Hard to put down: Chris Mullin’s “Decline and Fall”

I have spent several hours this weekend – to be honest, more than I intended – finishing reading Chris Mullin’s second volume of diaries, “Decline and Fall” – the excellent follow up to “A View from the Foothills”.  I had thought that without the vignettes of (junior) ministerial life, it might be less interesting than its predecessor.  In fact, I found I could hardly put it down.  His account of the last days of Pompeii (editorial note: this is a metaphor) remained riveting and his accounts of those events where I too was present were unerringly accurate and beutifully described.  So, if you’ve not already bought it, I recommend you get it for yourself as an early Christmas present.

Kit Malthouse wants his own uniform

The Metropolitan Police Authority is still in session and is grinding slowly through its agenda.  And there has just been a revealing aside from Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* PSPCC**.

Caroline Pidgeon AM, who takes what is – I am sure – an entirely healthy interest in such matters, had asked the Commissioner what changes were being made to police officer uniforms.  Reference was made to uniform “cargo pants” and “anoraks” at which point the DCiC piped up to tell us that he was looking forward to receiving some for his own use – try not to think too hard about the image that this suggests ……..

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Putative Surrogate Policing and Crime Commissioner

No “unexpected disorder” at Metropolitan Police Authority

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* PSPCC** is in the Chair.  Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner, is reporting on the student protests both yesterday and two weeks ago when what he describes as “unexpected disorder” took place.

According to the Commissioner, the Metropolitan Police “got it wrong” two weeks ago and that they were slow to recognise that “the game has changed” – presumably meaning that the Conservative Coalition is going to attract a higher level of protest than its predecessor (presumably the demonstrations against the Iraq war and those organised by the Countryside Alliance were a piece of cake compared with the National Union of Students).

He also made the interesting comment that “social networking sites are not intelligence” – a comment that may have a wider relevance than he intended.

Although there was no “unexpected disorder” within the meeting, a surreal discussion then developed about the welfare of those who were “contained” (Sir Paul)/”kettled” (Jennette Arnold AM)/”imprisoned” (Jenny Jones AM) in Whitehall and, in particular, when toilet facilities were provided to them, about whether the coldness of the weather was considered and what arrangements were made to communicate with the parents of any schoolchildren who were within the area.  Until I intervened, there was no mention of the personal responsibility of those choosing to go on demonstrations to ensure they are suitably attired or communicate with their parents where appropriate.

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Putative Surrogate Policing and Crime Commissioner

Probation Trusts – where are the leading black and minority chief executives?

I have just been to an event organised by the Probation Association for MPs and Peers to meet probation trust chairs and chief executives.  The intention was to broaden the understanding by Parliamentarians of probation – often regarded as the Cinderella of the criminal justice system.  This was a laudable intention and there was a good turnout of members of both Houses.

What was striking, however, was how mono-ethnic the probation trust chief executives were.  I spoke to Beverley Thompson, whom I first knew when she chaired the Metropolitan Police’s Independent Advisory Group.  She is now the Acting Chief Executive of Northamptonshire Probation.  However, as far as I could tell, she is the only black chief executive in the country – and an acting one at that.

Given the probation service’s workforce and the make-up of their clientele, I find this lack of senior black probation leaders surprising and depressing – it’s a bit like the Police Service.

Policing the students – now the Metropolitan Police moves to the other extreme

The Prime Minister was very critical about the failure of the Metropolitan Police to protect Conservative Party HQ on the occasion of the last demonstration by students. 

In planning for today’s demonstration, it seems that Sir Paul Stephenson has taken to heart the comments about “a thin blue line”.  When I went through Trafalgar Square earlier the entire Square seemed to be surrounded by police carriers and a former Commissioner of the Met has just informed me that he had seen three rows of police horses a few minutes earlier. 

And kettling is back – as called for by Gareth Bacon, a Conservative member of the London Assembly.

Lynne Featherstone complains about “gesture politics” and then scraps the equality duty

Lynne Featherstone MP likes to describe herself rather grandly as “Minister for Equalities” In fact, she is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (usually abbreviated to PUSS in civil service parlance) in the Home Office.  During her pre-Ministerial life she had a reputation as a campaigner for whom no gesture was too demeaning for her to make it.

Now, as a Minister, she tries to behave all-statesmanlike.

And today, she was called to the House of Commons despatch box to answer an Urgent Question granted by the Speaker because a policy change had been announced to the media before it had been reported to Parliament.

