Don’t get too excited but the LibDem Conference sometimes passes halfway sensible motions.
Earlier today in fact the Conference called for a strengthening of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In particular, the motion calls for the powers of the IPCC to cover explicitly the role of contractors to police services and their employees. Given the current debate about getting private firms to provide some police functions, this is an issue that must be addressed.
The motion also called for an end to the IPCC practice of allowing some investigations into alleged police malpractice to be investigated by the police themselves (subject to supervision by an IPCC Commissioner) and the motion called for the IPCC to be given the resources to employ enough of their own independent investigators to enable this to happen.
Strange then that this sensible proposal should come just after Nick Clegg has surrendered all LibDem influence over the Home Office by making it a LibDem-free zone following a reshuffle that left the Home Office without a single LibDem voice in the ministerial team.
UPDATE: I am reminded that Jeremy Browne is a LibDem and is also the new Minister for Crime Reduction. My only excuse is that I always thought he was a Tory …..
Anyway, it will be interesting to see what progress he makes in strengthening the IPCC over the next few months. I wish him well with that one.
I got through four Opposition Leaders in my time as Leader of Haringey Council. One subsequently stood unsuccessfully for the London Assembly, another became an Alderman of the City of London Corporation, and the third lapsed into obscurity as a junior LibDem minister in the Coalition government.
The fourth was Andrew Mitchell.After he stood down from Haringey Council, he went on to have a glittering career as a barrister, becoming a QC and head of his own Chambers. I understand he is now the leading legal expert on asset confiscation and forfeiture. He was an effective and challenging (from my point of view) Leader of the Opposition and could usually be relied on to highlight substantive policy issues and (painfully) any – and it did happen sometimes – weaknesses there might be in the argument I was putting forward.
He was also unfailingly courteous and polite.
From which you will gather he is not the same Andrew Mitchell as the new Government Chief Whip and star of PlebGate
However, it might have been easy to get confused.
And so – a little bird tells me – twenty years ago, Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell summoned Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell to see him in the House of Commons to tell him that the Conservative Party was too small for there to be two Andrew Mitchell’s in it.
The solution was straightforward said Andrew “Pleb” Mitchell, you (ie Andrew “Haringey” Mitchell) must change your name to avoid this confusion.
So Pleb’s arrogance was there even then. It is not something he has acquired with high office – he was always like that.
The Garter King of Arms is, as I am sure you know, the senior of the three English Kings of Arms. The office takes its name from the Order of the Garter. Henry V instituted the office of Garter in 1415 just before sailing for France.
My experience of his office is recounted here when he argued with me about the correct spelling of Haringey given the way it was done in the Domesday Book.
However, the College of Arms keeps itself up-to-date and in these straitened times is always on the look out for new sources of income.
A little bird tells me that he has written to all Chief Constables to remind them the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act abolishes police authorities and transfers their powers to elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
You may wonder why this is of concern to the Garter King of Arms (Chief Constables haave their own concerns about this).
The answer, of course, is straightforward: the Armorial Bearings used by most police forces on cap badges, letterheads, websites etc were granted to Police Authorities.
And, if Police Authorities disappear, the right to bear the Coat of Arms lapses with them.
This would potentially make the cap badges on police helmets illegal. I am sure many police officers – and certainly their Chief Constables – would find this a deeply discomforting situation.
Fortunately, the Garter King of Arms has a solution and says in his letter:
“The Kings of Arms think that it would be appropriate for a Royal License to be issued transferring the Armorial Bearings to the office of Chief Constable for use by the Constabulary.”
And just in case elected Police and Crime Commissioners feel hurt he has a solution for them as well:
“In such cases, the Kings of Arms would also be prepared to grant a variation of the Shield alone to the office of Police and Crime Commissioners for each authority.”
A wise compromise you may feel. However, such matters cannot be done on a shoe-string as Garter goes on to make clear:
“If you are interested in pursuing this I should be happy to give you particulars of the procedure and cost.”
And please form an orderly* queue outside the College of Arms …..
*Any disorderly behaviour will be dealt with the City of London Police – as the College of Arms lies within their territory – and of course they are one of the few forces not affected by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act and will not have an elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
No doubt I will be told that I don’t understand the nuances of American politics, but I can’t help feeling that Tropical Storm Isaac’s disruption of the Republican Party Convention at Tampa in Florida is not the problem for Mitt Romney’s strategists that they are suggesting it is.
Conventional wisdom is it that a Presidential candidate – particularly one that is already securely nominated – gains a political boost from his Party’s Convention and the TV exposure that it brings. In this case, the Republican Party was hoping to relaunch/repackage their Presidential candidate and demonstrate to/bamboozle an excited American electorate that Mitt Romney was Presidential in timbre, had the vision thing, and was an-all-round nice decent guy (oh and that his Mormonism is OK really).
Now that some of the Convention has already had to be cancelled because of Tropical Storm Isaac this plan is in disarray.
However, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is also determined to use the Convention to write into the Party’s platform their particularly weird mix of ideology, including such gems as:
This, of course, would be on top of Mitt Romney’s own platform of massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax increases for other Americans (sounds familiar).
Maybe I am naive but wouldn’t TV exposure of all this stuff strengthen the Democrats?
So perhaps Tropical Storm Isaac is actually a boon to the Republican Party and will in fact boost the chances of the rest of the world having to come to terms with President Romney in a few months time.
I have just returned from a powerful adaptation of Jack Mapanje‘s prison memoir “And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night” at the Africa Centre. The memoir tells the story of the arrest and imprisonment without charge of Jack Mapanje, an academic and poet, in the dying days of Hasting Banda’s Malawi. The arrest, probably generated by academic jealousy, led to incarceration for 3 years, 7 months and 16 days and had a profound effect not only on Jack but on his family. His release followed a lengthy campaign by Amnesty International and PEN International.
The production presented by Bilimankhwe Arts (of which I am a trustee) has an impressive central performance by Misheck Mzumara as the poet, but the entire ensemble are highly effective – particularly in showing the interplay of the prisoners sharing a single cell and their relationship with their guards.
The play runs to 18th August and tickets can be obtained here.
The House of Lords, unlike the House of Commons, is still sitting and this afternoon Baroness Jan Royall, Leader of the Opposition, asked a Private Notice Question of the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, about the position of the Trade Minister, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint.
As the Daily Telegraph has pointed out, allegations that HSBC, while Lord Green was its Chairman, allowed money laundering on a huge scale to take place are now casting a cloud over his current role as a Trade Minister. Their report says:
“The US Senate has launched a coruscating attack on HSBC for its slapdash approach to money-laundering regulations. The bank could face a $1 billion fine.
According to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “the culture at HSBC was pervasively polluted for a long time.” Just how polluted was revealed in the Senate report into the scandal. For example, between 2007 and 2008, HSBC’s Mexican operations moved $7bn into the bank’s US operations. According to the report, both Mexican and US authorities warned HSBC that the amount of money could only have reached such a level if it was tied to illegal narcotics proceeds.”
The Government’s answer boils down to saying that there is nothing that casts doubt on Lord Green’s integrity and that there is no reason that he should be held responsible for everything that the organisation of which he was chairman was doing.
However, what was he doing as Chairman of the Bank during this time? If the Bank were warned by both the Mexican and US authorities that transactions of $7 billion were tied to the illegal drugs trade, shouldn’t he have been told of the warnings. If he wasn’t, why wasn’t he and what sort of system of corporate governance was he presiding over if it was not felt that such warnings should be conveyed to the Board? Is $7 billion too small a sum for him to worry about? And if he was told, what did he do about it?
I tried unsuccessfully to get in and put a this question to the Leader of the House:
“How bad does the stench of money laundering have to be around its Trade Minister before it impacts on the reputation of the United Kingdom? And why – if his integrity is as great as we are told it is – are they so reluctant to have him come to the House and dispel that stench by setting the record straight?”
The BBC captures the full exchange here and the Hansard test is as follows:
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the allegations about HSBC made by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the ability of Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint to fulfil his ministerial duties.
Paragraph 1.2 of the Ministerial Code, which sets out the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, says that:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
Given that obligation, will the Leader of the House ask the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, to come to your Lordships’ House to place on record what he knew and when about the matters investigated by the US Senate committee, including what steps he took to deal with them? Would such a move not give the noble Lord, Lord Green, the opportunity to dispel once and for all the questions being asked about his present ministerial role?
There is no urgency in this matter. The investigation started more than two years ago. The report in question was published two weeks ago. There was no evidence of personal wrongdoing of my noble friend; indeed, there was no personal criticism whatever of my noble friend. The investigation is ongoing. As for ministerial accountability, my noble friend Lord Green is accountable to this House—to Parliament—for the work he does as a Minister. However, many Ministers have had previous careers. No Minister needs to be accountable to Parliament for their previous career, only for what they are doing as a Minister.
“We … recommend that there should be a monthly question time dedicated to questions on House of Lords matters addressed to the Leader of the House”.
Perhaps I may helpfully suggest that both today’s Question and indeed the very important one raised last week by my noble friend Lord Barnett could be handled were the Leader to accept that simple, unanimous recommendation by a committee that was set up at his instigation. I urge him to act on that recommendation as soon as possible.
Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, is Leader of the House of Lords. This afternoon he lost his temper with the venerable Lord Joel Barnett. His asperity was in contrast to what is normally expected of the peer who is supposed to be Leader of the whole House and not just of his particular faction in the Government.
As you know, I am not one to gossip, but privately his colleagues are whispering that he is under stress. Downing Street has been questioning his performance and, in particular, his failure to deliver his not-so-merry band of Conservative peers in support of House of Lords reform. There are even rumours that he might be replaced in David Cameron’s Government reshuffle – should it ever happen.
