My piece for the Labour Lords website on the London elections

I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.

You can read it here, but the text is as follows:

London elects its Mayor in one week’s time.  The choice is a simple one.  Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?

The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors.  The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.

Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about.  Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page.  But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners.  And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime.  The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners.  Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.

Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.

On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners.   At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”).  With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly.  Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.

With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.

Metropolitan Police Authority 2000-2012 RIP

This is a piece I have written for the Mayor Watch blog on the occasion of today’s last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority:

“The Metropolitan Police Authority was established in July 2000 as a by-product of the legislation that also created the London Mayoralty, the GLA and the London Assembly.  Until then the Metropolitan Police had been solely accountable to the Home Secretary, who was uniquely the Police Authority for London.

The MPA is now to be abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) as a by-product of the legislation that will see Policing and Crime Commissioners elected outside London in November.

The MPA’s final meeting is taking place today and the MOPC will take over responsibility on Monday 16th January.

So what did the MPA achieve in its eleven and a half years of existence?

The early years of the MPA saw a dramatic transformation in the Metropolitan Police. In 2000 morale in the Service was poor, more officers left the Met each month than joined (police numbers had declined each year for a decade), public confidence was low, financial controls were virtually non-existent (the Met had no system for telling if bills had been paid more than once) and the quality of many serious investigations was poor.  The first tasks of the new Authority included the introduction of financial controls and discipline; establishing a new culture of openness and accountability; and reversing the decline in the number of police officers so that the MPS saw the most significant increase in its size in its history.

This was followed by a sustained focus on turning round street crime and cutting burglary.  The MPA led the way nationally on the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and then the setting up of the first Safer Neighbourhood Teams before rolling them out across London.

This contribution led to a general increase in public confidence in the police service, but specific initiatives led by the MPA on stop and search, on hate crime, and on recruitment and retention of black and minority officers also changed perceptions of the Met.

Inevitably, the direction of travel changed somewhat with a change in administration in City Hall after the 2008 elections, but the MPA continued to deliver a much clearer visible accountability of the police in London than had existed before.

Certainly, throughout its life the MPA has ensured that far more information about the policing of London has been put in the public domain.  The MPA also meant that the Commissioner and senior officers were seen to answer questions in public at full Authority meetings and at its Committees.  And this was supplemented by detailed MPA scrutinies ranging from rape investigation and victim care to counter-terrorism policing, crime data recording to mental health policing, and landmark reports on the Stockwell shooting, of the Race and Faith Inquiry, and on public order policing.

So will all this disappear with the MOPC?

The first thing to emphasise is that London’s model will – as ever – be different from that in the rest of the country.  There will not be a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner.  Instead, the functions will be carried out by the MOPC, led by an appointed Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.

The policing priorities will be set by the MOPC and it remains to be seen how much these will change from those previously set by the MPA with its more widely drawn membership.

The real danger is, of course, that much of the visible accountability and answerability will be lost.  Some will be provided by the London Assembly who will have a new and enhanced role in respect of policing and crime, but their focus – as envisaged by the new statute – will be very much on the MOPC and not on the police service itself.

How this will develop will depend on the personalities involved – both at the MOPC and on the Assembly – and on the willingness of the Met itself to be open and transparent.  There are certainly no guarantees on any of this, yet police accountability in the capital will remain as important as ever – as the events of the last few months have demonstrated.

Perhaps the message is watch this space.”


Tasers – a frontline view

Last Thursday, I reported the debate at the Metropolitan Police Authority about the possible wider use of Tasers in London.  There were considerable reservations about this expressed by some members of the Authority (and by some in the public gallery).

I am personally keen that there should be proper consultation and debate on the issue and I do not think the arguments are clearcut.

The use of any weapon by the police has got to be proportionate and appropriate to the risks involved.  Any weapon can cause more harm than originally intended.

However, temporarily incapacitating someone with a Taser, so that they can be restrained and arrested, is likely to be better than killing them by shooting a large hole in their chest or head with a firearm.

Nevertheless, putting a 50,000 volt charge through someone should not be done lightly – it is unlikely not to lead to adverse consequences in at least some circumstances.  But these risks need to be weighed against the risks of not using a Taser, such as the risks of harm coming to a member of the public or to a police officer by not quickly restraining someone who is running amok.

Therefore, this evening’s piece on the Inspector Gadget blog makes instructive reading.  His police force makes Tasers available to all front-line patrol teams, and he offers three recent incidents where Tasers have been deployed as part of routine patrol duties as follows:

“1. The usual call to a ‘male with a samurai sword’ running about in Ruraltown High Street threatening to kill passing members of the public, stripped to the waist (why are they always stripped to the waist?) high on something and very, very violent. TASER crew arrives within 4 minutes, draws TASER, red-dots the man and orders him to drop the sword.

