Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for July, 2010

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

Steve O’Connell, a Conservative member of the London Assembly and a Croydon Council Cabinet member, has a bee in his bonnet about the cost of policing public demonstrations.  He has raised it at the London Assembly and now today at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority he asked the Commissioner how costs could be reduced.

His thesis is that policing demonstrations costs a lot of money and that for most Londoners there are higher policing priorities.  Both points are true.  However, his conclusion goes rather further.

His proposal is – in essence – that in an era of financial austerity demonstration organisers should be told that their demonstration cannot go ahead if the police cannot afford to police it properly.

So the implication is that in the future demonstrations – particularly if they are likely to be controversial or that the participants are likely to be angry or rowdy (and who is going to judge that?) – are liable to be banned and if they go ahead those participating will be arrested (also not without its policing implications).

Steve O’Connell is a senior member of the Metropolitan Police Authority (he chairs the Finance Committee). He is also a senior member of the Conservative Party in London.

It is no accident that he has raised these points now.

The Coalition Government knows how problematic some of their policies are going to be, particularly as the massive cuts in public services start to take effect.

They also know how convenient it will be if dissent can be suppressed in the name of cost saving.

Steve O’Connell was clearly flying a kite on behalf of the Coalition.  He certainly hasn’t been slapped down by more senior members of his Party.

So what price their alleged commitment to civil liberties?

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, DCiC* and SDEI**, is NOT in the Chair.  (This was not a deliberate snub to the petitioner but a pre-planned holiday enabling him to devote August to cuttingreviewing the Metropolitan Police budget.)

So it was left to the MPA’s Vice Chair, Reshard Auladin, to welcome former Mayor, Ken Livingstone, into the Chamber at City Hall to present his petition to the Authority.  His petition was an initial shot across the bows of the Mayor’s budget process for the Metropolitan Police (hand on tiller: Kit Malthouse) and said:

‘We call on the Tory led Metropolitan Police Authority and the Tory Mayor Boris Johnson to reverse the decision to cut 455 police officers and guarantee the future of London’s dedicated 630 safer neighbourhood police teams.’

The discussion was predictable, but the body language of Conservative Assembly Members was more interesting.  They displayed all the signs of having been through a trade union negotiating skills course as taught during the 1970s.  This would have educated them in the value of distraction activity while an opponent (ie management) is talking.

In this case, as Ken Livingstone started his presentation (5 minutes as permitted by Standing Orders), Steve O’Connell‘s distress at having the former Mayor in the same room became apparent.  He pulled faces, chewed his glasses, tapped his pen frenetically on the desk, leant back in his chair studying the roof of City Hall eight floors above, and finally got up from his seat, so that he could walk to the edge of the Chamber with his back to the former Mayor and gaze at the river and the Tower of London.  Meanwhile, James Cleverly wandered in late, realised with a look of shock that he would be sitting adjacent to Ken Livingstone, and then spent a happy few minutes shuffling his papers without looking to his side.

And what was the substance of the Conservative response?  It seemed to rest on the fact that the police officers being lost from the budget were displaced by a policy decision taken during Ken Livingstone’s Mayoralty.  That decision related to police officers being released from administrative duties and replaced by specialist staff – a more sensible use of resources.  Ken’s point was that he would have reallocated those officers to front-line duties rather than seeing a net drop in police numbers.

This then degenerated into  “We’re all in this together/Mismanagement of the economy by the previous Government” rant from Steve O’Connell – despite the fact that the cut in numbers relates to a Mayoral budget agreed last year in advance of the current financial problems.

And James Cleverly, who had promised in his blog that he would “tear into Livingstone” at the meeting confined himself to suggesting that the Police Authority should stop receiving petitions as they might be used for political purposes (actually, as an old-style Stalinist, I rather agree with that point, but his intervention was hardly the “going for the jugular” moment we had been led to expect).

*DCiC = Dog Catcher in Chief

**SDEI = Shadow Directly Elected Individual

Wednesday
Jul 21,2010

A liitle bird tells me that Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, is apparently impatient with – if not irritated by – some of the tone of recent meetings of the Metropolitan Police Authority.  He feels that the questions he is asked by some members of the Authority are hardly strategic or are nit-picking in tone and certainly fail to acknowledge the overall good performance of the Met.

I am told he is particularly infuriateddelighted by a number of the questions tabled for tomorrow’s meeting of the Authority.