Moreover, so I am told, no less a personage – if such a thing were possible – than the Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Government Chief Whip and Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentleman-at-Arms, has let it be known that she is ready to take on the burden of the Leadership were it to fall on her shoulders. (It is not, of course, immediately apparent why Baroness Anelay – aka “The Steel Magnolia” – would have more success than the hapless – and grumpy – Lord Strathclyde in keeping the rebellious Tory peers in line.) This is all in private: publicly she says her only ambition is to play golf again at Woking Golf Club.
So Lord Strathclyde’s extraordinary rebuke of Lord Joel Barnett (who first entered Parliament when Lord Strathclyde was four years old) is seen as a sign of stress and the only question on the lips of Tory peers is whether a summer holiday will be sufficient or whether an urgent course of anger management lessons is going to be necessary.
My attention has been drawn to a statement from the National Association of Retired Police Officers saying that many of their members could have been available to G4S as security staff for the Olympics but there has been no approach to their Association for help.
Eric Evans, the President of the National Association, has said:
‘ At a time when unemployment is so high and many police officers are retiring earlier than planned because of Government cut backs, it is difficult to understand how G4S have failed to recruit the required number of security staff. I am sure that many of those of our members, who have recently retired would have been glad of an opportunity to get some employment at the Olympic Games not only for the money but also to be involved in such a major ‘lifetime’ event. I am frankly very surprised that G4S have not sought our assistance in recruitment.’
He goes on to comment:
“It is however the case that we at the national office of NARPO have not at any stage been approached by G4S to assist in recruiting security staff for the Olympics and certainly have not received any memorandum from G4S this week or at any other time requesting such assistance.”
How serious were G4S to get themselves out of the mess in which they have got themselves and why haven’t the Home Office told them to use retired police officers in this way?
According to the BBC senior managers at G4S only realised “eight or nine days ago”, that they could not provide enough security guards for the London Olympics.
The BBC says that the company’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, told them that:
“problems in the recruitment and deployment process were only recently identified. …
the company accepted it had “underestimated the task of supplying staff to the Olympics”.
“We deeply regret that… and we are deeply disappointed. It was a daunting task to supply that number of staff in a short time scale.
“I began to know it was going wrong eight or nine days ago… Basically we are recruiting a large number of people and they are all working through a process of interview, two or three different degrees of training, licensing and accreditation.
“It is only when you get closer to the Games, you realise that the number is not as high as you expect,” Mr Buckles added.”
This is staggering. I remember sitting in meetings three or four YEARS ago when the problems of recruiting sufficient accredited security guards were raised. It was foreseen then that, given the nature of the security industry, that it would be difficult to get enough suitable individuals to commit to the (comparatively short) Games period and have them trained and vetted in time.
In the intervening period I and many others raised the issue and heard reassurances that the security companies involved and in particular G4S were confident that they would have no difficulty managing the situation.
Now to be told that the senior people in G4S only woke up to the problem the week before last is staggering.
G4S is supposed to be the largest private security company in the world.
Logistics is supposed to be their business.
Quite clearly their management information systems leave a lot to be desired.
How could they have not seen this coming? If an organisation knows that it needs, say, 1000 security guards fully trained and vetted by a certain date, if it knows how long the recruitment, training and vetting are likely to take, and if it has its world-wide and UK experience to tell them how many recruits will drop out or turn out not to be suitable, it is not a difficult or complex task to know when you need to start the process. And that time was not eight or nine days ago.
Mr Buckles has also said that he cannot guarantee all the security staff will speak fluent English. Now that’s a surprise too.
So what’s the slogan going to be:
“Come to the London Olympics and you’ll be bossed around in the queue to get into the venue by some ill-trained half-vetted lout but – if you are lucky and not English speaking – there is just a chance he will speak your language.”
G4S will charge Olympic organisers Locog £280m, but (are we supposed to feel sorry for them?) they say they will lose up to £50m on the contract.
The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just published a report criticising the Government for failing to take seriously the concerns that it expresses in its First Review of the Strategy.
In particular, the report points out that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the Committee’s concerns about the implications for the National Security Strategy of major shifts in US strategy, of the Eurozone crisis and the potential impact of Scottish independence.
The Joint Committee had urged the Government to press ahead with planning the next national Security Strategy, allowing sufficient time to involve academics and experts external to the Government in the process and to allow the next Comprehensive Spending Review and the Strategic Defence Review to be properly integrated in the process. The 2010 National Security Strategy was rushed and weaker as a result.
The Government has acknowledged that it is “important to start thinking about the work plan” for the next National Security Strategy “well in advance of 2015″. However, there is no indication that any effort has been made to start drawing up plans to ensure that the next Strategy is a more candid and more explicit document that properly addresses difficult questions.
Even more disturbing is the absence from the Government of any indication that it intends to draw up the next Strategy in a way that achieves a broad national consensus on the foundations necessary to plan for our nation’s security in the longer -term.
Failure to build such a consensus will be a wasted opportunity – without such a consensus any future Strategy will not have abroad enough basis of buy-in and consent and that in turn will weaken the Strategy and also National Security itself.