In a miracle of instant recovery, all the man’s mental health and drug issues disappear and he drops the sword. A completely compliant arrest follows with no injuries to anyone.

Previously this would have required shields, large batons, a firearms unit and a long delay during which he could have killed anyone he wanted, including the first police officers on the scene.

2. A disqualified driver, known for violence against police officers, bailed out of a stolen vehicle after a pursuit. Armed with a 2 ft long iron bar in one hand and a knife in the other, he became cornered by the two policemen from the pursuing vehicle. Red-faced, drunk, very angry and screaming death threats, a stand-off ensued which without TASER would have taken hours to resolve (remember, the public don’t like it when we pile mob-handed onto one man). The TASER crew arrived within a few seconds and red-dotted him in the chest.

Another miracle occurred. Right in front of the police officers eyes, a complete change in character. Weapons dropped, hands behind the back and a compliant arrest.

3. My own patrol officers end a siege without calling for tactical response units and bringing the whole town to a halt for hours by using TASER on a male who is clearly intent on cutting his own throat, while at the same time threatening t0 stab any police officer or paramedic who approaches him. All this in the isle of a busy local supermarket.

In this case, TASER was fired at the man. He was immediately incapacitated and arrested without any injury to anyone. In the past, this could have been another Kingsbury or it could have taken hours and hours of negotiation, maybe even a fatal shooting by police.”

His accounts also accord with the experience in the Metropolitan Police, where – in more limited circumstances – Tasers have been deployed, and reported through monitoring arrangements to the – shortly to be abolished – Metropolitan Police Authority: in these cases too often the appearance of the red dot on someone’s chest (indicating the laser sights of the Taser) has been sufficient to persuade someone otherwise presenting a risk to themselves, members of the public or police officers to calm down and relinquish their weapon.

Inspector Gadget concludes in typical – but telling – style:

“Refusing to let us have TASER in case we shoot the wrong person is like refusing to let us have cars in case we run someone over, boots in case we kick someone in the head or a first aid kit in case we give the wrong treatment. On my team we take the deployment of TASER very seriously. I haven’t even heard the team joke about it.”


Much Ado About Tasers

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, is reporting to the last ordinary meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority before it is due to be abolished in January.

This is the first (and possibly the last) time that the Authority has had the opportunity to discuss the remarks made by the Commissioner on LBC  when he announced that he had asked for a review of the availability of Tasers for officers called to violent incidents like the one in which four officers were injured in Kingsbury on the 19th November.  According to the Commissioner, he discussed the attack and possible responses with the Mayor and MPA Chair, Kit Malthouse AM (in a break from his paternity leave) before his scheduled LBC interview and his specific remarks were in response to a phoned-in question from a Met firearms officer.

The Commissioner pointed out that he was simply “reviewing the options” and that there would be “full discussion” before any final decisions are taken.  What is not clear is how and where such discussion will take place after the MPA is abolished.

In the meantime, members of the Police Authority raised substantial concerns and issues about wider use of Tasers. At least, the Commissioner recognised that this was not an operational decision for him alone and that there needed to be wider public consultation and that ultimately the Authority would need to take a view. Of course, after 16th January, the Authority will be the Mayor and the MOPC.

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).

Total Politics 2011 Blog Awards

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Jenny Jones thinks she is Katherine Hepburn

Jenny Jones AM, London “Green” Mayoral Candidate, is exploring the canal network (very green and worthy, not to say sanctimonious).

She reports by Twitter:

“Hmm @BritishWaterways Slough canal very weedy & shallow, needs urgent clearing. We are like the African Queen, but without leeches (I hope)”
But there are worrying signs that the hot weather is producing delusions of grandeur.
The royal “we” as in “We are like the African Queen …”
And does she really see herself as Katherine Hepburn?
Jenny Jones
Katherine Hepburn
And where is Humphrey Bogart?

A tense and subdued meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM is in the Chair – the first meeting since Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner and John Yates as Assistant Commissioner.  The meeting is subdued and rather tense.

Tim Godwin, the Acting Commissioner (or that is what is name badge says, but apparently he is Temporary Commissioner which has a slightly different legal status), and Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Acting Deputy Commissioner (again this is what it says on his name badge, but apparently he has neither “Acting” or “Temporary” but is seconded into the Metropolitan Police from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to “fill the role”; he is the former Chief Constable of Merseyside) are present. Tim Godwin is choosing his words with care and Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has so far said nothing, is looking as though he wonders what he has got himself into.

