Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Boris Defends the Metropolitan Police

It’s somewhat ironic that the man who ousted Sir Ian Blair should rally to the defence of the beleaguered Metropolitan Police, but London Mayor Boris Johnson:

insisted that the public backed the police’s overall conduct in providing security at the G20 demonstrations earlier this month.

He said: “I would not necessarily accept the premise that confidence in the police has been [damaged]. On the contrary while people deplore deeply what happened to Ian Tomlinson and whilst they want to see an urgent result to the IPCC investigation, I think the overwhelming majority of people in this city and this country understand the particularly difficult situation they face when being asked to provide security in a demonstration such as the G20.”

Except most people do not agree that the Met did a good job during the G20 summit. Appreciating that the scale of their task that day is one thing, acknowledging how bad a job a significant number of them made of it is another – they’re not mutually exclusive positions. I won’t bore you with the evidence yet again, but he’s trying to reframe the argument to absolve the Met of responsibility for widespread abuse on the ground, which from the scale of it could only have been with the approval of those higher up. The fightback continues – don’t buy it.

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The Metropolitan Police Fails Women

And this is where the systemic problems which plague them on every count come once again to light. We’ve seen in the last few weeks how the institution has remained unable to tackle the racism and violence in its ranks. Don’t forget mysoginy:

Officers are told all allegations of rape should be investigated, unless there is strong evidence the claim is false. But this policy was ignored in six of the Met’s boroughs. One source said: “The object could have been a massaging of the figures or a misinterpretation of policy. There is some evidence of trying to keep the figures down.”

The most common type of case the practice occurred in was one where a woman went to the police fearing she may have been raped, but was unable to remember what had happened. This can be a common feature where an attacker has used drugs to overpower a victim or when alcohol is involved.

Officers failed to record the allegations as an offence that needed to be investigated, but instead listed them as a CRI, which does not appear on the official crime statistics.

A source said: “When you are uncertain of what has happened you are supposed to record that as an allegation of crime. You believe the victim, it should be recorded as a rape, unless there is substantial grounds to believe otherwise.”

Some of the cases have now been properly recorded and investigated and detectives believe the women were attacked.

The source said failing to record the allegations as crimes was so serious because the training given to officers was that they should be highly suspicious when someone cannot remember what happened, as it might be drug related.

And this is where the problem comes immediately into focus. The training they get is sound. The policies they have are sound. Yet the outcomes are discriminatory. I imagine if there were an easy answer to this it would already have been implemented, but let’s look at some of the issues which get in the way:

Former senior Met officer Brian Paddick, who once headed a Scotland Yard project to improve the number of convictions for rape, said: “It is shocking this has happened for such a serious offence. It could be a reflection of the pressure the police are under from the Home Office to improve the clear-up rate and reduce reported crime.

He added: “There is not the political will in government and the Home Office to put resources into place, which the offence requires, to bring people to justice.”

Joan Smith reminds us:

In the [John] Worboys case, 14 women complained that they’d been assaulted or had an unsettling experience in a black cab since 2002, but police failed to spot a pattern even though the cabbie used very similar methods on his victims. They actually arrested him in the summer of 2007, but he was released after detectives believed his story rather than that of his victim. Worboys went on to attack another 29 women before he was finally arrested and charged in February last year, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has begun an inquiry into why the Metropolitan Police let him go in 2007.

And another high profile case shows:

The report on the [Kirk Reid] case contained testimony from senior members of the specialised sex crime investigative Sapphire unit in Southwark which described a department in crisis because management – who were concerned with hitting national targets – considered car crime a higher priority than rape and sex offences.

So we have the largest police force in the country staffed in significant numbers by men whose attitudes lead them to believe the offender rather than the victim. We have targets set by local managers for crimes of much lesser severity, and political demands from the Home Office to get reported crime figures down, whatever the cost. The damning indictment though comes from Brian Paddick, who at the end of the day says the Home Office simply doesn’t care enough to do what’s necessary to reform the Met in a way which brings rapists to justice. So it doesn’t matter how well trained they are, it doesn’t matter that they have some progressive policies – if the attitudes and practices within the institution aren’t radically changed then the force will keep failing women (and for that matter gay people and ethnic minorities, even in their own ranks).

Martin Kettle has a point – not only is the current Home Secretary Jacqui Smith incredibly weak, thus making her unable to focus on the important institutional reforms (if she were even interested, which I personally doubt) the Met needs, but the continuing feuding between London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Home Office for political control over the force is becoming a liability to its effectiveness in any regard. At the very least that has to stop, because the fallout is making the Met more of a basket case than it ever was. Somehow the police must be depoliticised, and start focusing solely on helping people rather than dismissing, controlling or (last week) hitting them.

Met Police Arrest Opposition MP

I’m not a fan of Damian Green. I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party. But something appears to have gone horribly wrong, and the Metropolitan Police (as ever) are in the thick of it:

The shadow immigration minister was arrested last night on suspicion of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” and released on police bail after nine hours in custody.

The 52-year-old’s arrest follows a mole hunt in the Home Office, ordered by senior civil servants in the department after a series of embarrassing stories appeared in the press over the past year.

A Home Office staff member was arrested last week in connection with the investigation, and it is understood Mr Green’s arrest stems from that.

The Guardian has further details:

MPs have been particularly alarmed by the manner of Green’s arrest. The police seized his phone and his computer, giving them access to text messages and emails going back for months and years respectively. The search of Green’s office at Westminster was also said to be conducted in an “aggressive” manner. One MP who spoke to the officers involved was told: “You are at a site of crime scene.”

Green himself says:

“I emphatically deny I have done anything wrong.

“I have many times made public information that the Government wanted to keep secret – information that the public has a right to know.

“In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the Government to account. I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”

So what was it that he made public by these leaks from the Home Office?

The leaks thought to be at the centre of the investigation include:

  • The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.
  • The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.
  • A whips’ list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.
  • A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime.

So in other words politically highly volatile information, yet not information related in any way to national security. Michael White of the Guardian argues:

Tony Benn told Radio 4’s World at One that the police action may be a “contempt of parliament” by virtue of interfering with Damian Green doing his job as an MP. As such, Green’s rights protect us all. I don’t always agree with TB, but do on this occasion. He was “doing his job”, as I put it.

Matthew Parris of the Times:

The common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” sets such a ridiculously low hurdle that thousands of my colleagues in the newspaper industry, many MPs, most Opposition spokesmen, and innumerable helpfully indiscreet police officers would be behind bars if every offence was investigated and prosecuted.

So if this was ‘business as usual’ why arrest him, particularly considering it was an extraordinary event to have his office at the Houses of Parliament searched?

Backbenchers demanded an explanation of the role played by Jill Pay, the Serjeant at Arms in charge of Commons security, and Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker. The Tory MP for Lancaster and Wyre, Ben Wallace, wrote to Ms Pay: “The House of Commons and Palace of Westminster has in place certain safeguards to protect [members] from the excesses of the executive. It is most distressing, therefore, to find out that the House authorities allowed a search to take place.”

The Tories argue it was a politically motivated attack on Green (considering what he leaked), but I’m not sure I agree. If New Labour is so incompetent as not to be able to present its own policies coherently, it’s highly unlikely they could undertake a highly intricate, formal political plot with the Met. I buy Matthew Parris’ argument that in the wake of the cash-for-honours scandal, that it was more likely impossible for Pay and Martin to resist the Met, for fear of how that might have appeared politically.

Alan Travis offers a suggestion as to the motivation for the arrest:

The nature of the offence – conspiracy to commit misconduct in public life – may suggest police suspect the junior civil servant arrested last week deliberately accessed documents to leak them.

In other words most whistleblowers find the material they leak accidentally or in the normal course of their jobs, and feel compelled on moral grounds to publicise what they find. Whilst there have been significant such cases which have been politically motivated, they have invariably collapsed. The difference here is the suggestion of premeditation by the whistleblower, and what the follow-on implications might be for his relationship with Green if true. However:

Green insisted that he had not procured the documents and a Tory official said: “There was no financial or any other inducement.” The Tories expressed astonishment at the conduct of the police, who notified Cameron moments before they entered parliament to search Green’s office.

Did his wife and daughter have to be subjected to police abuse for that? Did he have to be held for seven hours before even being questioned for that? Did the Met have to disregard parliamentary privilege for that? He was arrested by nine counter-terrorism officers who believed he was breaking a little-known and barely used common law (as Matthew Parris points out earlier) by publishing leaked Home Office documents which weren’t security-related or even classified. Given the dangerous precedent this sets, couldn’t they have just asked?!

Given his political duty as an opposition front bench MP I find it staggering that he could have been arrested, and my personal reaction is the opposite of Boris Johnson’s – this is exactly how the Metropolitan Police behaves – without a care for the impact or appropriacy of their behaviour:

At one point the police tried to take computer files from her (his wife, barrister Alicia Green) work which she prevented them from doing as they are legally privileged documents.

She said she found it “particularly unpleasant” that the officer took love letters Mr Green and her had sent each other when at university and dating.

They have been given such a free rein that they think they can get away with anything. That Green should be able to exercise parliamentary privilege from the excesses of the state means nothing to them and Philip Johnston points out:

Receiving information from officials who feel the government is covering something up is commonplace and has been for centuries.

If Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are telling the truth, then it’s somewhat shocking for neither of them to be upholding the parliamentary principles which the Met have so wantonly trampled on. But how likely is it that this statement by Sir David Normington, the Home Office civil servant who initiated the police action to quell the leaks, is true?

“Yesterday (Thursday), I was informed by the Metropolitan Police at about 1.45pm that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition front bench. I was subsequently told that an arrest had been made.

“Ministers were not involved in the decision to seek police assistance or in the subsequent investigation and were only told of the arrest after it had occurred.”

But David Cameron and Mayor Boris Johnson were told before it had occurred. If no government minister really was told, why not ? Everyone has egg on their face. I agree wholeheartedly with former minister Dennis MacShane, who said:

“To send a squad of counter terrorist officers to arrest an MP shows the growing police contempt for Parliament and democratic politics,” he said.

“The police now believe that MPs are so reduced in public status that they are fair game for over-excited officers to order dawn raids, arrests and searches of confidential files held by MPs or those who work for them.

“I am not sure this is good for British democracy.”

It isn’t. Someone has to rein in the Metropolitan Police, and fast. But given that Jacqui Smith is standing by the Met’s operational independence – invariably cowardly about them, even now – it doesn’t look likely to be her.

Gary Glitter Freed – Moral Panic Resumes

I’m sure I’m not the only one to watch the release of Gary Glitter from jail in Vietnam on child molestation grounds, and the government’s reaction to it, with alarm. Glitter was memorably jailed in 1999 for having inexplicably gone to a PC World to get his computer repaired, only to get caught for having 4000 underage sexual images on it. More recently he was imprisoned in Vietnam after having had repeated sexual contact with 10 and 11 year old girls, although rumours persist that they were paid off to make their allegations. Not to understate things too severely, but whatever the truth of the claims in Vietnam, the man has a problem, and is a problem the likes of which we as a society haven’t yet decided what to do with. And my alarm doesn’t so much come from him, but the instantaneous knee-jerk response by the government and media to his reappearance.

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Gary Glitter is now being used as a pawn and I find it disgraceful. I find it disgraceful that a huge fuss is being made over just one man who has done his time. But rather than initiating procedures or making resources available to actually help him, Britain instead is contorting in a renewed moral panic. ‘That foul paedophile’ eh? Not to diminish the severity of his proven crime in the UK, but how seriously can you take a government who uses this man’s reappearance as a distraction from their own incompetence? They’re destroying all of our civil liberties, robbing the poor to pay off the middle class, breaking their own anti-poverty and environmental targets, but at least they can say they’re strengthening the control order regime against those guilty of child sex offences (which is already incredibly tight). Is it genuinely not possible to get any perspective here? Jacqui Smith, not one known for human qualities, even had the gall to announce this on Talk Sport radio, as if she weren’t shamelessly populist already!

Boris Johnson has a sager perspective on the situation. Writing in 2006 he complained:

I mean, come off it, folks. How many paedophiles can there be? Are we really saying that any time an adult male finds himself sitting next to someone under 16, he must expect to be hustled from his seat before the suspicious eyes of the entire cabin?

What about adult females? Every week there is some new tale of what a saucy French mistress is deemed to have done with her adolescent charges behind the bicycle sheds; and, disgraceful though these episodes may be, I don’t hear anyone saying that children should be shielded from adult women. Do you? Or maybe I’m wrong — maybe all adults will have to carry personal cardboard partitions with them on every plane or train, just in case they find themselves sitting next to under-16s.

Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn’t want the poor fellow to come to any harm.

To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority.

And make no mistake, the papers are ‘off on one again’, and will be seeking to drag public opinion with them, whatever the balance you see in the video. Paul Gadd meanwhile has just been denied entry to Hong Kong, having been denied entry into Thailand, after refusing to return to Jacqui Smith and the Home Office’s kiss of death. I’m exaggerating you say? David Wilson believes not:

We also know what makes sex offenders generally, and paedophiles specifically, re-offend when they return to the community after a prison sentence. In short, they are more likely to re-offend when they are “named and shamed”, hounded from pillar to post, demonised, scapegoated and pilloried because when that happens they calculate that they may as well commit more crimes because, well, they have nothing left to lose. Sadly, an unnamed police officer quoted in the Sun doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact and claimed that when Gadd returned he would get a “Hell of a tough time … we’ll unleash the hounds”.

We don’t have the right to dehumanise anyone. The police don’t have the inherent authority to pre-criminalise anyone (although you try to tell them that) and Jacqui Smith certainly doesn’t have the right to say:

Ms Smith today announced tighter controls on the movement of paedophiles but she dismissed a suggestion that the Government had wanted a “celebrity paedophile” to promote the crackdown and had found it “embarrassing” that Glitter had not come home.

“No paedophile is a celebrity, every paedophile needs to be controlled,” she said.

She told GMTV Glitter was “despicable” and said it was “pretty hard to imagine it would be legitimate for him to travel abroad again”.

So says the thoroughly despicable woman who believes that sending gay asylum seekers back to Iran is perfectly safe as long as they’re discreet. Glitter’s current failure to return to the UK is an egg in the face for a government more concerned with spin and blunt instruments than good policy. Try making parents responsible for their children’s welfare once again, try the old (and successful) system of teaching children to risk assess their relationships with older people and strangers, try helping people who demonstrably have problems, and what about ending this ridiculous campaign (and charade) of controlling people in order to save a mythical, threatened majority. Governments mustn’t be allowed to get away with such shameless diversionary tactics, certainly not at the cost of individuals, particularly the vulnerable ones, hidden away from the full glare of a greedy and compassion-free media.

Pride 2008

I’ve gone to London’s Pride since 1994 – the year I came out. And in that time it’s gone from a popular but fringe event, with violence to navigate in Brixton, to a mainstream event in central London, co-funded and supported by City Hall and all the main political parties. This year’s was a particular success, led from the front by Mayor Boris Johnson, participated in by the Metropolitan Police and all the armed forces, and supported by the biggest crowd to date. Regulars like Stonewall‘s co-founder Sir Ian McKellen, Peter Tatchell (amusing everyone with a particularly and aptly cruel insult to Iranian President Ahmadinejad) and numerous community organisations and ordinary people enjoyed the sun and unprecedented support from hundreds of thousands of tourists and Londoners alike, which made this the best Pride in my recollection. It’s no mean feat with religious zealots and the far right nipping at our heels, but even the former were smaller in number than ever before. It was a good reminder that (whatever certain tabloids would have you believe), we really are everywhere and are supported in being who we are by a majority which is more at ease with itself than in living memory.

The photos are of course mine, and you can see them full-size at your leisure on my Flickr photostream. Comments there (as here) are welcome.

Spouses for Life

The world is changing. We have just marriage on equal terms in California, we have an equality bill in the UK (although it must surely only represent a start, given that 70% of businesses in the economy won’t be covered by it), and even Ireland is instituting a civil partnership bill. It’s a relief that legislatures, executives and judiciaries everywhere are acknowledging the benefits of diversity, and that actually enforcing equality benefits us all – just look at Sweden.

Unlike Britain’s proposal, Sweden has mainstreamed specifically gender equality into all policy making since 1994, rather than instituting just pockets of equal rights legislation. And Norway’s Gender Equality Act requires:

…that all publicly appointed committees, including the cabinet, should be made up of at least 40 per cent men and at least 40 per cent women. This rule was extended in 2004 to state-owned companies. Then in 2006, the government legislated to impose an extraordinary ultimatum on Norway’s public limited companies – either have a minimum of 40 per cent of women on the company board by 1 January 2008, or be closed down. Despite the dire prophecies of economic catastrophe, the law has come into force without driving out any major company.

That’s not to say that the UK couldn’t go down that route, particularly looking at the two year gap between public and private implementation in Norway – we can only hope. What is already proposed however puts Boris Johnson’s behaviour as Mayor of London to shame. His Director of Policy, Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries Munira Mirza, when justifying the removal of the Rise festival’s anti-racism remit, said in justifying her strategy:

Although the event was supposed to be inclusive and attract people from ethnic minorities, the GLA’s own research (conducted while Ken was mayor) shows that 65%-70% of attendees in the last two years were white. That is disproportionately whiter than the population of London. It seems reasonable to conclude that the political baggage and relentless sloganeering was actually putting people off. And no doubt many individuals and families who did come on the day were there primarily for the music or a nice day out.

Except that’s patronising rubbish. Surely the entire point of an anti-racist festival is not just an inherently political one, but an educational tool too, one which would disproportionately target white people. I suspect Daniel Martin is right when he says:

Emphasising “cultural diversity” over overt anti-racism probably fits in more with the narrative Johnson wants to put across – one that implies that racism in London, and so in Britain, is not such a problem anymore. But that view, of course, is wrong.

Indeed it is. Mainstreaming anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-gender discrimination works, it doesn’t put people off and it is successful with authorities who have the guts to try it. Failing to do so only emboldens the haters like BNP GLA member Richard Barnbrook:

Labour Party supporters and various other anti-British elements were given a timely reminder today that the days of public money being used to prop up their Marxist ideology have gone.

Curious that he and Mirza should both complain about a ‘political element’ neither of them likes, and alarming how Mirza & Johnson’s laid back approach – hoping that the mere existence of anti-discrimination legislation is enough (Johnson himself was quite open about this in his appearance at the Stonewall ‘gay hustings’ before his election) – plays into his hands. Good for Harriet Harman for at least pushing a normally timid government, afraid to make radical decisions, down at least the slip road leading to the road of mainstreaming equality. Hopefully Johnson and Mirza will realise the failure of their strategy before it does real damage, particularly with it being at odds with the direction of national policy

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Buck Foris

Boris Johnson has taken office as Mayor of London.

I would like to thank first the vast multitudes who voted against me – and I have met quite a few in the last nine months, not all of them entirely polite.

I will work flat out from now on to earn your trust and to dispel some of the myths that have been created about me.

There is nothing you can do to earn my trust you idiot. You’ve already lied about your transport policy, you’ve shown disinterest, dislike and ignorance about diversity, and offered policies on crime which were just plain stupid. How do you think you can earn my trust, when the ‘myths’ have to a number already been proven to be true? When you’ve written in an outright homophobic manner for years and then when you have the opportunity to explain your platform’s contradictory support for gay Londoners you refuse – when you say you were against Section 28 but still support the point of it, what are we supposed to think?

Where there are neglected opportunities we will seize on them, and we will focus on the priorities of the people of London: cutting crime, improving transport, protecting green space, delivering affordable housing, giving taxpayers value for money in every one of the 32 boroughs.

Putting metal detectors in schools and tube stations to weed out those carrying metallic weapons is economically impossible. It’s also impossible in terms of manpower, and is hardly a step towards tackling the reasons for why knives and guns are being used by young people to kill one another with. Improving transport won’t be done by attempting a no-strike deal with unions ideologically opposed to you, with clout no central government would currently dare stand up to for long.

And I hope that everybody who loves this city will put aside party differences to try in the making of Greater London greater still.

You are an Old Etonian who hasn’t as an MP voted for the best interests of London. Put aside party differences? Are you completely mad? Your sponsors the Evening Standard went through the whole gamut – from saying Ken’s campaign was being managed by suicide bombers to claiming he was setting up a socialist cabal in City Hall – maybe you’re the one guilty of negatively inflating party differences.

To the young people who voted for the goofball celebrity of Have I Got News For You, to the self-loathing gay Tories who voted for a man who hates you, to the ungrateful taxi drivers who voted down the man who inflated your fares well past the point of reason, to the racists and homophobes who took their opportunity to stab London’s minorities in the back, I say thank you. Thank you for making London look as stupid as the United States. We now have no political capital to expend in attacking the Americans for voting for a hateful, ignorant and stupid buffoon as their leader. Where they voted him in anyway for his affability, it seems London just did too, proving once again that most people really are stupid.