Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for February, 2010

Sunday
Feb 28,2010

Each session of Parliament begins with the pageantry of the State Opening, the summonsing of the Commons to the House of Lords by Black Rod and the Queen’s Speech, in which the Monarch lists the Bills that the Government will put before Parliament.

The Sunday Times, however, has revealed secret Tory plans to change all of that. Apparently, there is:

“a radical idea to reform the Queen’s speech”.

The plan is that:

“she should no longer read out the traditional shopping list of bills. Instead, her address at the first state opening of a Cameron government would not mention any specific legislation but would offer a more general message.”

This extraordinary idea would turn the present anodyne statement of proposed legislation into a sort of regal party political broadcast packed with the sort of meaningless feel-good sentiments that Cameron’s Conservatives prefer to clarity about their real plans.  And even at that late stage the public wouldn’t be permitted to know what laws the Tories were intending to put through Parliament.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  But I wonder what Her Majesty thinks.

Sunday
Feb 28,2010

It looks as though a key element of the Conservative Party’s election strategy is going to be the deniable dog-whistle.

The Observer has revealed today that in a seemingly concerted initiative leaflets have been circulated by the Conservative Party in Andrew Rosindell’s constituency of Romford saying that immigration has caused a population control and that EU treaty obligations on free movement of labour would somehow be over-ridden by a Tory Government.

At the same time, Loanna Morrison, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark has endorsed the BNP writing on Conservativehome:  “Britain is full, declares Nick Griffin at every opportunity, and he is right.”

Officially, of course, the Tory Party denies that either reflects official Party policy and can distance the Party from such free-lance comments by “junior” politicians.  In reality, the comments come from an official candidate selected to be a Conservative MP and the other comes with the imprint of a sitting Conservative MP.

I expect we will get more of this.

Friday
Feb 26,2010

Fanatical followers of this blog (and you both know who you are) will be aware that – as is my habit – I posted a short tongue-in-cheek piece from the Metropolitan Police Authority meeting at 11.06 on Thursday 25th February.

This poked gentle fun at the man I call the DCiC (Dog-Catcher-in-Chief), Kit Malthouse, and his sensitivity about the nit-picking from the Green’s Jenny Jones at his attendance record.  I referred to his boast that he had attended 46 meetings since the last session of the MPA and this Stakhanovite work-rate was even more impressive given that he had been on holiday for a week of that time.  I also mentioned his nickname: “HoT” – a reference to his Hand on Tiller fixation.

Sometimes I think my sense of humour is rather esoteric and unlikely to be shared by anyone else, so it was gratifying to learn that some three hours later at 2.02 Ross Lydall posted his own thoughts on the same subject on the Evening Standard web-site.  He even has his own nickname for Kit – he calls him “The Tillerman” and he linked to the same article as I did to illustrate the nitpicking.

My cup runneth over – I am not alone.

We clearly are thinking the same.

Ross Lydall, under the headline

Met chairman Kit Malthouse: Tea for the ‘Tillerman’ at so many meetings

said:

“Kit Malthouse began his first meeting as chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority by revealing he had attended or chaired 46 meetings since the MPA last met (on January 28). What’s more, he had squeezed in a week’s holiday to boot.

Kit Malthouse Why this inconsequential start to proceedings? Because the Greens made quite a fusson the eve of his confirmation hearing as MPA chair (he succeeds the fleeing Boris, who has obviously realised what hard work it is) by revealing that Kit had failed to ever attend all three key MPA sub-committees of which he is a member in the 18 months since the Tory takeover of City Hall.”

And I said (just three hours earlier):

“The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the DCiC*, Deputy Mayor Kit “HoT”** Malthouse AM is in the Chair.

And the DCiC was showing his sensitive side.  He has clearly been hurt by the criticism that he is too busy to fulfil the role of MPA Chair and the nit-picking about his attendance record at MPA Committee meetings.  So the item on the agenda for his oral report consisted merely of him telling the Authority that he had had 46 meetings in the last month – and as he was away or one of the weeks concerned that works out as a productivity rate of around 3 per working day.

