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Archive for January, 2010

Thursday
Jan 28,2010

At the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority – all of two months ago – I raised the Human Rights Watch report, entitled “Cruel Britannia” in which five cases were reported of individuals who had been tortured overseas and alleged that British officials were involved.  I sought assurances about Metropolitan Police involvement in any of the cases.

At the time, the Commissioner said he had no reason to believe that any Metropolitan Police officers were involved, but he would check and report back.  He has now done so and formally reported to the Authority today that:

“We can confirm that we are satisfied that there can be no basis to any allegation that MPS officers could have been complicit in torture.”

Thursday
Jan 28,2010

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Mayor Boris Johnson is not in the Chair.  Yesterday, he announced that he was leaving the Police Authority and today he is in …..

Davos!

Actually, he missed the January 2009 meeting because of a trip to Davos a year ago, but that time he didn’t feel the need to resign from the Authority, as well.  I commented then on Mayor Boris Johnson’s Macavity-like characteristics.

So what is the new Macavity-lite MPA like?

Well, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM (the UVCDMKMAM as was) is in the Chair and he’s loving it!

And Jenny Jones, Dee Doocey, Caroline Pidgeon and Joanne McCartney are all behaving as if someone shot their fox (I am resisting the temptation – just – to wander off into an extended metaphor about blonde-haired Mayors, ginger cats and red foxes called Basil Brush).  Much of their fun in the last fifteen months had been trying to lure the Mayor into some lovingly constructed elephant-trap.  Ensnaring Kit Malthouse would not provide the same gratification, so instead they are trying to goad him into losing his temper.  But he is in such a good mood at finally becoming MPA Chair (technically, he is not yet Chair because there is still to be a formal confirmation process through the London Assembly, but he has already had his name-plate changed) that none of it is working ….. so far.

The first signs of irritation from him are reserved for Councillor Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, who has brought along a petition asking for an extra 120 police officers for his Borough, and suggestions from Jennette Arnold that the Resource Allocation Formula should be changed.  However, he recovers his composure and sweetness and light reign:  Waltham Forest go away thinking they may get something (probably not much) and no full-blown review of the Formula is conceded.

Wednesday
Jan 27,2010

Lord Paul Myners, who is rapidly becoming Labour Peers’ favourite Ministerial performer at Lords’ Question Time, was at it again this afternoon.  When Lord Bilimoria, whom he squelched on a previous occasion, put it to him that:

“It is reported that the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, agrees with President Obama’s proposals for reform. Do the Government also agree with President Obama’s reforms and do they intend to implement them?”

The magisterial response was:

“I always welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, from the Cross Benches. I hesitate to correct him but last Thursday evening Mr George Osborne welcomed President Obama’s statement and by Friday morning he had decided that he no longer welcomed it. We must tune in regularly to our wirelesses to ensure that we are up to date with the Tory thinking on this and so many other matters.”

He then went on to point out:

“There are aspects of the Obama proposals which clearly make a considerable degree of sense for the American situation with large investment banks. There are also concepts around the levy which are commendable and on which we and other G7 countries are working to ensure that in the future the banking system is more resilient and, if there is failure, that failure is borne by the shareholders, the subordinated creditors and the management of the banks. However, the Obama proposal is not necessary in this country; we have already taken the appropriate actions.”

The remaining exchanges were as follows:

“Lord Clinton-Davis: What discussions have taken place between the Obama Administration and the Government to ensure that there is an international response to the banking crisis?

Lord Myners: Banking resilience, regulation and capitalisation are high on the agenda for the G20. We are in regular contact with G20 countries. I met officials from the Obama Administration on Monday to talk about this and other matters.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: Does the noble Lord agree that some of the banks have their priorities totally wrong? They give management top priority, deal last with the customer and God help the shareholder in between.

Lord Myners: The noble Lord says something very perceptive and correct. Last week I suggested in the House that banks which follow policies on bonuses that were perceived to be reckless would risk alienating their customers, who would choose to move their business. I urge UK banks, in particular, to be able to evidence that they have exercised real restraint and that bonuses reward smart decisions made by good people, with the overall prosperity of the franchise in mind, rather than rewarding reckless gambling or entirely fortuitous external circumstances.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, is the Minister confident that those banks in which the Government have a very large shareholding have entirely complied in their own decisions with what he has said to us?

Lord Myners: The decisions about bonuses at Lloyds Banking Group and RBS have not been made but we have already been very clear that UK Financial Investments on behalf of the taxpayer will take a very active interest in this area. I am much encouraged by the comments of Mr Stephen Hester, who I think is doing a very good job at Royal Bank of Scotland, that he will not recommend or seek any bonus payments beyond those which he believes are absolutely necessary to protect the bank, and in so doing protect the value of the taxpayer’s investment in his bank.

