Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 5: “I’m not Tony Blair. I’m not Gordon Brown either.”

The first really big applause line in Ed Miliband’s Leader’s Speech this afternoon was his affirmation that he would be true to himself, his own instincts and values.  And the big roar of approval came when he said:

“You know, I’m not Tony Blair.

I’m not Gordon Brown either.

Great men, who in their different ways, achieved great things.

I’m my own man.”

And then later he brought the Conference to its feet with a mid-speech standing ovation following a passage on the NHS:

“There is no greater public interest than our National Health Service.

Cherished by all of us.  Founded by Labour.  Saved by Labour.  Today defended by Labour once again.

Why does Britain care so much for the NHS?  Because, more than any other institution in our country, the values of the NHS are our values.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  Or what you earn.  The NHS offers the highest quality care when we need it.    ….

And when I look at everything this Tory Government is doing, it is the NHS that shocks me most.

Why?  Because David Cameron told us he was different.  You remember.  The posters.  The soundbites.  David Cameron knew the British people did not trust the Tories with our NHS.  So he told us he wasn’t the usual type of Tory.  And he asked for your trust.

And then he got into Downing Street.  And within a year – within a year – he’d gone back on every word he’d said.

No more top-down reorganisations?  He betrayed your trust.

No more hospital closures?  He betrayed your trust.

No more long waits?  He betrayed your trust.

And the biggest betrayal of all?  The values of the NHS.  Britain’s values.  The values he promised to protect.  Betrayed.

Hospitals to be fined millions of pounds if they break the rules of David Cameron’s free-market healthcare system.  The old values that have failed our economy now being imported to our most prized institution: the NHS.

Let me tell David Cameron this.  It is the oldest truth in politics.  He knows it and the public knows it.


The Conference loved it.  It is the sort of stuff that will reinvigorate the Party and the Party’s base.

And that after all is the first step to winning in 2015.

Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 4: Nick Ross to be a Tory-backed candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

Blair Gibbs is the Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, the Tory-leaning think tank.  He is also a former Chief of Staff to Nick Herbert MP, the Policing and Justice Minister.  He is at the Labour Party Conference trying to sell the policy of directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to delegates (or, if not sell, at least get a grudging acquiescence that they are going to happen and will be elected in November 2012).  In a meeting this afternoon he acknowledged that the Conservative Party was looking for “capable and charismatic” individuals to stand as Police and Crime Commissioners as “Independents with Conservative support”.

I asked him what sort of people he had in mind who were “capable and charismatic” and might fulfil the role.  Quick as a flash, he suggested Nick “I’ve never worked with a minger” Ross for Thames Valley.

I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned it to him ……

Blair Gibbs wants Nick Ross as a PCC.

Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 3: Labour Party must contest elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners but will it?

The Liberal Democrats have already advertised for potential candidates to stand as candidates for the new posts of Policing and Crime Commissioners that are to be elected in November 2012, even though conventional polling wisdom suggests that none of their candidates are likely to be successful in the forty-one contests that will take place – even using the Supplementary Vote* electoral system.

Apparently, there is a major debate going on in the Conservative Party as to whether to field Tory candidates at all with a strong preference from some quarters for the Conservative Party to “endorse” (and campaign for?) so-called “independent” candidates.

What is disturbing is that I hear that there are some senior Labour figures who have similar ideas.

I have raised this now at a couple of fringe meetings.  At all the meetings I have been at there has been unanimous support for my strongly-held view that these will be extremely important elections for very powerful posts that the Party has a duty to contest.  I am not against independent candidates emerging, but the danger is that such individuals will be unknown quantities whose effectiveness and fitness for office will never have been tested.  Internal political party processes (although by no means perfect) do at least provide a mechanism for such testing.

Interestingly, when I raised it this morning with Vernon Coaker MP, the Shadow Policing Minister, he strongly endorsed my position and said he would argue for it, but then wryly commented that the Party decion-making process on such issues was sometimes rather strange – an implicit confirmation that someone somewhere is actively considering a non-contest option.