He promises to keep us informed of his work rate at future meetings, but that will not satisfy Jenny Jones AM.  She wants an indicator measuring the “quality” of the meetings.  No doubt those meeting HoT in future will be asked to fill in a form afterwards asking “how was it for them?”

However, HoT is clearly alive to this danger: he assured the Authority that he prefers what he calls “action” to meetings.”

Now isn’t that nice ….

Thursday
Feb 25,2010

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and the DCiC*, Deputy Mayor Kit “HoT”** Malthouse AM is in the Chair.

And the DCiC was showing his sensitive side.  He has clearly been hurt by the criticism that he is too busy to fulfil the role of MPA Chair and the nit-picking about his attendance record at MPA Committee meetings.  So the item on the agenda for his oral report consisted merely of him telling the Authority that he had had 46 meetings in the last month – and as he was away or one of the weeks concerned that works out as a productivity rate of around 3 per working day.

He promises to keep us informed of his work rate at future meetings, but that will not satisfy Jenny Jones AM.  She wants an indicator measuring the “quality” of the meetings.  No doubt those meeting HoT in future will be asked to fill in a form afterwards asking “how was it for them?”

However, HoT is clearly alive to this danger: he assured the Authority that he prefers what he calls “action” to meetings.

But the DCiC was also in magnanimous mood.  He recommended that his Conservative colleague, Tony Arbour AM, should be appointed to the MPA’s Strategic and Operational Policing Committee (despite two years of efforts by the Conservative Group on the London Assembly to keep Tony Arbour off the MPA itself and strenuous efforts at previous meetings to resist extra members being appointed to the Strategic and Operational Policing Committee).  It was mischievously suggested instead he should go on the under-subscribed Finance and Resources Committee.  However, this was squashed firmly when Tony Arbour told the Authority “You should never trust me with money” – a reassuring remark to the residents of Richmond-upon-Thames where he used to be Council Leader.

*    Dog-Catcher-in-Chief

**  Hand-on-Tiller

Thursday
Feb 25,2010

The General Medical Council has tonight suspended Adam Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor’s brother, from practicing medicine for six months.  The GMC has taken this action “to protect public interest”.

The Chair of the Panel who made the decision said that Osborne “seemed unable to grasp that an act of dishonesty remained an act of dishonesty”.

The incidents that led to the suspension apparently arose from a meeting between Osborne and an escort girl in a hospital car park.  According to the BBC:

“On 12 May 2008, the escort girl named as “Miss B” in court met Dr Osborne in the hospital car park.

She had earlier discharged herself from another hospital and was suffering from hallucinations as the result of heavy cocaine use.

Dr Osborne wrote out a prescription for anti-psychotic drugs haloperidol and lorazepam and falsified parts of the form because he only knew her first name.

He was denied the drugs when hospital staff could not match the patient’s name, so Dr Osborne drove to a pharmacy for the drugs.”

Apparently:

“He had earlier admitted acting inappropriately in relation to the private prescription and one for his then-girlfriend and a family member.”

Wednesday
Feb 24,2010

When I posted yesterday on the subject of dangerous dogs, I didn’t know that just a short time before there had been a serious incident in which a police officer had been attacked in South London.

The subsequent Metropolitan Police statement was as follows:

“Shortly before 12.00 noon on Tuesday 23 February, a 57 year old male police officer, was attacked and bitten by two pit-bull dogs in the back garden of a residential property in Sladedale Road SE18.

Officers were attending the address to arrest the occupant for non-payment of a £1500 fine.

One PC placed himself in the garden of the neighbouring property in case the suspect tried to make off from his address.

This officer was attacked as the dogs subsequently jumped from the suspect’s garden over the fence to reach him.

A specialist dog section was called to subdue the dogs but due to their violent behaviour armed officers were called to the scene and the dogs were destroyed.

The injured officer was taken to a south London hospital suffering from approx 15 bites to his chest, face and arms. He has now been discharged but remains placed sick at present.

A 55-year-old man was arrested for non-payment of the £1500 fine, and was also arrested under the Dangerous Dog Act and on suspicion of assault on a police officer. He is currently in custody at a south London Police station.

