Tag Archives: police

Policing Party Conferences

One final thing I have to say about the party conferences this year, and this is not a partisan point, is the state of policing at the various party conferences this year.

At the Lib Dem conference, as usual, the police were almost non-existent. No great surprise there as the party is simply not a target. Indeed, even the Brighton & Hove Albion FC fans didn’t bother to show up this year and shout rude things about David Bellotti.

In Bournemouth, the police surrounding Labour conference was a severe case of overkill but, as a leafletter, I have few complaints. Yes, they mucked us about a little on the Sunday morning as they dithered over where to allow people to hand out flyers, but all of that was sorted over about 30 minutes. They were friendly and courteous throughout.

Blackpool was a different story however. To start with, they kept away anyone without a conference pass so they couldn’t even flyer. This included the ubiquitous anti-cigarette man who for much of the week was forced to shout at the other side of the street. They kept hassling people for the so-called crime of leaving their bags to one side as they handed out flyers. This was justified on the basis that people could hide dangerous devices amongst it while the owners weren’t looking. But any terrorist worth his or her salt would simply take advantage of the dozens of traffic cones that the police themselves had insisted on scattering everywhere.

The worst day was Tuesday. Overnight, and for no apparent reason, they massively stepped up security around the Winter Gardens. Suddenly, you weren’t allowed within 100 metres of the entrance without a pass. There were mounted police everywhere, despite the fact that there were no demonstrators, no crowds and no expectation of them. People with press passes were suddenly told they were not allowed to use the main entrance and had to round the back.

Myself and a colleague turned up with a big heavy box of materials to hand out only to be told we would have to either carry the box or have it confiscated. In the end, we ended up with a pantomimic routine of holding the materials every time a police officer walked by.

What was worse was that it was clear they were just having a laugh. An officer would come up to me and give me a hard time, walk up the road, have a giggle, and his colleague would come down and do the same again. A lot of the time they couldn’t even keep a straight face. I’m not claiming to be the victim of some major miscarriage of justice, but police harassment is an ugly thing no matter how petty and it was unacceptable.

The last time the Lib Dems were in Blackpool, it was a similar story. They insisted on a number of extravagant security measures which they then told the Home Office were not strictly speaking necessary, therefore leading to the party itself to carry the costs. And then the enforcement was shoddy, to say the least. At the Imperial Hotel, they operated an extremely tight operation at the entrance, but the officers themselves would then leave the fire exits open and unguarded, allowing people to sneak in round the back. It was utterly hopeless.

This was possibly the last time there will ever be a main party conference in Blackpool, at least until they sort out their basic infrastructure (lack of direct trains, the distance between the Winter Gardens and the main hotels, etc). But in case there is one (and unforeseen consequences have a way of forcing parties back – in the case of the Lib Dems in 2005 it was the practicalities of holding a conference at Gateshead just before the Great North Run), they need to get their act together.

Get tough on the fear of crime

One of the things that most irritated me about the Orange Book a few years ago was David Laws hectoring the Lib Dems for not doing enough to acknowledge how the fear of crime affects people’s daily lives (I paraphrase as I don’t have the book in front of me right now). Boris Johnson made a similar comment during the launch for his bid for London Mayor today and last week the Observer wrote:

The state cannot order civil society back into being, but it can facilitate the process. A first step is to recognise fear of crime is not irrational just because recorded crime is down. It is a reasonable response by a public feeling remote from the police.

Nonsense. Well, half nonsense. Because it is certainly true that the fear of crime is a debilitating thing, and that it needs to be dealt with. But we will only be able to get a grip on it once we recognise that it is indeed irrational, and stop pretending otherwise.

If the fear of something is greatly out of proportion to the possibility that it might happen, then that fear is irrational, full stop. All parties have been going on about the semi-mythical “bobbies on the beat” for decades, yet it is simply impossible to have a policeman on every street corner, at all times. The level at which a visible police force would start to ‘reassure’ the public would be simply unattainable. Spending a fortune on recruiting, training and retaining policemen who will then be given nothing more to do than walk around to ‘reassure’ people would be simply silly.

It simply isn’t good enough for parties and journalists to persist with this line. We don’t need the police to reclaim the streets, as the Observer suggests, but the public to. How we tackle such a seemingly intractable notion is the big question, but by asking it we might just find the answer.

