Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Uber Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, has provoked a predictable storm with his interview in today’s Guardian. I rather suspect that he will be rather pleased with all this – although from his holiday retreat (on a boat somewhere? – see below) he has, of course, indicated that his views have been distorted in the article.
Was it distorted? I have to say that in my view at least, it has the sound of the authentic voice of the Uber Vice Chairman. The boating references (getting ready for his hols?): he and the Mayor (or should it be the Mayor and he?) have their “hands on the tiller” of the Metropolitan Police and “we do not want to be a passenger on the Met cruise.”
No doubt, what Kit Malthouse was trying to suggest was that somehow there has been a sea-change in direction (to continue the nautical metaphor – a firm shove of the tiller?), since the old days when, in his view, there was a Labour Mayor, conspiring with a Labour Home Secretary and a Labour-led Metropolitan Police Authority, to give the Metropolitan Police an easy ride. Now this suggestion shouldn’t really come as a surprise after all he and the Mayor (or should it be the Mayor and he?) are Tories, elected just over a year ago, and want us to believe that their election has made a difference.
But has much changed in practice? I certainly remember sitting in the room when the then (Labour) Home Secretary gave the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner a tremendous bollocking about street crime figures. I also remember a Labour Mayor and a Labour-led MPA setting very clear parameters and priorities for (along with the necessary budget) the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and later Safer Neighbourhood Teams.
Yes, of course, in the last year there has been a tremendous focus on knife crime. However, I would have been more surprised if this hadn’t happened, rather than that it did. No sensible Metropolitan Police Commissioner would have failed to respond to public concern on the number of young people who were dying as a result of knife violence in London. And no administration (Labour or Conservative – or even Liberal Democrat) would have ignored it either – all would have expected a substantial Police response.
It is the proper role of the MPA to set the strategic priorities and the budget for the Met. To pretend that this does not impact on operational performance is ridiculous. It is what having an accountable police service is all about.
So why the hysterical reaction from the Metropolitan Police?
My sources in New Scotland Yard tell me that the Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had to be dissuaded from flying back from his holiday to “demonstrate that he was in charge.”
But who on Earth authorised the statements quoted in the Evening Standard?
‘One senior insider said: “This is nonsense. If you look at what the police have delivered in the past year that is all down to Sir Paul and nothing to do with politicians.
“Paul has been very robust with Mr Malthouse in recent months. It is ridiculous to say he has wrested control away from the police. He is a local politician thinking he is a national politician. He is very full of himself.”’
Saying things like that about the de facto Chair of the Police Authority does not make future good harmonious relationships all that easy – particularly as Kit Malthouse had gone out of his way to say how much he trusted the Commissioner’s judgement.
Maybe to solve the Met’s budget problems next year they should sell tickets for those who want to be there when Sir Paul Stephenson and Kit Malthouse have their first private one-to-one after they are both back from their hols. Sounds like a hot ticket.