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Archive for March, 2011

Thursday
Mar 31,2011

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

Thursday
Mar 31,2011

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.

As usual he began the meeting by outlining his recent doings.  Clearly, the high spot of the last month – and he deviated from his script to describe it, almost rubbing his hands together with glee – was his participation on a raid that took place at 4.30am a few days ago.

He particularly praised the “rapid-entry team” which he had watched from “some long way behind”.

Naturally, I was concerned about the DCiC’s safety being in proximity to such an operation.  Had he worn an anti-stab vest?  He told us he had been offered one, but declined it.  However, he promised us that he could be very nimble on his feet should it have been necessary.  The MPA was duly reassured.

*    Dog-Catcher-in-Chief

**  Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

Friday
Mar 25,2011

I have just got back from speaking at a well-attended meeting of Leyton and Wanstead Labour Party. A lively group of 50 or so Party activists quizzed me on policing in London (does the Mayor’s budget add up?), the terrorist threat (is it being over-stated?), Yates-of-the-Yard (is the DPP lying?), Ken Livingstone’s vision for London, is Mayor Boris Johnson ever going to get a grip on the key issues facing London (not much sign of it so far), and who is behind the up-risings in North Africa (not Boris Johnson)?

Thursday
Mar 24,2011

If you are not too easily shocked, you can either read Andrew Lansley’s proposals for the NHS or you can watch this:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl1jPqqTdNo

Wednesday
Mar 23,2011

Yesterday was Polling Day.  You may have missed this.  It was Polling Day in the House of Lords.  And all Members of the House had a vote.

The occasion was a by-election to elect an hereditary peer to fill the vacancy following the sad death of Lord David Strabolgi at age of 96.  92 hereditary peers continue to sit and vote in the House of Lords and when one of them dies there has to be a by-election in which olnly hereditary peers can stand to fill the vacancy.  75 of the 92 represent their political parties (or the cross-benches) and in any by-election the only peers who can vote are the “elected” hereditary peers from the relevant grouping.  However, Lord Strabolgi was one of fifteen hereditary peers elected by the whole House (two others are “hereditary office-bearers”).

Such all-House by-elections are rare events and in yesterday’s by-election 414 peers voted.  The voting was by the alternative vote system – so those voting had to number their preferences (never say that the House of Lords is not at the cutting edge of electoral practices).

And the result has been announced today.  In fact, the alternative vote wasn’t needed, as the successful candidate secured more than fifty per cent of first preference votes – 233 out of 414.

So Viscount Hanworth was elected and will take the Labour Whip in the Lords.

The runner-up (Earl Carlisle) got 26 votes – one of six candidates to get more than ten votes. Seventeen candidates got less than ten of which four got no votes at all

Isn’t democracy wonderful?

Monday
Mar 21,2011

I see that Ken Livingstone has launched a petition designed to hold David Cameron and Boris Johnson to their promises on the NHS and in particular to:

* Protect Health Care services

* Stop precious NHS money being wasted on a big top-down reorganisation which is putting the NHS at risk

* Provide the real increase we were promised in NHS funding

You can sign by going to: http://www.campaignengineroom.org.uk/nhsos

Monday
Mar 21,2011

I was intrigued by this unsigned article on Homeland Security Newswire earlier today which suggests that the current UN-approved bombing campaign in Libya is rather half-hearted and without clear objectives:

“The weekend attacks on targets inside Libya raise more questions about NATO’s ultimate goal in the campaign.

Here is what we know about the attacks on Libya, based on reports by the BBC and Fox News: On the military front

  •  
    • The United States fired 124 Tomahawk missiles onto strategic air defense systems across Libya.
    • There were no reports of any allied planes being lost and no reports of civilian injury.
    • A total of 15 U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft engaged Libya, including three B2 bombers. The bombers targeted pro-Qaddafi ground forces.
    • The U.S. has at least eleven naval vessels in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers, two amphibious warfare ships, and the USS Mount Whitney, a command-and-control vessel that is the flagship of the Navy’s 6th Fleet.
    • Also in the area are Navy P-3 and EP-3 surveillance aircraft.
    • Qatar is to send four planes to join the coalition enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone. The move would make Qatar the first Arab country to play an active part in the campaign against Col Gaddafi.
    • Other Arab countries are also preparing to join the campaign against Col Gaddafi, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the director of the Joint Staff, said, adding that those governments would make their own announcements in due course.
    • The build-up of forces to enforce the no-fly zone continues. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has left the Mediterranean port of Toulon for Libya.
    • Denmark and Norway are each sending six planes. Spain has sent at least three planes, plus a refuelling aircraft, while Italy also has jets ready to deploy.
    • In a news conference on Sunday, a Libyan military spokesman said its armed forces had ordered a ceasefire across the entire country, beginning at 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT).
    • Despite the announcement, the BBC correspondent says that pro-Gaddafi troops have tried to enter Benghazi and have been in action at Misrata.
    • A rebel spokesman in Misrata told the BBC that pro-Gaddafi forces had launched fresh attacks on Sunday with heavy shelling.

On the political front

  •  
    • The head of the Arab League, who supported the idea of a no-fly zone, has criticized the severity of the bombardment. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. Arab League support was a key factor in getting UN Security Council backing for the resolution authorizing the move.

Questions

1. It is not clear, exactly, what targets have been attacked – and what is the overall goal of the campaign. Libya does not have an army the size of Iraq’s circa 2003, but an attack by 124 cruise missiles is on the limited side – and the numbers of planes involved is also on the small side.

2. This small-scale attack may – just may – disrupt Libyan air operations, but unless command, control, and communication facilities were destroyed as well, Gaddafi ’s ability to control his armed forces could not have been degraded by much.