One thing we, as a society, might try is to reverse the trend towards viewing anti-social behaviour as criminality. 12 years ago, we had more crime, but no-one knew what anti-social behaviour was. One of New Labour’s most pernicious legacies has been to convince people that naughtiness, rowdiness and petty vandalism is something the police should handle when in the past it was something the community itself sorted out. The more we concentrate on anti-social behaviour, the worse it seems. We can never win the war on anti-social behaviour because it is so mutable: unless all young people transform into angels en masse, there will always be someone doing something that upsets someone.

Worse, it seems to have created an antagonism towards the police that eclipses even the attitude when I was a teenager. I remember my sixth form being chased down Bromley High Street by coppers with dogs simply because the landlord at a pub we had paid to hold a party at smelt a spliff. That was a moronic over-reaction by the boys in blue. Now they are charged with enforcing curfews on any kid who doesn’t look like they have a place to go. You couldn’t invent a better system for alienating young people from authority if you tried.

I’m sure that round the edges there are things that governments could do to sort this unholy mess out, but ultimately it is up to all of us to actually turn this situation around. In my view, we need to develop a mass participation consciousness-raising campaign such as Full Stop or Make Poverty History, to persuade people that they are the agents of their own destiny, that they need to take responsibility over their own children and that they need to rebuild the adult solidarity. Such a campaign, if it could be made a success, would be one of the most liberating mass movements in our history. As such, it would inevitably come up against a political and cultural establishment – politicians, the police and of course the tabloid press which would all be emasculated by it.

How could we achieve such a thing? Haven’t the foggiest, sorry. Answers on a postcard please. All I know is that the alternative – to continue indulging the fear of crime – leads to a vicious circle of self-destructive madness.

In the meantime, I suggest we can make a start by doing things such as getting former policemen who admit to finding the concept of anarchism appealing elected as London Mayor. Just an idea.

Knick-knack Paddick-whack

Regular readers may recall that I don’t have too much faith in the capacity of parties to find suitable candidates for London Mayor. The problem is, there are simply too few roles available for people to perform credible “apprenticeships” for the top job, the GLA being an anonymous talking shop. Thus far the only elected London Mayor was also the last leader of the GLC – a body which no longer exists.

So while I wasn’t exactly surprised, I was delighted to learn that Brian Paddick has expressed an interest in standing for the post. It remains to be seen who else might come out of the woodwork, but Paddick performs the rare feat of being telegenic, having gravitas and having direct experience of running a London-wide public authority. He’ll be a touch act to follow. So far, the only other potential candidate, Lembit Opik, would seem to have only one of those three crucial characteristics.

With the Tories flailing to find a credible candidate and being forced to choose between a top-hatted Etonian toff (currently being taken to task by Doreen Lawrence), an ewok, and an assortment of anonymous figures, were Paddick to get the Lib Dem ticket the contest could very rapidly begin to resemble a run-off between him and Livingstone.

UKIP and Blair feel the heat

It just doesn’t seem to get any easier for UKIP, with today’s papers revealing that a) the party had already investigated Tom Wise, found problems and then sat on it and that b) one of their NEC members is an associate of BNP leader Nick Griffin – and a donor.

Establishment plot to discredit them it may be, but if you don’t want to be discredited, a good rule of thumb is to not be quite so disreputable.

Meanwhile the story over the Attorney General’s Injunction against the BBC continues. The theory du jour is that the email in question was leaked by Downing Street in an attempt to derail the process.

It’s fair to say that this theory has some merit – it does seem hard to believe that the police would blag this so late on in the investigation – but this is real down the rabbit hole stuff. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that Jonathan Powell, Ruth Turner et al would leak an email which allegedly incriminates themselves, gambling on a mistrial due to a technicality. On the other hand, if they know they’re going down what do they have to lose?

Ruth Turner

I don’t have a particular brief for the Police, nor do I think that Ruth Turner is a hardened criminal or particularly corrupt (if she is charged, it is to take the wrap for her bosses). But I really can’t understand why Labour politicians are getting their knickers in such a twist over her 6.30am arrest on Friday.

Firstly, this is the party that likes to go on and on about how it is “tough on crime” and how the police should send signals to criminals. The police are just carrying out government policy. Secondly, this is a member of Downing Street staff. I would be surprised if she didn’t get up at the crack of dawn each morning to go to work.

The alternative, as the Guardian suggested on Saturday, would have been to arrest her at her place of work. Yet, you can absolutely guarantee that if the police had done so, exactly the same people would have protested at the “theatrics” of arresting someone at Number 10. The policy are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

You can’t help but suspect that this is a “some animals are more equal than others” moment, coming at the end of a regime that has become so utterly corrupted by the trappings of power that even when they are caught with their hands in the till, the expect to be treated with complete deference.