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?