So was David Cameron being disingenuous or did Dominic Grieve ignore his Party Leader over Bob Quick?

A large amount of today’s news coverage seems to have been about the alleged “row” between the Conservative Party and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, who has overall responsibility for the continuing police investigation into the leaks of material from the Home Office which led to the arrest of Damian Green MP.


The story so far seems to be that the Mail on Sunday for reasons best known to their editor (and no doubt completely unrelated to his role in the Green case) decided to investigate Assistant Commissioner Quick and, in particular, whether there was anything reprehensible in the wedding hire car business run by his wife.  They couldn’t find anything wrong, so instead published a story alleging a “possible” security risk because the family home of the head of Scotland Yard’s Specialist Operations Directorate was also where the vintage cars used for the wedding hire business were garaged.  Then to make sure that any security breach was maximised showed pictures of Assistant Commissioner Quick, his home and the vintage cars.


The following day, as Assistant Commissioner Quick was in the process of moving his family away from the security risk exacerbated by the Mail story, he was collared by another reporter and made some tetchy comments suggesting that the whole farrago was part of a smoke-screen set up to distract attention from the investigation being carried out into the leaks from the Home Office and intended to create sufficient fuss to get the investigation dropped.  No doubt he shouldn’t have been so tetchy, although I suspect most people in similar circumstances might have reacted in even more forthright terms.


In response, the Conservative Party threatened to sue for defamation and David Cameron went into over-drive and, using the prestigious platform of his end-of-year interview with the BBC’s “Women’s Hour” called for the offending remarks to be withdrawn and for Assistant Commissioner Quick to make a full apology. 


Finally, after an apology was made in more fulsome terms than I would have been able to manage in the same position, David Cameron declared that the matter was closed and that the Conservative Party were “drawing a line” under the affair.


So what exactly was the Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, doing on BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” programme a couple of hours later?  Apparently, he was very keen to go on air (or so I was told, when the programme contacted me to join him to debate the issue – I declined on the basis that that nice Mr Cameron had declared the matter closed and therefore further discussion was pointless). 


What in the event Dominic Grieve said on the programme was hardly drawing a line under the affair, as he said Assistant Commissioner Quick should consider his position and stand down from his role in respect of the inquiry into Home Office leaks.


So either David Cameron was being disingenuous when he accepted Assistant Commissioner Quick’s apology and said that it “drew a line” under the controversy or Dominic Grieve was deliberately ignoring what his Party Leader had said.


Either way, it begins to look as though the Conservatives really are trying to make sure that Assistant Commissioner Quick stops his investigations.


The Prime Minister should ignore the goads of The Sunday Times – and Charlie Whelan: an early election would still be a mistake

Advice from The Sunday Times is never dispassionate – particularly for a Labour Prime Minister.
So when it asks ‘Will Gordon Brown find the nerve to strike early?’ and call a General Election next Summer, the Prime Minister’s reaction should be to put a tentative circle round 6th May 2010 on his calendar.
Worryingly Charlie Whelan, who in his spare time is the political officer of my union, UNITE, has told the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald (sic) that an election in June 2009 would be ideal. He was, of course, Gordon Brown’s press secretary in the 1990s and his contribution to this debate is rewarded in the Sunday Times by a page two picture of him brandishing a large fish (still I suppose that’s better than a Miliband-esque banana).
Despite Whelan’s support, an election next year would be a mistake.
The Labour Party and the Government have clawed their way back in the polls on the basis of their sound and decisive response to the world economic crisis. (However, the Tories remain ahead despite their confused and inconsistent response to the financial situation.) An early election would be portrayed as an opportunistic distraction from the task of tackling the problems facing the country.

An interesting comment on the position of Mayor Johnson and the Damian Green affair

John Biggs AM, a former colleague of mine on the London Assembly – although our relationship was not always 100% harmonious – has made an interesting comment on the difficult position of Mayor Boris Johnson, as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, following his remarks about the Damian Green affair.  There is also a comment on this on the same web page from another Damian – Damian Hockney, who was elected to the London Assembly as a UKIP member in 2004, followed Robert Kilroy-Silk into the short-lived Veritas Party, and then left that to sit as a “One London” representative before losing his seat in 2008.

Has Len Duvall skewered Boris Johnson over Damian Green?

When I was on the London Assembly between 2000 and 2004, most meetings of the Assembly itself were pretty dull with the only excitement (and that only counted as excitement if you were a pretty sad individual) being some fairly petty inter-Party bickering.  However, maybe things have changed.  Earlier today, I finally caught up with the webcast of yesterday’s meeting of the Assembly (I know I’ve been a bit slow but I have had quite a number of other things on in the last couple of days).  This was the meeting where the Assembly was questioning Mayor Boris Johnson (in his capacity as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA)) along with Sir Paul Stephenson, Acting Commissioner.