* Under the Supplementary Vote system electors cast two votes, one for their first choice candidate and one for their second choice candidate.  In the first count all first choice votes are counted.  If no candidate has an absolute majority, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and the second choice votes of those whose first choice candidates have been eliminated are then counted and where applicable added to the tally of the top two candidates.  The candidate with the greater number of votes is then elected.

Observations from Labour Party Conference 2011 – 1: Livingstone spells out the differences

Ken Livingstone was in fine form on the first afternoon of the Labour Party Conference: name-checking Ed Balls (“I will put ordinary Londoners first by backing Ed Balls’ plan for a cut in VAT not Boris Johnson’s tax cuts for the richest.”) before perorating with a loyalist paeon to the wisdom of Ed Miliband; some clear pledges on policing (“Any cut to front-line police by Boris will be reversed.”); and a series of passages emphasising the difference in his approach to Mayor Boris Johnson.

He promised to “put ordinary Londoners first” in his campaign for the Mayoral election in May 2012, pointing out that Mayor Boris Johnson has met representatives of the bankers more times than he has met the police since he became Mayor. 

And in a reference to the present Mayor’s aspiration to lead the Conservative Party and his part-time writing for the Daily Telegraph (netting him some £250,000 per year), Ken Livingstone spelt it out: “Unlike Boris Johnson I am in it for London, not for myself.  So I will freeze my salary and the salary of my senior staff for four years. And I will take only one salary – no moonlighting.”

And in a powerful dig:

“What is the difference between the rioters, and a gang of over-privileged arrogant students vandalising restaurants and throwing chairs through windows in Oxford?

“Come on Boris – what’s the moral difference between your Bullingdon vandalism as a student and the criminality of the rioters?”

The first standing ovation of the Conference followed.

“Total Politics” blog rankings

I am not getting too excited about it – in fact, I am not getting excited at all – but “Total Politics” have been publishing their latest ranking of political blogs in the UK.  This year, the arrangements changed requiring a lot more effort from those who wanted to vote and I don’t know what that did to the level of participation in the exercise, as the background data is not published.

However, for what it is worth, this blog has been rated as 228th in the list of the top three hundred political blogs in the UK.  Apparently, this is an upward move: I was (although not aware of it) in 271st place last year.  At least, I am above Lynne Featherstone who comes in at 252nd.

The blog is also 33rd in the list of the top one hundred Labour blogs and personally I am 87th in the list of the top one hundred Labour bloggers (this is presumably not a bad result as David Miliband is at 72nd place and Ed Balls at 73rd with Tony Benn in the 90th spot).


Metropolitan Police (wisely) snub Home Office over recording of “Stop and Account” encounters

The Crime and Security Act 2010 allows police forces – if they wish – to stop recording “stop and account” encounters with the public, while still requiring full records to be kept if a full search takes place.

Initially, the Metropolitan Police intended to use the provisions of the Act and end the recording and monitoring of “stop and account” encounters.  The Metropolitan Police Authority persuaded the Met that it would be wise to consult the public on this and a joint consultation exercise followed.

This consultation exercise found overwhelming support for the continuation of recording and monitoring such encounters and today it has been confirmed that the new Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has issued an instruction that the Met will continue to record all “stop and account” encounters.

This is a vindication of the stance taken on this issue by the Metropolitan Police Authority (not popular with some senior officers of the Met at the time).

It reflects the strong feeling – particularly amongst young people – that recording such encounters was an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups.  (It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.)

It is, of course, true that the recording process has been over-bureaucratised and the process of recording “stop and account” encounters needs to be stream-lined.   I am sure that following this decision by the Commissioner that will now follow.

There is also an onus on the Police Authority to ensure that sensible community-based monitoring processes are in place, so that communities can be reassured that the police are using their powers in a responsible fashion.  In my experience, most communities and most young people are happy with the responsible use of “stop and account” to help reduce the use of knives and other crime, provided people stopped are treated with reasonable degree of respect.