Lord Newby: The Minister has just said that the Government have already taken appropriate action in respect of the banks but yesterday, speaking to the Treasury Select Committee, the Governor of the Bank of England said:

“We cannot allow ourselves to be kept hostage to institutions that are so big”,

and he appeared to support the Obama proposals. Why do the Government think the governor is wrong?

Lord Myners: The governor said many things yesterday with which we are in complete agreement and he is supporting the moves we are taking to improve the strengths of the banking system. There is no evidence that size in itself was the source of individual bank failures. Large banks failed, but so did small banks. We need to ensure that the totality of the banking system is strong and that will be addressed by higher capital, requirements for much higher levels of liquidity and the concept of living wills, which will require banks to put in place arrangements that will allow the failing part of a bank to be isolated and separated from the remainder of the bank without imposing consequential claim on the taxpayer. The taxpayer should never, ever again be expected to bail out the folly and mischief of bad decisions made by bankers.”

Wednesday
Jan 27,2010

Mayor Boris Johnson has given his representative on Planet Policing, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse, a late Christmas present.  He has just announced his resignation and that the former UVCDMKMAM will be the new Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

I have been predicting this move for a long time and Kit Malthouse has been barely able to contain his impatience for this formal recognition that he has been de facto acting as Chair of the Authority for the last eighteen months.

The Mayor is able to dress this up with “My work is done – policing now in safe hands – new Commissioner – new team of Assistant Commissioners – crime falling – Kit’s capable hand on tiller” etc etc.

The real reasons are, of course, that:

  • no Mayor of London really has the time to be Mayor and be a hands-on-tiller detail-minding Chair of the Police Authority
  • it avoids any conflicts of interest if the police start investigating any of your chums
  • any sensible Mayor wants to have a bit of distance between himself and policing in case/for when things go wrong

This last point is, of course, crucial:  Mayor Boris Johnson now has TWO people to sack/say he no longer has confidence in if things go wrong – the Commissioner and Kit Malthouse.

Tuesday
Jan 26,2010

On Friday, I reported that the Conservative Party’s local government representatives on the European Union Committee of the Regions had refused to follow the official Cameron line and pull out of the European Peoples Party grouping.

Over the last few days, however, the position has changed and they are now going to try and form a European Conservatives and Reformist Group on the CoR.

When asked whether he was being bullied by the national Conservative Party, Councillor Gordon Keymer, Leader of the UK delegation, as well as the Tory group on the delegation, to the Committee of the Regions, refused to comment, saying “It’s an internal matter”.

Thumb-screws all round?  Or was it the threat of knee-capping?

And what did Roger Evans, Leader of the Conservatives on the London Assembly and one-time novellist, have to say about the matter?

Monday
Jan 25,2010

I have always taken the view that there will be scepticism and cynicism in any Host City about hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games until just a week or two before the Games start and then it will vanish and everyone will suddenly be a convert.  I confidently expect that to be the process in London as we get closer to 2012, unless Mayor Boris Johnson fails to invest properly over the next two years and himself builds cynicism rather than enthusiasm.

I am therefore very pleased to have had the opportunity to be in Vancouver for a few days with only three weeks to go before the City hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics, so that I can see whether my theory is borne out.

On balance, I think it is.  There is no doubt that local enthusiam is building: young people are excited and it is mainly locals that are currently swamping the Official Merchandise outlets (where they are finding that they can only buy using cash or a VISA cards – as VISA is an official sponsor, Mastercard and American Express are forbidden).

Businesses are preparing for the rush of visitors and are expecting a serious boost to the provincial economy.  Meanwhile, the Cultural Olympiad is in full swing – with an impressive emphasis on events with a link to Canada’s First Nations (the indigenous Indian communities prior to colonial invasion).

So has cynicism disappeared?  Not entirely.  One cause is the weather: it is simply too warm.  One of the Olympic ski runs has had to be closed because of warm weather and heavy rain.  And the cynics tell me that this was entirely predictable.  This is an El Nino year when warmer ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific bring a milder winter to Western Canada.  (An El Nino year is usually preceded the previous year with a colder-than-normal winter and this is what happened in 2009 when Vancouver was totally snow-bound in January.)  These meteorological events are on a five-year cycle (or so I was told) and it should have been obvious to all concerned when Vancouver was bidding for 2010 that a mild winter would be on the cards – now in 2014 (the winter before the next El Nino year) would have been an ideal Games to bid for ….

And there are moans at the Mayor (so this is probably another reason why Boris Johnson won’t stand again in May 2012) for the proposed road closures and the extra costs falling on the City.