Len Duvall‘s questioning of the Mayor was scrutiny at its best and has been described to me as “forensic” by a number of people who were there.  Len, of course, is Leader of the Labour Group and followed me as Chair of MPA until Boris Johnson took over at the beginning of October.

Len first of all asked the Mayor about the comments attributed to him that the arrest of Damian Green  was unlikely to lead to a charge or a prosecution.  The Mayor then repeated the comments and didn’t seem to see any incongruity in statements like that being made by a Chair of a Police Authority, who has just been briefed in confidence by senior police officers on a continuing police operation.

Len then asked another series of questions about who the Mayor had subsequently talked to about the police operation.  Initially, the Mayor was reluctant to say, muttering something about his wife, but then blurted out that he had telephoned Damian Green himself.  This is frankly an extraordinary admission.

As Len commented subsequently:

“It is astonishing that the Mayor, following a briefing from senior police officers, has been speaking to a suspect under police investigation. He received information as chair of the MPA, then went to his political ally and old friend, who is now under criminal investigation. This is not appropriate behaviour for a chair of the police authority.

“Whether he likes it or not, the public perception will be that he his too involved in this investigation and is looking after his mates. Regardless of the merits of this particular case, should the chair of the police authority be speaking to a suspect in a criminal investigation? Should he then pre-judge the outcome of that investigation? The answer to both those questions is ‘no’. Boris should reflect on how he and his officials have behaved from the start of this affair and re-consider whether, if he is going to use sensitive information for political capital, he is an appropriate person to chair the authority.

“The appropriate time to raise issues around police action is once an investigation, and in this case the review announced today, is completed.”

A police officer who did something similar and spoke without authorisation to a person who had been arrested and released on police bail would be liable to disciplinary action.

An ordinary member of a police authority who did something like this might well be reported to the Standards Board for breaching the Code of Conduct governing members of public bodies and could, in principle, end up by being suspended from office.

So what will happen to the Mayor?  No doubt, he assumes that his charm, coupled with a bumbling mea culpa and an admission that he is new to this sort of public accountability will get him through. But Len gave him a lifeline and asked whether he would go away and reflect on whether his conduct was appropriate as Chair of the Police Authority.  However, the Mayor wasn’t having it – instead, he effectively said he would do the same thing again.

If the Mayor continues as Chair of the Police Authority, some interesting issues are raised.  Will the police ever trust him enough after this to brief him about confidential matters and on operational issues?  They will certainly think twice in the future about talking to the Mayor in his capacity as Chair of the MPA about an ongoing investigation if they run the risk of the Mayor’s next act being to ring a suspect in that investigation for a cosy chat and to publicly announce his views on the likely outcome of that investigation.  

However, if there isn’t a relationship of trust on such matters between the Mayor and senior police officers, London will lose out because everywhere else in the country one of the roles of a police authority chair is to be briefed and, on occasions, to give advice or to warn, whilst respecting the operational independence and decision-making of the police command structure.  The Mayor was quite within his rights to urge caution on the police in the matter of the alleged Home Office leaker and Damian Green, but that should have been a caution urged privately (at least, whilst the investigation is in progress – and, of course, it is still continuing) and not then briefed out to the media and repeated to the London Assembly.

Some questions for the Conservative Party about the Damian Green affair?

David Cameron knows that attack is the best form of defence and I wonder whether the attack he has launched over the police handling of the arrest of Damian Green is intended to distract attention from the Conservative Party’s involvement in the whole matter.

So perhaps, the Conservatives might want to set the record straight by answering a few questions, such as:

  1. Is Chris Galley (the civil servant, who according to newspapers, was arrested on 19th November and started the sequence of events that led to the arrest of Danian Green) a member of the Conservative Party?  If so, when did he join and does he hold any positions within the Party?  If not, has he been a member of the Party in the past and when?
  2. According to the newspapers there was a relationship/links between Chris Galley and Damian Green.  How many times has Chris Galley met Damian Green and how many times have they spoken on the telephone or communicated by e-mail?
  3. Has Chris Galley met David Cameron or any other member of the Shadow Cabinet?
  4. Newspapers have reported variously that Chris Galley applied for a job with the Conservative Party and/or a job with Damian Green and that he has been a Conservative Party candidate in the past.  What other roles has he applied for in the past?
  5. Has Chris Galley been given any assurances or promises about future roles with the Conservative Party?  If so, who gave those promises or assurances?
  6. Who in the Conservative Party, apart from Damian Green, knew about Chris Galley’s role at the Home Office?
  7. Who in the Conservative Party knew of the source of the leaks that are alleged to be part of this case?
  8. Had Damian Green discussed leaks from the Home Office with David Cameron, Dominic Grieve or any other prominent Conservative?  If so, when?