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.

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).

Lessons from “The Importance of Being Earnest” for 2011 – riots and the Liberal Democrats

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours today at the Barons Court Theatre (in the Curtains Up pub in Comeragh Road) watching a performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Professional Help Productions.

Some of the biggest laughs were reserved, as ever, for Lady Bracknell (played by Sarah Dearlove standing in at short notice for Judith Pollard), but particularly for those lines during her interrogation of Jack Worthing, designed to assess his suitability as a potential husband for Gwendolen, which seemed particularly pertinent to 2011 (a mere 116 years after the play’s first performance):

Lady Bracknell. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to riots and acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

And then a few moments later:

Lady Bracknell. [Sternly.] What are your polities?

Jack. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal.

Lady Bracknell. Oh, they count as Tories. ….  Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?”


Theresa May sensibly rules out an American police chief for the Met, but I am less convinced by the idea of “general curfews”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, today in a major speech sensibly made clear that the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be a British officer – following speculation that a US crimefighter, such as former New York police chief Bill Bratton could be considered for the role.  She said she had

“no time for the pessimism which says we cannot find from amongst our ranks a tough crime fighter, equipped to lead the Met”.

This was wise.  Police morale is hardly going to be improved by giving the message that the only person of sufficient calibre to lead the Metropolitan Police is an American.  In fact, when the closing date for applications passes tomorrow, a number of strong and impressive candidates are likely to have put themselves forward.

However, in her speech she also said that ministers are considering new curfew powers – to allow “general curfews” to be imposed on a specific area in England and Wales, rather than being linked to specific individuals, and to allow them to apply to youngsters aged under 16.  This is less convincing. 

Curfews are only meaningful, if they are enforced.  And they can only be enforced effectively if there are large numbers of police on the streets.  And, as we have seen in the last week, if there are large numbers of police on the streets, you are unlikely to have disorder and you won’t need a curfew.

It all comes back to police numbers and police budgets and that’s the area where the Government is on very weak ground.

If Bill Bratton is the answer, is David Cameron asking the right question?

David Cameron would clearly like to see Bill Bratton, the former Commissioner of the New York, Los Angeles and Boston Police (obviously not at the same time), appointed as the next Commissioner of Police for London.  His insistence is clearly a snub both to the Home Office and to senior British police, as the Dail Mail puts it “Dave MUST get the world’s best copper…even if that means upsetting Ms May and the Met jobsworths“.  It is also a swipe at Mayor Boris Johnson, who dismissed the idea and pointed out to Sky News that Bratton’s success in combatting crime in New York  was mostly down to a huge ramp-up of police numbers, from 30,000 to 42,000.

Cameron’s criticisms of the police are clearly beginning to unsettle some Conservative loyalists.  As Peter Bingle, Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, wrote last Thursday:

“In the House of Commons today the PM must also do something which he rarely does. He must act and sound like a Tory. When Maggie was PM she always supported the police service. She understood (instinctively) the importance of the office of constable and that the police were unlike other public servants. In the months ahead the government will rely more and more on brave young police officers to maintain order. Today the PM needs to set out how he and his government are going to support the police. As part of this more money will need to be found. The public will demand this from their prime minister. For once he needs to nod towards Tory Party opinion.”

Nevertheless, David Cameron is clearly fixated on the idea that the appointment of Bill Bratton will make everything all right.

But will it?

Jessica de Grazia, a former chief assistant District Attorney in New York, writing in The Guardian tonight points out that:

“America’s former top cop broke the first two rules of capacity-building (in this case, foreigners teaching others how to reform their law and institutions) by: first, “disrespecting” the British police; and second, showing a lack of local knowledge. … Lack of local knowledge is understandable; our shared language conceals big differences between the laws and institutions of the US, on the one hand, and Great Britain and the Commonwealth, on the other. Not least is the British civil service’s “no risk” culture and its obsession with process, which can be maddening to a proactive, outcome-oriented American.”

And she reminds us:

” London’s gang problem is minuscule compared to LA’s. In 2009, with a population about half the size of London (4 million compared to 7.75 million), LA had 157 gang murders. London had only 13! Since 2002, the Met has got homicides down from 219 to 124. In my book, that’s sterling police work.”

And on the events of the last ten days:

“Regarding the August riots, the police can’t be faulted for not planning for an entirely new situation: gangs using encrypted BlackBerry messaging to organise hit-and-run riots the length and breadth of London. Instead, measure their performance by adaptability, and the extent of injury to life and property.

In the last serious New York riot (in August 1977, which was triggered by a 25-hour city-wide blackout), the police massed in midtown Manhattan, instead of the ghettos where previous rioting had always occurred. In the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, thousands of homes and small businesses were burned out and looted; the final bill came to $155m, in 1977 dollars. In the 1992 LA riots, 54 people were killed – 10 by the police and army. Ten years later, 22 of those murders were still unsolved. There have been four deaths in the August riots, all caused by criminals retaliating against Good Samaritans. Within a week, the police and CPS had arrested or charged the suspects.”