And there is still a legacy from the February 2003 plebiscite called in Vancouver on whether to support the Bid.  This was before the final decision by the International Olympic Committee was taken on the location of the 2010 Games, but after Vancouver was named as a candidate city and had signed legal agreements committing it to host the games if selected.  Fortunately, citizens of the City voted heavily in favour of proceeding with the Bid, but the manouevre was seen as deeply cynical: only citizens of Vancouver itself (and not those from the rest of Greater Vancouver) could vote; it could easily have had a negative impact on the IOC vote (which would have meant all the bid costs would have been in vain); and above all it would have been impossible to pull out if the plebiscite vote had gone the other way.  Apparently, the Mayor “was just playing politics” – now where have we heard that before?

Friday
Jan 22,2010

I see that the Conservative local government representatives on the European Union Committee of the Regions have refused to follow the official Cameron line on Europe and pull out of European Peoples Party Group.  They say that to have left the EPP Group would have been “impractical”, that to do so would have made it “much more difficult to work effectively” and would have taken them out of a grouping that “Commissioners actually pay attention to.”

So now we know: Tory local government politicians are more sensible than their national leadership.  Of course, this may not be saying very much ……

Thursday
Jan 21,2010

I have been catching up on the latest news of defections and deceit in my former bailliwick of Haringey from a coffee shop in Vancouver, where I am speaking at a conference (in the city, not the coffee shop).
I gather that Councillor Brian Hailey, who was not reselected by his branch to stand as a candidate in May, has defected from the Labour Group on Haringey Council and joined the Liberal Democrats. This reportedly followed a meeting with Nick Clegg. (Apparently, there was also a meeting with David Cameron. However, Hailey decided not to follow in the footsteps of another former member of the Labour Group, Alan Dobbie – who was allegedly suffering from a form of post-Mayoral syndrome/folie de grandeur – and join the Tories. Apparently, Hailey found Cameron ‘unimpressive’/was not promised enough.)
I am told by an impeccable source that this is not the first time that Hailey has contemplated defection to the LibDems. He had discussions some years ago (that in itself ought to have resulted in his deselection). Apparently, on that occasion Hailey walked away when his request for a safe Parliamentary seat was spurned. Presumably, this time he has been told that they will meet his demand to be an MP. This in itself is interesting: the LibDems are notoriously ultra-democratic and the centre cannot foist a candidate on a constituency party, so if the offer was made they must have lied to Hailey and he must have been extraordinarily gullible to have believed it.
But what does it say about the LibDems that – irrespective of false promises made – they will accept as a member someone so unprincipled that they are happy to be in any one of the three main political parties and is prepared to join the one that bids highest?

Tuesday
Jan 19,2010

Mrs Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, has been complaining about the mouse spotted in the Speakers apartment.

If it is only one mouse she is exceedingly lucky, in the last few months I have seen mice (or they may have been small rats) playing under the chairs in the Peers Guest Room and running down the corridor outside the Members Dining Room in the House of Commons.

And Paul Waugh saw a fox last September……

Parliament is obviously a wildlife sanctuary.

Thursday
Jan 14,2010

The news that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that police stops and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act are illegal and contravene the rights of those stopped has prompted an interesting post on Left Foot Forward by Andy Hull who worked with me on the MPA report, “Counter Terrorism: The London Debate“.

I agree with most of what Andy Hull has written, but I don’t however accept that Section 44 stops are futile.  They play an important part in target-hardening.  If potential terrorists know that they run a substantial risk of being stopped by the police and searched near a particular target, then that target is a less attractive one and the risks are reduced.

However, in the past, Section 44 powers have been used much too widely with very large areas being designated by the police and approved by successive Home Secretaries.  Following the MPA report and subsequent debate, the Metropolitan Police have radically revised the way in which they use the power with a much more rigorous approach being taken as to which areas are designated for the use of Section 44 stops.  A lot of effort has also gone into the guidance given to officers on the use of the power and the manner in which stops are conducted.

Although the grounds of the ECHR ruling are much broader I do wonder whether the position taken by the Court would have been quite so clear had the new approach applied when the incident that led to the case took place.

The Government are now considering an appeal and in the meantime the existing regime of Section 44 stops remains in force.

My experience is that most members of the public find it a reassurance that the power exists and is used and that this is true even if they are the subject of the stop, provided that the context is explained and the stop is conducted with a degree of respect.

Of course, demonstrating that attacks have been deterred is necessarily difficult to do.  However, my own guess is that most people would feel that the interference in their rights by there being a possibility of being stopped and searched in areas near to potential terrorist targets is  a small price to pay if it prevents them being blown up.  The right to life works both ways after all.