It will be interesting to see whether other police forces now follow the Met’s lead and whether the commitment of the Police Authority in London to effective community-based monitoring will be carried forward by the new Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime, when it is established (following the passage earlier this month of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act).

Small Government reshuffle in the Lords prompts complete drivel from Number Ten

I am genuinely sorry to hear that Baroness Browning is standing down as Minister of State at the Home Office (particularly so as I understand this is on health grounds).  Despite the lengthy (even epic) exchanges that I and others had with her during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (now an Act), she always responded with good humour, even when she was having to defend something that was either indefensible or so poorly drafted as to be incomprehensible.  I think her approach will be missed in the Home Office.

Her retirement has triggered a mini-reshuffle in the House of Lords: Lord Henley is promoted to Minister of State rank and moves across from DEFRA to the Home Office; his place as DEFRA Parliamentary Under Secretary is taken by Lord Taylor of Holbeach; and his postion as a Junior Whip is taken by recent-appointee Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

Fairly straightforward you might think, but that doesn’t prevent the Number Ten website mangling the information and implying that all three have been thrust into Ministerial office and appointed as members of the Lords at the same time under the headline:

New appointments to the House of Lords made by the Queen

Can’t they afford proof-readers now?

An indication of differing approaches in the Home Office?

Lord Henley replaces Baroness Browning

Commissioner-designate sets a collaborative tone at Metropolitan Police Authority meeting

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM is in the Chair.  The Commissioner-designate, Bernard Hogan-Howe, is answering questions (still wearing the Deputy Commissioner uniform – he doesn’t formally take up his new post until 26th September).

The Commissioner-designate was clearly keen to set a collaborative tone.  Asked by John Biggs AM what thought he had given about how he would relate to the London Assembly with its enhanced scrutiny role once the Police Authority is abolished, Bernard Hogan-Howe immediately said that he wanted to work closely with the group set up under Joanne McCartney AM that is scoping out how the new scrutiny arrangements will work.  Then, in answer to Jennette Arnold AM, he undertook to ensure that senior-level liaison would be reestablished with the Morgan family.

The Commissioner-designate appeared relaxed and answered questions confidently without entering into too many firm commitments at this stage.  However, his approach is becoming clearer: “You can pilot things to death or you can just get on with it”.

A tied vote means that the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will get Royal Assent tomorrow and become law

The House of Commons put Police and Crime Commissioners back into the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on Monday and the Bill came back to the House of Lords to consider the Commons Amendments this afternoon.

The main “concession/u-turn” from the Government was to propose that the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners outside London should take place in November 2012 instead of May as originally planned.  This will cost an extra £25 million as the elections will not coincide with any other elections and is likely to lead to a low turn-out.  As the Electoral Commission pointed out:

“We believe Parliament should be aware of the following additional risks and issues arising from a 15 November election before deciding on the date:

? A November election will coincide with the annual canvass of electors. While there will be a number of options available to each Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) in updating their registers during this period, it is possible that different approaches may be adopted across different areas of the country, possibly resulting in inconsistent practice within a single force area. This could present risks to the accuracy and integrity of registers used for the PCC elections and for the elections in May 2013. The Government should therefore make clear how it intends to ensure consistency of approach in managing this process.

? There are almost half as many daylight hours on 15 November compared with early May and there is also the increased likelihood of inclement weather. It is possible (though not proven) that such conditions could discourage some electors from participating in the election and limit campaign activities by candidates. We would therefore be interested to know what the Government’s assessment of this issue has been in selecting this date.

? Standalone elections will incur greater costs than elections combined with other elections. The Government should quantify the additional expense and ensure that Returning Officers are adequately resourced to ensure that the elections are well-run.”