3. Degrading Gaddafi’s capabilities is one thing, but unless the military capabilities – and training — of the anti-government rebels are augmented, they will not be a match to Gaddafi’s regular army, even if that army is shorn of its air assets.

4. The Sudanese campaign in Darfur demonstrated that men on camels need only AK-47s – and the Janjaweed were only AK-47-equipped men on camels — to kill a lot of people and terrorize even more. Unless Gaddafi’s regular units, and his tribal power base, are attacked, his ability to cause a lot of harms remains undiminished.

In short: If what we know about the weekend air campaign is accurate, then there is not enough in it materially to weaken Gaddafi and his forces, nor is there anything in it to strengthen those who oppose him.

The conclusion, then, must be that the campaign is more a part of a complex bargaining process with Gaddafi than a serious effort to topple him from power.

It would be wise for NATO leaders to be clearer about the goal of the campaign against Gaddafi. Democratic public opinion would demand it, and the Arab world, watching the West’s every move, should not be allowed to have unrealistic expectations about what it is we are trying to achieve.”

Certainly, it seems to me that the most likely outcome of what is happening at present is a gruesome stalemate with  Gaddafi in charge of a (reduced) rogue state.  And whilst this might be preferable to an alienated Gaddafi in charge of the whole of Libya, such an outcome is still very worrying and destabilising for the region (if not more widely) with nations like the USA, France and Britain appearing to be in the position of – yet again – bombing a Muslim country.

And will we – and the UN – take the same stance over other regimes in the region taking a similar approach as Gaddafi to dissent on their streets?

Probably not  is the answer.

None of these are easy issues for the UK Government. 

The only entertaining feature is watching Mayor Boris Johnson seeking to establish a little blue water between himself and his Party Leader over the issue, as Gaby Hinsliff tweets:

“& here’s Boris Johnson “helping” no 10 by explaining how risky #libya is. http://bit.ly/gQ1Tk3. note ref to risks of terrorist reprisal”

Tuesday
Mar 15,2011

I meant to post about this yesterday, but didn’t get round to it.  Nevertheless, it really is too comprehensive a squelching not to highlight.

Yesterday, in Lords’ Question Time Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the former Leader of the UK Independence Party, had the following question on the Order Paper:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Botswana about their complying with the 1966 constitution, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and recent court judgments in their dealings with Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.”

This elicited a response from Lord Wallace of Saltaire as follows:

“My Lords, the UK follows closely the situation of the San communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We will continue to encourage dialogue between the San communities and the Government of Botswana, and we raise the issue at appropriate levels. We welcome the Government of Botswana’s announcement that they will respect and facilitate the implementation of the recent decision of the court of appeal granting San community members the right to access and sink boreholes within the reserve.”

Lord Pearson then put his supplementary:

“My Lords, that is, of course, good news. However, as the Government of Botswana have overridden court judgments in the past, do Her Majesty’s Government accept that we have perhaps a special responsibility in this matter, because we did, after all, give Botswana its constitution in 1966, and it has been consistently abused? Will the Government, as the noble Lord has indicated, pay particular attention to making sure that the Bushmen have free access to their reserve, to their water supply and, indeed, to new boreholes?”

And then Lord Wallace went in for the kill (like a predator in  the Central Kalahari Game Reserve):

“My Lords, I am not sure that the Government accept that the constitution has been consistently abused, but I welcome the noble Lord’s support for this ethnic minority and its culture, for his vigorous support for the international human rights regime and his insistence that human rights obligations limit state sovereignty. I also congratulate him on his support for the rule of law as a limiting factor on majoritarian democracy, and I am sure that he will hold true to all these principles in his approach to the EU Bill next week. I particularly welcome his reference to the ruling of the Botswana appeal court, which the Botswana Government have clearly accepted. As he will know, the court is, unusually, composed of foreign judges. The judgment is signed by two South African judges and one each from Ghana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, the last of whom is called McNally. I am glad that the noble Lord recognises that foreign judges can reinforce domestic standards of human rights.”

So courteous: ” I welcome the noble Lord’s ….. vigorous support for the international human rights regime and his insistence that human rights obligations limit state sovereignty.”

Then the stiletto: ” I also congratulate him on his support for the rule of law as a limiting factor on majoritarian democracy, and I am sure that he will hold true to all these principles in his approach to the EU Bill next week.”

And for good measure: “As he will know, the court is, unusually, composed of foreign judges. ….. I am glad that the noble Lord recognises that foreign judges can reinforce domestic standards of human rights.”

Squelch, squelch, and squelch again!

Monday
Mar 14,2011

Garlanded with awards, “The King’s Speech” has been for many people the film of the year.

Although there are a number of historical niggles – for example, unlike in the film, in reality Winston Churchill was a supporter of King Edward VIII’s right to marry Mrs Simpson and keep the Crown, it was nevertheless a good film.

So if we are not worried about historical accuracy, why didn’t they go all the way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrSReCr3214

Monday
Mar 14,2011

On Wednesday afternoon the House of Lords will consider the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011.

And what does this worthy statutory instrument do?

The explanatory note says:

“The Regulations amend Schedule 1 (The Mayoral Elections Rules) and Schedule 3 (Mayoral Election (Combination of Polls) Rules) to the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007. The amendments in each case enable a candidate who is standing for election on behalf of two or more registered political parties to request that the ballot paper in an election may feature, alongside the candidate’s particulars, an emblem registered by one of those political parties.”

This means that a candidate can be put up by more than one Party and the respective Party emblems can appear on the ballot paper.

Why is this being introduced now?

Could it be that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have privately agreed to put up joint candidates in future Mayoral elections?

Do they envisage their two emblems flying proudly side by side?

Have they told their respective Parties?

And what would Margaret Thatcher say?