

So David Cameron HAS been taking lessons in tactics from his LibDem coalition partners.

The question is will the Euro-sceptic wing of his Party fall for it?

Tom Harris gets London politics with his take on Mayor Boris Johnson’s retraction

It is, of course, a fact universally acknowledged that no Londoner can fully understand the nuances of Scottish politics.  The converse is usually true that no Scot can fully appreciate London politics.

Tom Harris (just for the record, no relation – although I do get a lot of his Parliamentary emails) has today, however, proved he at least understands the way in which the mind of Mayor Boris Johnson works with this post which I quote in its entirety:

“STATEMENT issued by the office of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London:

Comments I made in an interview this morning to BBC London radio have been entirely taken out of context. When I said that I would rather share a cell with Slobodan Milosovic than be in the same room as David Cameron, I meant, of course that the Prime Minister has my full and unambiguous support.

It was deliberately misleading of journalists to report my comment about George Osborne being “an incompetent oik” entirely out of context, then ignoring my tribute to George as “one of the best Chancellors the country has had since May.”

As for my reported comments about the entirely reasonable, fair and welcome changes to the proles’ rent handouts, it should be patently clear to anyone with a First in Literae Humaniores from Balliol that my comparison of the reforms with “ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the collapse of the Yugoslavian Tourist Board” was simply an endorsement of Iain Duncan Smith’s critical faculties.

So, gosh, well, I hope that clears that up, what?”

It looks like the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills doesn’t know what its doing about entrepreneurship and enterprise

At the beginning of last week, I tabled some questions for written answer to try and find out how serious the Conservative Coalition is about enterprise and entrepreneurship.

I’ve now had the answer to the first of these.

My question was:

“To ask her Majesty’s Government what entrepreneurship and enterprise projects they have (a) fully and (b) partially funded; and what plans they have to fund such projects in each of the next five years.”

The answer that came back today was:

“A wide range of enterprise projects have been supported through a number of programmes run by various departments, but a comprehensive list of these is not available.”

So BIS doesn’t know, can’t be bothered to find out and ignored the last part of the question entirely.

I am not impressed.

I have now tabled the following:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government:

    1. In the light of the answer given by Baroness Wilcox on 28th October 2010, does the Department for Business Innovation and Skills keep a record of the external projects they fund and, if so, which of these external projects relate to entrepreneurship and enterprise?
    2. In the light of the answer given by Baroness Wilcox on 28th October 2010, what plans do the Department for Business Innovation and Skills have for funding external projects relating to entrepreneurship and enterprise over the next five years?
    3. In the light of the answer given by Baroness Wilcox on 28th October 2010, what arrangements do the Department for Business Innovation and Skills have in place for coordinating the activities of other Government Departments in relation to entrepreneurship and enterprise?”

How thinly can you spread neighbourhood policing?

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the DCiC* and PSPCC**, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, is in the Chair.  And the expected row about the future of neighbourhood policing in London has just petered out.

New readers might want to check out Pippa Crerar in the Evening Standard to get the context, but the story is pretty simple: Mayor Boris Johnson and the PSPCC have been very vague for the last two years about whether they were really committed to maintaining the current structure of safer neighbourhood teams created by former Mayor Ken Livingstone; but this week one Borough Commander has written to local councillors telling them that the number of officers in the safer neighbourhood teams in his patch might be reduced and that they would work “more flexibly” rather than remaining dedicated to particular neighbourhoods; and more or less simultaneously and this coincided with a statement from the PSPCC and the real Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, stating that every neighbourhood would continue to have named officers responsible for tackling local crime but adding ominously:

“Currently the teams are dedicated to ward boundaries, which we want to ensure continues to meet your and the public’s local needs. We also want to ensure the structure of the teams, and how they are supervised, makes the best use of skills and resources so that we can meet local demand effectively.”

A cynic (actually, it was me) pointed out that every neighbourhood having named officers is not the same as a neighbourhood team – indeed Sir Paul and his Deputy, Tim Godwin, could arguably be named as the officers responsible for tackling local crime in every ward in London.

The Commissioner assured the meeting that “no decisions have been taken”, despite the letters going out from Borough Commanders implying the opposite.  This prompted Dee Doocey AM to make the accusation “you are trying to con us” (which she then withdrew on being told she was being “unparliamentary” – she is allegedly on a list of possible new LibDem peers).

The Commissioner couldn’t yet give assurances that the total number of officers and PCSOs  engaged in Safer Neighbourhood Teams would remain uncut, but he expressed a personal preference for retaining links to local government ward boundaries.  And he did promise that officers would still be “dedicated” to local areas – without a commitment on how many and what the areas would finally be.   As to fairness between areas (ie every ward receiving the same allocation of Safer Neighbourhood resources), he acknowledged that this had been the basis on which the Safer Neighbourhood Teams had been established but did warn that there was debate on what this might mean in the future.

This debate is not yet over ……


**Putative Surrogate Policing and Crime Commissioner

In praise of sobriety – Kit Malthouse and the City Hall Tories lead the way

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the DCiC* and PSPCC**, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, is in the Chair.  And he’s in a sober mood, following his proposal that London (population 8,000,000 in an area of 600 square miles) should emulate South Dakota (population 800,000 in an area of 77,000 square miles) – yes, really – and insist that anyone convicted of an alcohol-related crime should be required to go to a police station twice a day and take a breath-test and be sent back to prison if they fail it.

He mentioned the proposal at the end of his lengthy oral report.  (It was 12 minutes – thought to be a record – during which he dealt with so many operational matters that the Commissioner went all tense, shredded a paper clip and then folded his arms tightly.)

I asked – innocent that I am – what this meant in terms of the MPA’s programme to close/rationalise front-counter services in police stations  and, given the Met’s less than perfect record in the past on catching up with people who fail to meet their bail conditions, what the implications would be on police officer time.  Other members had clearly heard the Today programme too and John Biggs AM pointed out that in South Dakota they elect dog-catchers too.

The PSPCC clearly thought MPA members were taking the p*ss and wanted us to know that this was a serious proposal, but also acknowledged that none of the details had been worked out or even thought about/this was all at a very early stage.  He did suggest that offenders would not necessarily be required to go to police stations to be tested (not clear what the alternative might be – foyer of City Hall?) and that the testing could be done by college students (helping pay their new higher tuition fees).

Despite James Cleverly AM trying to suggest that this was NOT a matter for the MPA as this was an initiative from the Mayoral team and the PSPCC had not been speaking as Chair of the MPA, the PSPCC did agree to report back in more detail after Christmas.


**Putative Surrogate Policing and Crime Commissioner

Why responding to a “Mumbai-style” attack is a challenge for the Conservative Coalition and could change the face of British policing forever

One of the lead stories on the BBC News this morning was “Police in training for ‘Mumbai-style’ gun attack in UK“.  This reported that:

“UK security chiefs have ordered an acceleration in police training to prepare for any future “Mumbai-style” gun attack in a public place.

A series of counter-terrorism exercises are being held with police marksmen training alongside units of the SAS.

Police armed response units are also being given more powerful weapons.”

There is no doubt that this issue is one of the current preoccupations of those concerned with security on the British mainland (and indeed elsewhere in Europe).  There is also no doubt about how difficult this would be to cope with given the current style of British policing.

Most police officers here are unarmed.  Even in London, where the Metropolitan Police has a higher proportion of armed officers than elsewhere (mainly because of static protection responsibility around embassies, Government buildings, Heathrow airport etc), only around one in ten officers are authorised ever to carry guns and the areas where there are routine armed patrols are very limited.

In Mumbai, over a three-day period in November 2008, ten terrorists operating in pairs with automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices, equipped with GPS and apparently communicating with a remote controller by mobile telephone, killed 173 people and wounded 308.  They applied hit and run tactics, were opportunistic, took hostages and established defensible positions.

By contrast,earlier this year in Cumbria, a lone individual, Derrick Bird, armed with two non-automatic weapons went on a killing spree which left twelve dead and a similar number seriously wounded before he killed himself.

Gross that tally up with more gunmen, automatic weaponry in a more populous area and the scale of what is possible becomes apparent.  For any Western democracy, planning a strategy to deal with a ruthless heavily armed coordinated attack in a populous city is no easy task.

Current training does not equip the police to deliver the sort of response needed to deal with Mumbai-style insurgents.  And it would be the police that would be likely to be the first on the scene.

For those who think Special Forces are the answer, it is worth remembering that the time for any conventional armed forces to be mobilised would be measured in hours –  and this would inevitably mean a very high casualty rate before any intervention could succeed.

It is no surprise therefore that the BBC reports that “David Cameron has taken a personal interest in the problem ever since his first threat assessment given to him when he took office in May.”

And there are real dilemmas.  Even in London – with more armed police to draw on – dealing with multiple mobile attacks would be extremely difficult and police tactics are focused on containing an incident – usually involving a single gunman.  Exchanging fire with heavily armed ruthless gunmen requires military-style engagement and different weapons and ammunition.  Police officers have not previously been trained in this way and not all of the currently armed officers would be suitable for such a task or willing to engage in it.

Such training will take time.

And even when units of suitably trained officers have been created, having them on continuous standby will be expensive and having such units on regular patrol will mark a massive movement away from the traditional vision of unarmed British bobbies-on-the-beat.

Today’s BBC report will no doubt start a public debate on the implications of all this, but the reality is that the face of British policing is likely to be changed forever as a result – particularly if the public expenditure review means that more conventional “traditional” policing has to be cut back to pay for it.

Surely a majority of 275 is enough for the Conservative Coalition in the Lords

The Conservative Coalition has just won a vote by a majority of 275 in the House of Lords on an amendment to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Bill.  Yet, they are still insisting that they need to appoint another 30 Conservative life peers and an extra 15 Liberal Democrats to give them more foot-soldiers …..

Baroness Warsi’s approach is more sensible than David Cameron’s – extremism must be confronted not ignored

According to The Observer today, David Cameron has personally vetoed the appearance of the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, at the Global Peace and Unity event this weekend.

David Cameron’s decision is apparently a response to the presence at the event of a number of hard-line speakers who have justified suicide bombers and terrorism, promoted al Qaida, and encouraged homophobia.   Warsi, who is of course the first female Muslim Cabinet Minister, was planning to use the appearance to confront those advocating extremism and argue against fundamentalism.

A refusal to engage in this way merely allows unacceptable extremist views to remain unchallenged.  If no alternative is presented, those seeking to persuade people of the validity of that extremism are given a clear run.

The Conservative Coalition’s compromise is to send Andrew Stunnell MP, a junior LibDem Minister at the Communities Department to put the case against extremism, hatred and intolerance.

I don’t want to upset Mr Stunnell’s friends and family, but he is hardly a household name.  Nor is he a Muslim.  And nor is he as senior in the Government as Baroness Warsi.

So the Government is not actually boycotting the event, which might at least have made a point – in absentia – about its distaste for some of the views being expressed.  Instead, it is missing the opportunity to deploy someone who might at least to have been listened to when she put an alternative viewpoint.

Am I surprised?

No, not really.  It is a typically wimpish and ineffectual abdication of political and moral leadership.

So why do you need 160 councillors to run the new merged super-Borough in London?

Apparently, three London Boroughs in London (Kensington and Chelsea; Westminster; Hammersmith and Fulham) are in talks about merging all their services under a single Chief Executive.  This is expected to save up to £100 million per annum.

However, one area where there won’t be savings is in the number of elected members.  This means that the new single Chief Executive will report to three separate groupings of elected councillors (one for each Borough) with three separate Leaders.

At present there are 160 local councillors in the three Boroughs.  They are paid an iondividual allowance of between £8,940 and £10,597 each, with many getting special responsibility allowances on top ranging up to £54,227 for the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea.

All in all the basic allowances cost around £1.5 million per year with perhaps the same again on top for special allowances and other expenses.

You would have thought there would have been some savings there in the new merged authority, wouldn’t you?

Or is that Conservative politicians are only interested in cutting jobs if it affects other people?