The meeting started with twenty-two questions tabled by Jennette Arnold AM on issues surrounding the investigation of the murder of Daniel Morgan and the “intervention” in it of the News of the World.  The Acting Commissioner responded by saying that he was not able to answer any of these as they were all subject to other investigations.  I asked for some clarity on precisely which investigation covered which question and was promised that this would be circulated when it was clear.

The meeting then spent a happy half hour pursuing questions initially raised by Jenny Jones AM and Joanne McCartney AM aimed at establishing whether Mayor Boris Johnson had been briefed about continuing police investigations into phone hacking when he described the continuing concerns as “codswallop” and “a put up job by the Labour Party”.  In the end Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM had to explain that the “Mayor likes to express himself in a particular way” and, when asked (by me) whether the Mayor sticks to the briefings he receives, to say the “Mayor knows his own mind”.  I am not sure anyone was terribly reassured or satisfied.

And finally – nearly two hours into the meeting (and not before time) – the Authority moved on to more general policing issues, such as knife crime, murder, street crime etc.

Where will grieving families go when the Metropolitan Police Authority is abolished?

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC*, Chair of the MPA and putative Deputy MOPC**, is in the Chair.

Most of the first hour of the meeting has been spent on two individual cases – one more than twenty years old (the murder of Daniel Morgan) and the second much more recent (the death of Smiley Culture during a police raid) – with a strong presence in the City Hall Gallery from members of the respective families and their supporters.

The emotions of both families were understandably raw.  The Morgan family heard a clear apology from the Metropolitan Police for past failures and an agreement from the Authority to call for a judicial inquiry into the case, following the collapse of the recent prosecution.  The other case is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but elicited a commitment from the MPA Chair to meet the family and express condolences and to press the IPCC for a speedy and thorough investigation.

What was significant, of course, was that the Police were being visibly called to account in a public forum.  (Apart from these two cases the meeting also spent considerable time on the length of time it took for Delroy Grant to be brought to justice for a a string of horrific rapes and assaults on vulnerable elderly people and the policing of the massive demonstration last Saturday.)

This visible answerability will disappear with the Government’s proposals to abolish Police Authorities and it is not clear that the new arrangements will provide any real substitute.

The Metropolitan Police will be accountable to the MOPC, but this accountability will essentially be conducted in private.  The MOPC will be scrutinised by a committee of the London Assembly, but this will be a political forum and there will be no obligation on the Police to attend those sessions and answer questions.

It is the Government’s contention that accountability will be sharper and more effective as a result of the new structure.

However, like justice, accountability must not only be done but be seen to be done.

If there is no visible answerability, there is a real risk that anger and frustration will fester and police-community relations will suffer.

*    Dog-Catcher-in-Chief

**  Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

Mr Grumpy at the Metropolitan Police Authority

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM DCiC* and Putative Deputy MOPC** (pronounced “Mopsy”) is in the Chair and he’s not in a good mood.

Baroness Dee Doocey AM raised a point on the minutes seeking an assurance that all members would be involved in decisions about the wind up of the MPA and the creation of the MOPC.  The Putative Deputy MOPC invited members to let him have views and then added – with an incipient snarl redolent with heavy irony – “I look forward to being inundated with floods of emails from you all”.

Regular reports on this are going to the MPA’s Business Management Group (regarded by some as a sinister structure but consisting of the Chairs of MPA Committees with the Chair of the Authority) with updates to the Strategic and Operational Policing Committee.

“Could all members attend the BMG?”

“Minutes are circulated.”

“No they aren’t.”

“Yes, they were.”

“No, not true.”

“They are available on the MPA intranet.”

“London Assembly members can’t/don’t access the intranet.”

“Yes, you can.”

“Can we be emailed the minutes?”

“We will print them out and send them to you.”

“That’s a waste of money – email is fine.”

“I’ve been there before – you claim not to have seen the emails.”

Very much Mr Grumpy.

Then Jenny Jones AM started to ask about the Chair of the MPA’s meetings: “Can we be told what press barons you’ve met?”

“Nice try.”

“Can we see a list of your meetings?”

“Happy to append a list of my policing and crime-related meetings to the minutes.”

John Biggs MP wanted to know whether this would include his City Hall meetings as well.

“If you list all your meetings as well.”

And then:

“This is kiddy stuff.”

Even more Mr Grumpy.

*Dog Catcher in Chief

**Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime