Archive for August, 2011

Riots: you need police officers for a police surge

21/08/2011, 11:02:26 AM

by Dan McCurry

Cameron’s contradictions continue to baffle. Crowing before a packed parliament for the riot recall, he hailed the police “surge” as if it was all his own idea. No wonder the police are furious, he wasn’t even in the country when they formed their strategy. Not only did he not invent the police surge, he doesn’t even understand it, judging by the contractions he made.

David Cameron is at his most passionate when making sweeping statements about the waste that comes from officers engaged in back-office tasks. It is true, that having a police officer responsible for neighbourhood watch is more expensive than hiring a civilian to do the task. But the civilian is unlikely to understand the role, as well as being unable to don a uniform, at a moment’s notice, to face down a riot. If you lose the officer, you lose the ability to surge.

As for the neighbourhood forums; are the police wasting their time, speaking to the public, when they should be out there nicking people? This is arguable, but the job of being a police officer is not simply to enforce the law, but also to reassure the public that there is a system in place protecting them.

When serious allegations of child abuse in a dysfunctional family emerge, it is normal practice for social workers to meet with police officers and the CPS in order to decide the best way forward. If the police are to be removed from this back-office task, can a civilian worker fulfil their role, and what would be the training and qualification for this civilian worker. If a former social worker was qualified, what’s the point of the meeting without the input of an experienced officer?

Would it be possible for the civilian worker to be trained in public order policing, in order that she can assist when a terrorist incident creates the need for a surge? If so then the savings made by employing a civilian worker, would be lost by the expense of having to provide extensive training.

There are situations where expensive police officers should not be deployed. Having one hundred officers slowly walk across a field in search of clues to a nearby murder, probably isn’t the best use of resources, when civilians could do the same task equally well. But to claim that officers are only doing their job if they are actively engaged in answering 999 calls, is failing to recognise the wide range of duties that they undertake.

A reserve list, and better incentives for specials, would help with wide fluctuations in ebb and flow. But the ability to rapidly take officers from office activities and deploy them quickly in the field would be seriously undermined by the determination to seriously reduce their overall numbers.

Mr Cameron believes that he can cut police numbers and guarantee future police surges. Many Labour MPs, and much of the British public, cannot reconcile these two opposing statements. The prime minister must rethink this short-sighted policy.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist whose photographic and film blog is here.

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Revealed: Cameron supercop’s company mired in bugging and hacking allegations

19/08/2011, 09:51:43 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In the week that newspaper hacking exploded back onto the front pages, it has emerged that the company run by David Cameron’s American crime tsar, Bill Bratton, is mired in a British court case accused of illegal bugging and hacking.

Bill Bratton, a former chief of the LA Police Department is chairman of the private detective agency, Kroll. In June this year, Kroll were accused in court papers by Dr. Martin Coward, a leading city investment manager, of planting covert surveillance devices in his house in Steyning, West Sussex.

Coward claims that Kroll agents illegally broke into his property last December and hid bugs and video cameras in the kitchen and in the fireplace of his study as well as a GPS tracking device in his car.

Evidence referenced in the court papers included the surveillance devices and, most extraordinarily, a video made inadvertently by the bungling snoopers on the surveillance cameras as they were planting them.

Following the hacking allegations against Andy Coulson, these accusations involving David Cameron’s latest appointment will raise new doubts about the prime minister’s judgement.


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Labour should recover its patrician socialist streak

18/08/2011, 01:00:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

At one time we would have known who and what to blame. Last week’s rioting and looting would be been parked at Mrs Thatcher’s door and the social and economic forces she unleashed three decades ago. We would have talked about the rioters being “Thatcher’s children”, throwing back at Tory ministers their heroine’s invocation that “there is no such thing as society” as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hardly anyone in Labour is making that case today. Labour politicians have, in the main, kept their own counsel this past week, content to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the government and rattle their sabres when required. The violence has been “mindless” and the police should do whatever is “necessary” to restore order.

By raising the spectre of spending cuts and unemployment as a trigger to the disturbances, Ken Livingstone found himself a pretty lone voice. On Monday, Ed Miliband carefully tied the disturbances to his broader riffs about a lack of responsibility in society affecting those from top to bottom. Sure, he had a swipe at the government’s “gimmicks” in response to the disturbances, but his criticisms were narrowly scoped.

In contrast, David Cameron is letting it all hang out. He tells us we are witnessing a “slow-motion moral collapse”. In this analysis poverty, unemployment and spending cuts have little effect on the choices people make. This is a familiar retreat into the right’s simplistic comfort zone: bad people do bad things.

We should not be surprised. Many Tory politicians simply have no idea about the lives of those at the bottom of the pile. Why would they? In the main, they neither represent them nor socialise with them. This is when having a cabinet of millionaires begins to tell.

Given that it is Labour, in the main, which speaks for these communities, the onus is on us to articulate why what happened, and propose what can be done to avert it in the future.

But the problem is that we hardly know these rampaging young people any better than do the Tories. Truth to tell, we don’t know their parents much either. We have to go back two generations, to a time when the British working class was a recognisable and largely homogeneous bloc. As it has eroded, so, too, has our instinctive understanding of it.

First the traditional jobs went. Then social solidarity and identity crumbled. Now their offspring eschew the respectability that was once so much a part of the working class experience. As the working class broke apart to form a broader lower middle class and a group of “others”, we ended up understanding neither. It took us until 1997, before we managed to reconnect with the first: the Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman of focus group lore.

But the others? We don’t even have a proper name for them. To call them an underclass – shapeless, amorphous – does little to further our understanding. However we badge them, they do not, in the main, make sympathetic “victims”. The parade of surly, track-suited wastrels swaggering in and out of magistrates’ courts, covering their faces while flicking the finger, do little to instil a charitable concern for their circumstances. (more…)

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David Cameron is a second rate Ted Heath

17/08/2011, 12:00:04 PM

byJonathan Todd

I’m not the first person to compare David Cameron with Ted Heath. Iain Martin has made this parallel. Martin asked last year whether Philip Ziegler’s biography of Heath had been read in Downing Street.

“It should be. Ted Heath was a relentlessly pragmatic Tory leader who had poor relations with his party in Parliament and in the country. He began in government seemingly fixed on a clear course of reform and modernisation. But then he hit stormy waters and, lacking an ideological compass that might have helped guide him through, was blown over. Having failed to build good relations with his colleagues, he had no reservoir of loyalty on which to draw. When Margaret Thatcher emerged he was sunk.”

Heath, though, did have an objective for his government. He wanted to pacify the trade unions and draw them into a corporatist national project that would make us less like the US and more like France, not simply through being part of the common market, but also in terms of industrial policy and organisation. While one might have misgivings about this, it seems a more substantial project than whatever the defining purpose of Cameron’s government is. (more…)

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The glass is half empty for high speed broadband

17/08/2011, 10:15:07 AM

by Ian Lucas

When is good news not good news for rural communities struggling to get online?

Yesterday’s announcement by the Government of millions of pounds of investment sounds great. But despite the fanfare with which the Government is announcing its allocations, it is only providing half the money for projects.

Ministers are lining up to say how shameful it is that, in 21st century Britain, people in communities across Britain can’t get online in the way others take for granted.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt says people are “suffering”. Environment secretary Caroline Spelman calls the situation “unthinkable.” Scottish secretary Michael Moore says broadband is a “lifeline.” But these are empty words, and more empty promises.

This anger from ministers at the situation communities across Britain face is only half the story – and their solution creates a big money problem for hard-pressed local councils. They must find millions from council budgets to ensure their areas don’t get left behind.

Devon and Somerset were revealed in the DCMS announcement to be receiving £31.2 million. Both counties must now find the same amount themselves. In contrast, in Greater London, a government assumption that the private sector will provide broadband means no government funds – but also no obligation to find the millions to match them.

The government’s decision to provide only half the necessary funds means an inequality in broadband provision is being guaranteed – unless rural councils find extra money from their own budgets.

Labour would have funded universal high speed broadband by 2015 through a 50p per month levy on fixed phone lines and an extra £230 million from the Digital Switchover Fund. The government ditched these plans. But the way in which it has structured their replacement means some local authorities have to find millions and others don’t, simply because of where they are.

The government’s superfast plans are starting to look more and more like a super stealth tax.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minster.

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Wednesday News Review

17/08/2011, 08:00:31 AM

New evidence points towards Coulson

Rupert MurdochJames Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman. In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named. The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”. – the Guardian

The allegations that Andy Coulson ordered his executives at the News of the World to stop openly discussing phone hacking and that he promised Clive Goodman his job back as long as he did not drop any other staff in it when he pleaded guilty to hacking is yet another problem for David Cameron. Until yesterday, the only written evidence linking Mr Coulson directly to any criminality had been emails suggesting that he authorised payments to police officers for information. Those documents – while hugely damaging – could still allow Mr Coulson to claim that he did not know about hacking and Mr Cameron to claim that Mr Coulson had not lied to him. But now it is alleged by Mr Goodman that Mr Coulson not only knew about phone hacking but ordered its cover-up as well. This raises fresh questions about the assurances Mr Coulson gave to Mr Cameron when he was hired and increases the chance that the Prime Minister may eventually have to admit that he was wholly deceived by a man he chose to take into the heart of the Downing Street machine. – the Independent

Lib Dems say Tory riot rhetoric “bonkers”

Liberal Democrat politicians indicated on Tuesday that they have deep concerns over David Cameron‘s uncompromising post-riots law-and-order agenda, with the party’s home affairs spokeswoman in the Lords telling the Guardian there should be “zero tolerance with zero tolerance”. Lady Hamwee, who led the Lords revolt against Tory plans for electedpolice commissioners earlier this year, said the pledge by the prime minister of zero tolerance on criminality was taking matters too far. Her comment suggests Cameron will meet stiff resistance when parliament returns in September. Lib Dem backbenchers went further when contacted by the Guardian and accused their coalition partners of short-termism and kneejerk reactions. David Ward, MP for Bradford East, described plans to withdraw offenders’ benefits as “nuts”, and Tessa Munt, the MP for Wells, said the plans were “bonkers, bonkers, bonkers”. She said: “Frankly, this all smacks of headline grabbing by Conservatives, not calm, rational policy-making.” The vice-chair of the party’s federal policy committee, Evan Harris, said he would table an amendment at the party conference asking members to vote to block Cameron’s contemplation of barring individuals suspected of causing social unrest from Twitter and Facebook. – the Guardian

More uncertainty as Germany and France defend the Euro

Germany and France looked to have failed again to calm feverish financial markets despite unveiling a raft of economic agreements at a summit in Paris. Traders reacted with exasperation as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy repeated their “absolute will to defend the euro” and “shore up investor confidence” yet refused to back the shattered currency with eurobonds or a bigger bail-out fund. The failure to address the two measures left many traders ruing what they see as a lack of political leadership. Edward Meir from MF Global in New York said: “It doesn’t look like the two biggest items were seriously discussed — the potential for a eurobond and the size of the stabilization/bailout fund. At €450bn [the European Financial Stability Facility] could easily be wiped out if one of the larger countries gets into trouble.” Phil Flyn from PFG Best in Chicago said: “The market was holding out hope that we would be closer to a eurobond… What we’re moving towards is more uncertainty.” – the Telegraph

David loves Center Parcs

To some, Center Parcs offers a nightmare image of forced jollity at a water-themed prison camp. Now David Miliband has urged holidaymakers to cast off their snobbery, following a life-changing experience at the holiday village. While David Cameron enjoyed luxury in Tuscany and Mr Miliband’s brother Ed took a family trip to Devon, the former foreign secretary has hailed the delights of the Pont Royal Center Parcs resort in Provence. Writing a post entitled Holiday Harmony, Mr Miliband castigates sophisticates who scoffed at their destination. “The week in Provence got all the usual approval,” he wrote. “But when we said we were having a week at Center Parcs, we got a few raised eyebrows. One person said they had heard it described as an open prison.” – the Independent

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Labour’s riot response: wrong on tactics, wrong on strategy

16/08/2011, 02:00:27 PM

by Rob Marchant

It was a mere few days ago that we were praising the willingness of a reinvigorated Ed Miliband to make hard decisions. The dumping of the shadow cabinet elections. The explicit non-backing of an unpopular strike. And most striking of all, two occasions on which he had gone out on a limb against powerful interests, his sure-footed handling of the parliamentary debate on phone-hacking, which finally had Cameron on the back foot, and his determination to adjust the representation of unions in party decision-making. Though the endgame of both is still uncertain.

It seemed like Labour had things all sewn up for the summer recess. We could look forward to a renewing summer break and a gentle trot into conference season, enjoying the first truly glad, confident morning of the Miliband leadership. How quickly events can intervene.

Labour’s political response to the riots has shifted from a neutral position of non-partisan solidarity, to one which is tactically wrong. And, worse, it is strategically wrong. (more…)

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Which side are you on: us, or them?

16/08/2011, 09:11:52 AM

by Dan Hodges

And now we get the fight-back. The backlash against the backlash. The reaction to the reactionaries.

As ever, the left is in the vanguard. We need to pause. Avoid a knee-jerk response. Keep things in perspective.

When the riots first exploded across our communities the political class was united in its response. Shock. Horror. A desire for the perpetrators to be caught and punished.

But now that brief, intuitive, consensus is vanishing. The political battle lines are reforming.

The response of the right is emotional and authoritarian. Use Wembley stadium to incarcerate the rioters. Block social networking sites. Throw the miscreants onto the streets.

The response of the left is logical, and measured. We must not exacerbate the social problems that underpin the disturbances. We must avoid tactical ripostes like the military and water cannon that many experts say would only inflame the situation. We must ensure that our cherished civil liberties do not vanish amid the flames of Tottenham.

Both reactions have been instinctive. Both have broadly gone with the grain of prevailing sentiment within their respective political movements. And I suspect that both have proved instructive to the broader public.


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Tuesday News Review

16/08/2011, 06:25:56 AM

May on collision course with senior cops

Police in England and Wales are to be given new guidance on dealing with outbreaks of disorder on the streets, in the wake of last week’s rioting. Home Secretary Theresa May has asked for new advice on use of officers and tactics after several cities were hit. She has said police initially deployed too few officers and that some appeared “reluctant” to use robust tactics. In a speech later, she is also due to say last week’s riots make the case for police reform more urgent than ever. Mrs May’s speech in London is expected to provoke further conflict with senior officers over the government’s planned 20% police funding cuts and plans for directly elected officials to oversee police forces. – BBC News

Cameron’s families

As part of the “social fightback”, Cameron had a tough-love message for 120,000 of the UK’s most “troubled families”. He set himself the rigid target of the next election to put all of them through some kind of family-intervention programme. In a speech setting out his analysis of what led to the riots, Cameron highlighted those families across the UK who were dealing with multiple complex social health and economic problems. Lifting them out of extreme worklessness would be regarded as a measure of his success in his wider agenda of fixing Britain’s broken society, he said. Cameron said he would put “rocket boosters” on attempts to rehabilitate those 120,000. He said would ask the chief executive of an organisation called Action for Employment (A4e), Emma Harrison, who he appointed his “families champion” in December, to use her experience in dealing with troubled families in three pilot areas to overcome the bureaucratic problems that have prevented the rapid expansion of Labour’s similar families intervention programme, running since 2006. – the Guardian

Bratton hired, not fired

David Cameron might have to re-think the appointment of US supercop Bill Bratton. The Prime Minister has turned to the tough-talking American to help tackle London gang crime. But Bratton cleaned up the crime-ridden streets of New York and LA by HIRING thousands of cops not FIRING them. Cameron is planning to axe 16,000 frontline police officers from forces across Britain. And some believe Bratton’s record in crime-fighting is solely down to him increasing numbers on the force. According to a book written by leading economist Steven Levitt, the NYPD was boosted by around 45% under Bratton’s leadership. Bratton hired 7,000 more police in New York – a policy that President Bill Clinton successfully expanded nationwide by funding 100,000 extra cops. When Bratton arrived in LA as police chief in 2002 he announced his first priority was to hire officers. – Daily Mirror

I’d bet my house on him

Stephen House, the chief constable of Strathclyde Police, has been confirmed as the favourite to be the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, according to reports. Mr House, the former Met assistant commissioner, applied for the job after Home Office officials contacted him. Sir Paul Stephenson resigned from his post at the height of the phone-hacking scandal, and applications for the coveted post close tomorrow. Acting Met deputy commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is also seen as a front-runner. Mr House, 54, was born in Glasgow and moved to London in the 1960s. He became a police officer in 1981, serving in uniform before taking on operational roles with the Sussex, Northamptonshire and West Yorkshire forces. He joined the Met in 2001, and led the specialist crime directorate, before taking over as head of Scotland’s largest police force in 2007. Whoever does take over will be appointed on the recommendation of the Home Secretary. – the Scotsman

Downing Street finally agree to an inquiry

No 10 has conceded to Labour demands for a formal commission to investigate the causes of last week’s riots after behind-the-scenes cross-party talks coordinated by the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is said to be close to “brokering” a deal between theConservatives and Labour into a commission that would go into every neighbourhood affected by the disturbances to ask community members why the outbursts of violence occurred. David Cameron had previously ruled out a full public inquiry in the short term claiming that the parliamentary select committee inquiries were adequate but the government has now signalled its intention for a “public engagement exercise”, with an independent chair, to establish the causes of the riots and looting. A No 10 source said: “We are coming to the view that there is a case for community engagement about what happened and why. It would involve getting someone to go into the communities and find out why this all happened. It would be likely that it would be chaired by someone outside government. We’re coming to the view that some sort of engagement exercise would be useful.” – the Guardian

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