There was a three hour debate on the Bill – occasionally heated by House of Lords standards.  My contribution was as follows:

“My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion A4 in my name but, before doing so, I repeat my declaration of interests. I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority—indeed, on that authority I am the noble Baroness’s representative, whose every word I clearly follow in every aspect of these matters—and I am a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities.

I listened very carefully to the arguments that the Minister put forward on the legislation and the proposals. The Government’s proposals are about clear and democratic governance. The noble Baroness made the point that your Lordships’ House is a revising Chamber. However, the question that I have to ask is: where are the revisions that respond to one of the most profound concerns expressed in the debates throughout the lengthy period over which your Lordships considered this Bill—that is, where is the sound framework of governance around this single individual who is going to exercise these substantial powers?

I understand the Government’s desire for clarity in the direct election of this single individual. However, although I understand the argument, that does not mean that I agree with it. Around that individual must be a proper framework of governance. What is more, there must be a proper standards regime around the way in which that single individual operates. This is not a member of a committee or a council who can perhaps be hauled into line by the other members; it is a single individual exercising those powers, and therefore it is paramount that there should be a standards regime around them.

The major change brought forward from the other place by the Government is the date of the elections. I do not intend to go into detail on that, although I will say a word about it. That change does not deal with the fundamental question about governance and standards; it simply alters the date. I say in parenthesis that, as a member of a police authority who has sat through 11 budget-making exercises and is well into the 12th as we speak, electing someone on 15 November and expecting them seriously to influence the process for the budget for the following year—given that an absolute date is set by which precepts must be levied so as to allow the district authority or whatever else it may be to deal with the matter—is nonsense. If you are to change the shape of the budget of an organisation as complex as a police service, you need to start a lot earlier than 16 November. You probably need to start as soon as the previous year’s budget has been finalised in May and June. I know that colleagues in the police authority in London have been meeting throughout August and are continuing to meet to look at the details of the budget for next year. An election on 15 November and someone taking office then is far too late. Essentially, you are electing police and crime commissioners who will be held responsible for a budget which in practice they will have had no opportunity to influence other than in the crudest and most simplistic form. Therefore, that is not going to resolve the matter.

Another consequence of changing the dates is that the Home Office will have to look at whether independent members of police authorities whose terms of office expire in the summer of next year should have their terms of office extended or whether instead there will be a process of advertising in order to fill those posts. I am sure that the Home Office has all this in hand, but I suspect that, again, we will find that this is going to be an additional expense or something cobbled together at the last moment. The key point is that changing the date does not provide a robust governance structure. It does not provide protections against an individual who, while not being an extremist but perhaps exuberant with their power, exercises their responsibilities in what is perhaps a maverick fashion. That governance is necessary.

The Government’s response both today and on previous occasions has been fourfold. The first argument is that the electorate in its wisdom will make sure that such people are not elected. I believe in elections because they are the best available system for managing something—except, perhaps, your Lordships’ House. But the point remains that elections take place at a certain point in time. If the noble Baroness has her way, they will take place on 15 November next year. It will then be three and a half years, or whatever period is chosen, before the electorate can put right something that has gone wrong. You need to have around an individual with such powers a mechanism which can ensure that they continue to operate appropriately and within a system of governance.

The second argument deployed by the Government is that the police and crime panel will be able to exercise these functions, but the reality is that although there has been a change that will require it to collaborate with and support the police and crime commissioner, nothing here enables it to get involved while a decision is being taken. That is the point at which intervention is so important.

The third argument made again by the noble Baroness today is that nothing in the legislation would preclude a police and crime commissioner from perhaps having non-executives and obeying the strictest guidelines on governance. Yes, nothing in the legislation prevents it, and I am sure that most sensible police and crime commissioners will do all that, but it is the ones who do not do it who are precisely the ones about whom we should be concerned. For that reason, there should be a provision that requires them to have proper systems of governance.