He was also arrested on suspicion of assault GBH in relation to an incident in 2008 where a woman was attacked by two large brown pit-bull type dogs on Roydene Road SE18.

She sustained significant injuries to her body from the attack.

DI Bruce Galbraith, from Greenwich CID said: “This was an extremely distressing experience for this officer who was violently attacked by these dogs. We would like to ask the public to come forward and let us know if there have been any other incidents with these dogs or any information that may assist us with our investigation.”"

I understand that a man has been charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act and will appear in Court tomorrow.

A timely reminder that the concerns expressed by MPA members were absolutely right.

But an even more salutary reminder of the risks faced by police officers every day.

Wednesday
Feb 24,2010

The ubiquitous Guido Fawkes reports this morning that he has received personal details of every Conservative Parliamentary candidate – courtesy (presumably a mistake) of Conservative Central Office.

Looks like a potential breach of the Data Protection Act to me.

And the Information Commissioner can now levy heftier fines …..

Tuesday
Feb 23,2010

Rather belatedly, I have been looking at the new GLA web-site.

I am sure it is very wonderful and well worth its cost in terms of the improvement on the old web-site.

However, it does show us the limited ambition of Mayor Boris Johnson and his administration.

At the foot of the Home Page is the heading “WHO RUNS LONDON” followed by a helpful list of the key figures and agencies.

Not surprisingly, the London Assembly is bottom of the list.

But second from the bottom is the Mayor of London (below Londoners and the London Boroughs).

And what heads the list:  Central Government, of course.

So now we know – Mayor Boris Johnson has already run up the white flag and surrendered.  Is that why he is so keen to get back in the House of Commons?

Tuesday
Feb 23,2010

I spoke at a conference this morning, grandly entitled “The Policing and Crime Act: Putting People First” and I found myself in the rather unexpected and unusual position of defending the Dog-Catcher-in-Chief (DCiC) himself, Deputy Mayor Kit “Hand on Tiller” (HoT) Malthouse AM.

I was talking about the inter-action between politicians and the police service and made the point that one of the functions of a police authority is to help sensitise police chiefs to the issues that matter to the communities they both serve.  We ended up discussing as an example the issue of dangerous “attack” dogs.

This is a topic which led the Metropolitan Police to brief the press about their exasperation (“he’s on the phone every day”)  over the vigour with which the DCiC was pursuing the matter.  I pointed out that the Metropolitan Police Authority – in particular, Cindy Butts – had been raising concerns about the increasing prevalence of such dogs in London and the extent to which they were used to intimidate and threaten people.  In my local park you routinely see youths training their dogs to hang from tree branches by their jaws and most big-city dwellers will have similar stories.  The DCiC picked up on these concerns and pressed the Metropolitan Police to take the issues more seriously.  This they have now done.

This is not about interfering with the operational independence of chief constables.  It is about highlighting legitimate public concern and encouraging the police service to respond operationally in a proportionate and appropriate fashion.

I am sure that, even without the DCiC’s pressure and that of MPA colleagues, the Metropolitan Police would eventually have taken action.  But police authority intervention hastened that action by highlighting public concern.  And I rather think that most Londoners welcomed that.

It is a bit like what Winston Churchill is alleged to have said about the United States “The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”  For Americans read the Metropolitan Police, although I am not sure who the Churchill-equivalent would be in this case.

Monday
Feb 22,2010

The House of Lords has been without a Minister at the Department of Health since Lord Ara Darzi stood down last July to resume his role as a full-time surgeon at Imperial College.  In the intervening time, all health matters in the Lords (and apart from a substantial legislative load there are a huge number of health related questions) have been dealt with by Baroness Glenys Thornton, in addition to her role as a Government Whip.  Finally, after seven months, the position has been rectified with Glenys being appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health.

This is being widely welcomed in the Labour Peers’ Group where her hard work – hitherto unrecognised – leading on Department of Health issues has been much praised.

And it is good to see a former Chair of the Greater London Labour Party being properly rewarded.