And the announcement?  This was that the Conservative Coalition, of which she is proud to serve as Equalites figleaf/Minister, has decided not to implement legislation passed by Parliament (under the Labour Government) earlier this year which would have required public bodies to take action to address socio-economic disadvantage.

And the justification?  There was no need for such a duty and to include such a duty in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 was “an empty gesture”.

Apparently, Lynne Featherstone MP – the Minister – wants to reassure us as she put it today:

“Equality is at the heart of what this coalition Government are all about.”

Of course, that is not what Lynne Featherstone MP – the non-Minister – said last year in the debate on the Second Reading of the Equality Bill.  Then she called for even more powers in the Bill.  Her words were:

“The Government should have made legislative proposals to tackle socio-economic inequality in a Bill of its own”.—[Official Report, 11 May 2009; Vol. 492, c. 579.]

As Fiona McTaggart MP for the Opposition pointed out after Lynne Featherstone’s public u-turn in the House of Commons this morning:

“Dropping the socio-economic duty was not in the coalition agreement. It was a major part of the Equality Act 2010, which Parliament passed only this year. While we know that the Conservatives have never wanted Government to take responsibility for building a more equal society, that is not the view that the hon. Lady herself has previously taken.”

And asked:

“What proposals will the Minister now bring forward to assess the impact of Government policies on the most disadvantaged? Despite her fine words, is it not true that this Government simply do not care about socio-economic inequality? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has proved that the Government are hitting the poorest hardest. If there is no duty, how will people know about the impact of Government decisions on the most disadvantaged?

With this duty in place, public bodies would have had to think about what they should be doing to improve life chances. We all know about Sure Start; indeed, the Minister referred to it. We know its fantastic work, and how its impact is greatest on the most disadvantaged children. Councils would have had a duty to take that into account if they were thinking of closing children’s centres, but she is now saying that they will not. Does she think that is right?  …

The Minister said that we cannot deliver inequality by legislation, but the simple truth is that the Government do not believe that they have any responsibility to deliver a fairer society. Of course, legislation does not work like magic, but it is a key way that Government can change things. Road safety legislation does not stop all accidents, but it does make our roads safer and it does save children’s lives. This duty would have helped to make our society fairer, and it would have given poorer people a fair chance, so why is she scrapping it?”

Answer came there none.

Will the new UK Cyber Security Strategy involve legislation like this?

We are told that there will be a revamped National Cyber Security Strategy published in the next few months.  This will explain what the £650 million of new money allocated for cyber security in the spending review will actually be used to deliver (I understand that Whitehall Departments are still bickering over who will get their hands on this money – the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office both believe it should come to them rather than the Cabinet Office).

However, I wonder whether it will also propose legislation.  In the United States a number of members of Congress are putting forward what they are calling the “Homeland Security Cyber and Physical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2010”.  This will give a statutory basis to the Office of Cybersecurity & Communications based in the Department of Homeland Security and would, in particular, create a new Cybersecurity Compliance Division to oversee the establishment of performance-based standards responsive to the particular risks to the .gov domain and critical infrastructure networks.

This is an interesting model.  In the UK, the Government bodies that are responsible for protecting the critical national infrastructure do not have a statutory basis and do not have any formal powers.  In my view, this hampered the effectiveness of the old National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre, which is now incorporated into the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure and falls under the ambit of the Security Service.

I have long advocated that underpinning the “voluntarist” and consensual framework Government needs to have a statutory frmaework that – in extremis – can be used to require Government agencies and those private companies that supply much of the national infrastructure to meet certain minimum standards and can direct action effectively in the event of some major problem arising.

The FSA must think investment bankers are really, really stupid if they think that this will stop insider dealing

The Financial Services Authority has decided that all investment bankers and traders in the UK should have calls made on company mobile phones taped in a bid to crack down on insider trading.  According to the BBC:

“Office land lines, e-mails and communications through messaging systems are already recorded.  …  The FSA estimates extending the taping rule – to come into force in November 2011 – will cover about 16,000 mobile phones and cost about £11m to set up. Annual running costs will be a further £18m it predicts.”

Strangely, however, personal mobile phones are not being included in the move.  So the rogue banker – if readers can get their heads round such a concept – who wants to do a bit of insider trading on the side, only has to use their personal phone or, if they want to be really careful, an unregistered pay-as-you-go mobile.

So either bankers are really stupid or the FSA are ……..