The other argument the Government have deployed is that there will be an audit process. That is fine, and so there should be. But, again, an audit process takes place after the event. The Government will say that they are proposing a financial code of practice. That is excellent, but what they are actually doing, of course, is remedying an error in the Bill. A financial code of practice already exists, but they forgot about it so far as police and crime commissioners are concerned, so they have remedied the error. It is quite proper that it should be corrected, but in itself that will not solve all the problems. My amendment, which is modest and does not undermine the principle the Government are trying to adopt or stop in its tracks the election of police and crime commissioners, whenever that may be, says only that the vehicle of the financial code of conduct should require there to be a non-executive presence around police and crime commissioners when they take key financial and other decisions, and that they should be obliged to follow a proper process of good governance and appropriate standards of behaviour—something that is otherwise missing from the Bill.

I believe that this Bill is not necessarily the best solution to the problems of governance of the police service. That is an understatement which is meant to be ironic and not taken too seriously. But the point is that, as the Bill stands at the moment, it will not even do what the Government want it to do. It will store up problems for the future, and the reality is that it is more likely that there will be problems with a police and crime commissioner who behaves inappropriately or does not operate the best systems of governance. This proposal is a safeguard, not only for the public and the police service, but also for the Government. It will make sure that what they are proposing today does not blow up in their faces.”

In the event, the key vote turned out to be on a motion from Lord Condon, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who proposed that the elections should take place in May 2013 and not in 2012 at all.    In his speech he said:

“My Lords, I again declare my interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am also deputy chairman of a major private security company. I thank the Minister for her generous comments and the courtesy she and her colleagues have shown me throughout the consultative process for this Bill.

The Government originally proposed that the first elections for police and crime commissioners should take place in May 2012. However, by amendment in the other place on Monday, it is now proposed that the first elections should take place in November 2012, to allow more time to prepare.

In August we had the most serious riots and looting that we have experienced in this country for 30 years. In London, we had the most serious looting in living memory. Those events and the concerns about their causes and remedies have weighed heavily on my thinking over the past few weeks and have been instrumental in my proposals referred to in Motion A2.

There are very strong operational reasons, sensible policy reasons and significant cost reductions for moving the elections from November 2012 to May 2013. That is why I have put forward this Motion. If my proposed Amendments 6E to 6H are agreed they will simply move the elections from November to May 2013.

The changes to police governance and accountability set out in the Bill are the most profound since the Metropolitan Police Act 1829. They are not the product of widespread public pressure for change or the product of a royal commission or judicial inquiry. They did not benefit from a pre-legislative scrutiny process. The proposals are an experiment and a political act of faith. Many in your Lordships’ House have expressed serious concern during the passage of the Bill, and, to be honest, I do not think that those concerns have been fully assuaged at all. However, I am not seeking to re-challenge today the principle of the election of police and crime commissioners, which is clearly at the heart of the Bill. I have no wish to challenge that principle.

However, it is in the public interest to put back the elections by a further six months to May 2013. Change of the magnitude proposed by the Government, if it must go ahead, should be given the best chance to succeed by proper preparation and planning. The Government have already accepted the principle for more time by moving the elections from May to November, but the whole of 2012 should be free of the politics of campaigns and elections for police and crime commissioners. Senior police officers, their police forces and all those connected to them should not, in the face of the riots, now face this major diversion of their time and focus in 2012, which will be one of the most challenging operational years for policing in recent history.

The riots and looting in August were the most serious for 30 years. We need to understand what happened and why. The police service needs to review its strategy and tactics. It needs to train more riot-efficient officers. The summer and autumn of 2012 could again be testing times for potential street disorder, and the preparation and briefing of candidates for PCCs in late summer and autumn will be a major diversion of senior police time and focus. I also fear that extremist candidates could benefit from November elections if we have a troubled summer and autumn of street disorder.

The year 2012 is also the Olympic year, and all our forces, not just the Metropolitan Police Service, will be drawn into policing the Games and the associated terrorist threats. The Olympic Games and the Paralympics will extend well into September 2012, and the police service and others will benefit from a further six-month breathing space and preparation time before the PCC elections and all the consequential changes. We all hope for a wonderful trouble-free Olympics, but we must be prepared for and focused on the threats and challenges that will face us right the way through until September next year.