His particular favourites include:

“Can the Commissioner provide details of the Diversity Training that individual members of the MPS Management Board have received in the past 3 years.” (tabled by Chris Boothman)

And this:

“According to press reports:  ‘Police are to take a more relaxed approach to children cycling on pavements after Boris Johnson secured support from the Met Commissioner.  Sir Paul Stephenson is backing the Mayor’s suggested change.’  Is it true that Sir Paul is backing this move?  If so:  What does Sir Paul feel might be the equality implications of this policy change?  Has an equality impact assessment been done on it?  If so, can we see a copy? If not, will one be done before the policy change comes into effect?” (tabled by Kirsten Hearn)

(It is, of course, true that people cycling on the pavement is hazardous for frail pedestrians or those with disabilities.  Although it is also true that young children would be in danger cycling on busy roads.)

But the question that has provoked the most (so far) private invective is this one relating to Sir Paul’s highly regarded Police Foundation lecture:

“In your speech to the Police Foundation you talked about the devastating impact that organised crime has on the economy, and the problems that you have in tackling this problem. I think it’s regrettable that we need to read about this in the press. Do you not think that this is an important issue which it would have been appropriate to discuss with members of the MPA at the Full Authority?” (tabled by Dee Doocey)

I am sure that, as usual, Sir Paul will behave impeccably at the meeting and that the mask of civility will not slip.  But privately, he will be looking forward to this month’s White Paper that is expected to confirm the coalition Government’s plans to abolish police authorities.

Tuesday
Jul 20,2010

I was one of the few non-Kurds present at a meeting tonight organised by Kurds for Labour in support of David Miliband’s campaign to be Leader of the Labour Party.

About two hundred (or at least that’s what it felt like) supporters packed into the tiny but excellent Troia restaurant (just opposite the old County Hall) to hear David Miliband outline his vision for the future of the Labour Party, deliver a ringing endorsement of the diversity of London and praise the success of the London Labour Party’s community campaigning in winning so many Councils in May.

He rightly received a warm and enthusiastic reception and this was echoed by those diners in other nearby cafes and restaurants when the event spilled out into Belvedere Road after David’s speech was over.

An excellent sign of the depth of David Miliband’s support.

Tuesday
Jul 20,2010

Apparently, last weekend the Vatican was subjected to a cyber attack from an unknown source.  According to the Rome-based Zenit News Agency, the attack meant that anyone typing Vatican into Google was directed to the site “www.pedofilo.com” as the first suggestion, rather than the proper Vatican Web page.  According to the Agency:

“When this misdirection was discovered, Google was informed, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.

The Internet organization immediately apologized and assured the Holy See that it would do what it could to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

On Sunday morning the problem seemed to be corrected, as users were once again directed to the proper Vatican Web page upon initiating a search for it.

Although the person who caused this problem has not been found, the indications suggested that the operation may have been carried out by someone who had significant knowledge of how Google functions.”

Heavens!  Is nothing sacred?

Tuesday
Jul 20,2010

I have just had a meeting with a senior civil servant in his office in one of the more security-conscious parts of the Whitehall diaspora. I couldn’t help noticing the four separate screens on his desk. When I asked, he explained that one screen allowed him to access public material, one monitor was linked to a computer system that was authorised to handle material up to a RESTRICTED classification, another to a system that could handle CONFIDENTIAL material, and the fourth was – you guessed it – was for SECRET items.
I was suitably impressed.

Thursday
Jul 15,2010

In Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, David Cameron repeatedly dodged Harriet Harman’s question on the maximum 14-day wait for patients with suspected cancer.

The question she asked was quite simple:

“This week the Government published their White Paper on the national health service. They say that they will get rid of targets. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether patients will keep their guaranteed right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of seeing their GP?”

His answer was less than clear:

“As for the NHS, what we have decided is that we will keep targets only when they actually contribute to clinical outcomes. We all want to see a higher cancer survival rate. I am afraid that, after 13 years of Labour government, we have not the best cancer outcomes in Europe, and we want the best cancer outcomes. That means rapid treatment, yes, but it also means rapid follow-up, and it means people getting the radiotherapy, chemotherapy and drugs that they need. Those are all essential. The one thing that we on this side of the House will do is continue to put real-terms increases into the NHS, whereas I understand that it is now Labour policy to cut the NHS.”

Harriet Harman tried again:

“Quite apart from the anxiety of having to wait, results are best if treatment starts as soon as possible. That is why it is important to be diagnosed and to see a specialist quickly.