None of this means that Bill Bratton’s advice is not worth listening to, but that is not the same as saying that he will make a good Metropolitan Police Commissioner. David Cameron’s insistence that he will – without the benefit of a proper open appointments process – suggests that the insistence is more about soundbite politics that delivering an effective police force in London.

House of Lords to be recalled tomorrow after all – was it something I said?

Yesterday, I reported that, despite what the Prime Minister had said, Parliament was not being recalled – only the House of Commons.  Apparently, the Leader of the House of Lords had not seen the need for the Upper House to be recalled.

Overnight, there was a change of heart and this morning it was announced that the House of Lords would after all sit at noon tomorrow.

Was it something I said?

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Parliament is NOT being recalled – only the House of Commons

Earlier today the Prime Minister announced that Parliament was being recalled on Thursday to discuss the disturbances in London and elsewhere.

It turns out that this is not true. 

Only the House of Commons is being recalled.  Unusually, the House of Lords is not going to be sitting as well. 

Apparently, Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, Leader of the House of Lords, was not keen ……

Identifying the looters and rioters – do you know these people?

The violent scenes in London in the last few days have been appalling and shocking.  There can be no excuse for the violence and vandalism.  In some cases, this will force the closure of the small businesses that have been targetted.  And the stigma and blight that will fall on some areas of the capital will make it even more difficult for local councils trying to strengthen and build sustainable local economies in the most deprived areas of our city.

The immediate task is, of course, to restore order to our streets.  And as part of this, the Metropolitan Police has started to put on line photographs of those suspected of being involved in some of the disorder and looting.  These hooligans need to be brought to justice.  So, do you know any of these people?

West Norwood




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The disturbances in Tottenham and Wood Green – what needs to happen now

The news in the last seventy-two hours takes me back to the 1985:  the Broadwater Farm disturbances and the events that led up to them.  In October 1985, the death of Mrs Jarrett during a police search of her home was followed by a demonstration outside Tottenham Police Station which in turn was followed by violence on the Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death.

My immediate response on hearing of the shooting dead by police of Mark Duggan, who at that stage had not been named, was to warn of a “potentially lively community reaction”.  And anyone who remembers vividly as I do the night of 6th October 1985 would have seen yesterday’s demonstration outside the Police Station as a likely trigger for attacks on the police and even for rioting.

There are, of course, many parallels with 26 years ago, but also many differences.  In 1985 police-community relations were appalling – even before the riot.  They are nothing like as bad now, but nonetheless could no doubt be better.  Unemployment in Tottenham is not as bad as it was in 1985, but is still the highest in London and the eighth worst rate in the UK.  Tottenham continues to be a vibrant community with much strength in its diversity, but there is still a sense of hopelessness amongst many young people. 

What is depressing is that having spent twelve years of my life as Council Leader trying to kickstart regeneration in Tottenham and Wood Green the need for sustainable economic development remains as acute as it did in the late 1980s.

The irresponsible violence and looting last night can never be acceptable or condoned , but one of its consequences is that many of the businesses affected will have been destroyed by what has happened and others will be damaged by the blight and stigma that may now fall on the area. 

The most important immediate task is to lessen the tension and to address the rumours that are swirling about the death of Mark Duggan.   The Independent Police Complaints Commission could make a big contribution to this.  One of the problems with this sort of dreadful incident is that often the investigation is shrouded in total secrecy and in the absence of hard information unsubstantiated stories or even malicious misinformation spread like wildfire – this is particularly so now in the age of Twitter.  I understand that the IPCC are shortly due to make some sort of public statement.  I hope they will be as open as possible and commit to providing regular briefings about the state of their investigation.  As soon as they are able to confirm or otherwise, for example, whether a non-police weapon was at the scene or not and whether it was fired or not, the better it will be.

The next urgent task is to get Tottenham and Wood Green functioning again.  The police will obviously have an important job to do in sifting through the debris for evidence (indeed, it still needs to be conclusively established that nobody burnt to death in the fires that swept through buildings).  However, I hope this can be done as quickly as possible so that the clear-up can begin and those businesses that are able to can start to function again.  Haringey Council will no doubt put in significant resources to enable this clean-up to happen but I hope that the Government will undertake to underwrite this work given that the Council is still having to implement swingeing budget reductions as a result of cuts in Government grants.

There will also need to be a review of what lessons need to be learned about the police response to the developing disturbances last night.  Many people in Tottenham and Wood Green felt undefended despite the bravery of the police and fire officers deployed.  Should there have been better intelligence about what was likely to happen?  Should more efforts have been made to monitor the traffic on social media sites?  Indeed, what is a proportionate and appropriate level of such monitoring?  I am sure colleagues on the Metropolitan Police Authority will want to pursue these issues in detail (it is not quite clear who will do this once the Police Authority is abolished once the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill gets Royal Assent in September or October).

Finally, some of the underlying causes of what happened need to be addressed.  What is to be done about escalating gun violence in  London (particularly if police resources are to be reduced as part of Government policy)?  When is Tottenham going to see the regeneration it deserves and how are young people in Haringey going to be supported to achieve their true potential?