Other serious changes to policing in the next year need to be harmonised with the new structure of elected police and crime commissioners. The Government should embrace the opportunity for some more time to prepare a clear and developed plan for national and international policing issues. The proposed national crime agency remains a disturbingly vague concept and the extent and limit of its remit are not yet settled. Will the national crime agency or the Metropolitan Police be the lead agency to counter terrorism? Just how will cross-border serious crime be combated and by whom? The police service and the candidates for elected police and crime commissioner deserve much more clarity about national structures before they make their local plans and proposals. Motion A2, if agreed, will create a further six months of important planning time for these important events.

Another reason to embrace more planning time is the important review being carried out into policing by Tom Winsor, to which the noble Baroness has already referred. The Government have commissioned him, in part 2 of his review, to make recommendations which could fundamentally change how police officers are recruited and developed. He may well choose to make recommendations which challenge the status quo of a single point of entry; he may well recommend an officer class; he might suggest that the need for all chief constables to start on the beat is no longer relevant; he might suggest a different route to becoming a leader in the police service. I have no inside knowledge as to his proposals, but I know that he and his team are working hard on them and will report in the foreseeable future. Again, an additional six months of thinking time would put the Government in a much stronger position to harmonise and sensibly sequence all these hugely significant changes to policing nationally and locally.

Elections in November 2012 have two further significant drawbacks. The Electoral Commission has already expressed concern about a low turnout in November and I fear that this will favour extreme candidates. It will be a huge blow to the credibility of the new system if a very low turnout in even one police force area allows a far right-wing candidate to succeed, or, indeed, a single-issue zealot from whatever background. The second worrying consequence of a November election is the additional cost of £25 million. I know that the Government have said that this will be found from budgets other than policing, but what an unnecessary waste of money—money I would rather see put back into public services, particularly policing. This money could provide up to 1,000 police or support staff for nearly a year.

No doubt the Minister will argue that the Government have delayed enough and that successful candidates in May 2013 elections would have to wait a further year before they were able to impose their own budget plans—that is what she has said. However, the Government were originally happy to have May elections and they have also stated that the second round of elections for police and crime commissioners, four years from the first, will revert to a May date. Also, police budgets for the next four years are pretty well set in concrete and established as a result of the very understandable, but nevertheless dramatic and unprecedented, cuts to police funding.

In conclusion, I am well aware of the primacy of the other place, but today is the first opportunity your Lordships’ House has had to consider the merits of elections for police and crime commissioners in November 2012. For all the reasons I have put before you, I believe that it is in the public interest—indeed, I believe that it is in the national interest—to build in a little more thinking time, a little more planning time, before the first set of police and crime commissioners is elected. The Government have already accepted the need for more time to prepare; what is now in dispute is whether November 2012 or May 2013 is the more appropriate date.

At earlier stages of the Bill’s passage through this House I was against open-ended or long delay, as it would leave policing in an unacceptable limbo of uncertainty, but my Motion today, if agreed, brings certainty and, I argue, no undue delay. The riots and looting have seriously influenced my thinking over the past few weeks. If we must have these historic changes to policing, let us take a little more time to give the implementation the best chance to succeed. That is what Motion A2 will achieve.”

When his motion was put to the vote, there were 222 Peers in favour and 222 Peers against.  Under the Rules of Procedure this meant that the motion was not passed and the Government got its Bill through – by the narrowest of margins.

The votes broke down as follows:

In favour of Lord Condon’s amendment:

163 Labour Peers

2 Bishops (Bishops of Exeter and Guildford)

2 Liberal Democrats (Baroness Harris of Richmond and Lord Bradshaw)

1 Conservative (Lord Vinson)

54 Cross-benchers and others

In support of the Government:

145 Conservatives

70 Liberal Democrats

1 Bishop

6 Cross-benchers and others