The Prime Minister has not answered the question. The whole House will have seen that. He has dodged the question, just as his Health Secretary did. This is what the Health Secretary said in the House when he, too, was dodging the question:

“I have not said that we are abandoning any of the cancer waiting-time targets at the moment”.

I ask the Prime Minister to give us a straight answer. Will cancer patients keep their guarantee to see a specialist within two weeks—yes or no?”

David Cameron fudged again:

“For some people, two weeks is too long. That is the whole point. If a target contributes to good clinical outcomes, it stays; if it does not, it goes.”

As Harriet Harman pointed out:

“…. the Prime Minister has still not answered. He is obviously ditching the guarantee for cancer patients, but he has not the guts to admit it to the House.”

However, a different response was given in the Lords, when Labour’s Lord Alf Dubs pressed the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health, Earl Howe, on the same point.  This was the exchange:

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can do better than the Prime Minister did in Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today, when he declined to give a guarantee that the 14-day period, within which cancer patients should receive hospital treatment, would be upheld. Can he confirm that the Government will stick to the 14-day period?

Earl Howe: My Lords, that target of a 14-day referral period has a definite clinical underpinning. There are certainly no plans to abolish it.”

That was as clear an answer as you could get.

However, the bad news for cancer patients (and also probably for the good Earl Howe’s job security), when the Lords’ answer was put to the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson later in the day, he stuck with the Prime Minister’s fudge and refused to give a clear answer.

Monday
Jul 12,2010

Earlier this evening I heard Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, deliver the Police Foundation Annual Lecture (given each year in memory of Lord John Harris – no relation).

Sir Paul’s lecture, entitled “Fighting Organised Crime in an Era of Financial Austerity”, was insightful and thought-provoking.

And the thought it provoked in me was how does tackling serious crime fit into the Coalition Government’s agenda?

The answer, if you listen to Sir Paul (although he was much too polite to say it so explicitly), was that it doesn’t.

The lecture spelt out the impact that serious organised crime has directly and indirectly on communities and its financial and economic cost to the country.  And Sir Paul then pointed out that, despite the significant improvements in recent years:

“The specialist resources devoted by the police service to addressing the threat from organised crime remains uncoordinated.  ….  the  service has no organised crime strategy, no established national tasking process and no meaningful performance measures.”

He didn’t say – although he could have done – that the Coalition’s Programme for Government doesn’t mention serious organised crime in the chapter on “Crime and Policing” and the closest it gets to a mention anywhere in the document is in the chapter on “Immigration” which promises to:

“create a dedicated Border Police Force, as part of a refocused Serious Organised Crime Agency, to enhance national security, improve immigration controls and crack down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. We will work with police forces to strengthen arrangements to deal with serious crime and other cross-boundary policing challenges, and extend collaboration between forces to deliver better value for money.”

Refocussing SOCA on immigration hardly solves the problem Sir Paul was describing.

He did, however, reveal that the Government is now drafting a paper on organised crime – so I suppose that must be progress.  However, before we get our expectations too high, he warns that this:

“must not be a collection of fine words and generic statements.”

…. perhaps he’s seen the draft.

And he concluded with a stark warning:

“I wonder how many Chief Constables across the country are going to be able and willing to balance the very proper desire and requirement for local community policing, with the challenge of maintaining at least existing capability to deal with the high end but often less obvious demands of serious organised crime.  And is the situation about to get even more complex?  Will the new accountability and governance model for police forces, incorporating directly elected local individuals, lead to the unintended consequence of further eroding existing limited organised crime capability?”

And, if the Coalition omits tackling serious organised crime from its programme for crime and policing, what will happen with directly elected police chiefs?

I hope we don’t have to wait for a Sicilian-style breakdown of civic authority before tackling organised crime reappears on the Coalition’s priority list.

Thursday
Jul 8,2010

I very rarely try to catch TV or radio programmes in which I have been interviewed, but after a couple of people mentioned how good the programme was, I did make an exception and tracked down the broadcast from last Monday afternoon.

So I have only just listened to the Radio 4 feature programme “The Summer That Changed London“.  As an evocation of London and, in particular, the impact of July 2005 (the month of Live8, the declaration of London as the venue for the 2012 Olympics, the 7/7 bombings, the 21/7 failed bombings, and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes) on London and Londoners, it is brilliant.

But don’t take my word for it, listen – you can disregard the clips from my interview.   But hurry, you only have two days before it comes off the web-site.