This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What the pleb?

I am doing best not to stare at my twitter feed watching the #plebgate tweets scroll on screen from several illustrious public affairs correspondents sitting in on the libel trial between Andrew Mitchell, The Sun Newspaper and PC Rowland. I do have other things to do!!

It all hinges on this word 'pleb'. Whilst Mr Mitchell has admitted to using some (quoting Lord Coe) "fruity" language, he categorically denies using the word pleb, and indeed adding f*****g in front of it.

Several tweeters express surprise as to why such a word is so controversial or even toxic. How can a this word which ranks several points on the 'swearing scale' lower than some of the words that Mr Mitchell has said he did use, be so bad?

What is this all about?

This is where my long experience as a political hack comes in: forged, in part, on the student union politics of the late 1970s. Reading University Student's Union was not like the LSE or other hotbeds of radicalism at the time, Indeed we only had one member of the International Socialists (later the SWP) who regularly got up to speak. And he was a rather genial and bearded post doc scientist...

But we did have a fair few members of the Federation of Conservative Students many of whom were studying to be estate managers at the Faculty of Urban and Rural Studies (I think that it what it was called...) Invariably most were from lesser known public schools but with a smattering of some of the more well known ones. I would say this wouldn't I, but most of them were arrogant & obnoxious characters who enjoyed heckling the debates after a few pints from the back of the room.

This is where I heard the word 'pleb' first.

Their use of the word summed up their view of people who were not as wealthy as them or, in their eyes, not as worthy as them. The term pleb encapsulates in one toxic lump the whole basis of the class system. Any political hack with a long history knows this. And that includes almost every MP currently sitting in Parliament.

Now, despite what people think, I really don't know whether Mr Mitchell used this word on that fateful night or not. And I hope that the current court case uncovers some truth, real truth. It probably won't if I am honest (unless the CCTV cameras at Downing Street are suddenly discovered to have an audio recording facility and the sound tapes miraculously appear...) I do have my suspicions as to what happened on this and perhaps other nights but I won't be writing about those for fear of litigation!!

I can certainly conceive of the possibility that either Mr Mitchell, or PC Rowland or indeed both are being, shall we say, economical with the truth. I can also conceive of the possibility that both are telling his own version of the what happened with absolute integrity, honesty and truth. (Memory can be a fickle thing especially in moments of high emotion. I speak as psychologist here.)

But the question I am left with, given what we know so far, is did PC Rowland have the political wit at that moment of writing up his notes, to land upon a (fake or true?) word that had such toxicity? Since I do not know PC Rowland, I can say in all honesty, I really have no idea.

But... I know a little bit about police culture and police regulations. Police Officers are forbidden to belong to a political party. I would also speculate that the police officers who are selected to look after security at Downing Street would be people with little interest in party politics, either now or previously. Most police officers I know, have had little involvement in the cut and thrust of political meetings. On this basis, I would speculate that only a few police officers (until now) knew quite how poisonous the word 'pleb' is. But I am happy to be corrected.

So it seems to me, if I was a lawyer on Mr Mitchell's team, I would have done everything I could to be able to show in court that (if this were to be the case) PC Rowland was indeed one of those few and chose (or perhaps had been advised) to use the word 'pleb' in a specifically targeted way. We shall see if this happens, or not. 

I would suggest that had Mr Mitchell been accused of using the word 'plod' (which I believe is pretty darn distasteful to most police officers), he would still be in government. Plod is simply not nearly as toxic to the wider political community as pleb.

But we shall see, as the court case continues....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gosh, I've found a UKIP policy I can agree with!

I have been spending sometime reading and thinking about UKIP policies as published on their "Policies for People" (as opposed to aliens, Parisian tigers and gay climate scientists, I assume...) website. It is a tough job but someone has to spend part of their Sundays doing it.

And I happened across this one which I reprint exactly as it is shown on their website (as of today, until they revise it of course...)


Actually, strangely, I could support this. "What?!?", I hear you say. Let me explain...

Existing schools - that means all schools. Yup! Even schools in areas where there are already grammar schools (as there are in Bucknghamshire). So this means all the secondary modern schools (ie the non grammar ones that don't tend to call themselves secondary moderns anymore) in Bucks could all apply to become grammar schools. They might have to 'consult' Buckinghamshire County Council, but that is all. The local authority, under this policy, clearly has no final say in the matter. Indeed, all these schools could be come Academies and remove themselves from local authority control (like all the existing grammars have done already) altogether.

So we could then have a situation in Bucks where all the secondary schools are then grammar schools, selecting on "ability and aptitude". And they could do this at whatever threshold they like. So the local Buckingham School could set its threshold as being the top 5% and 'undercut' the local grammar, The Royal Latin School. Indeed, we could get into a sort of bidding war over the levels of ability that each school might be prepared to accept.

Meanwhile of course, the 11 year olds who are not in the top 15%, 10% or 5% (wherever the 'market' in selection thresholds gets set..) won't have a school to go to... Hmm. That could be tricky.

Moreover, as the policy says this is about all existing schools and "ages will be flexible", this could apply to primary schools as well! So we could have a whole bunch of 7 year olds being bussed from Buckingham to Aylesbury to attend the closest non selective primary school... That will work then!

So why do I agree with this policy? Because I would love to see the sheer bloomin' chaos that would ensue from this policy! This would expose just how much UKIP does not understand the world and the subtlety of creating policies that are really about making the world a better place.

Oh but hang on, the very existence of this official policy already does that...!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dissecting the 'dissection': tackling UKIP

I saw this couple of tweets this morning and felt driven to investigate:


Mr Otteridge is the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Southend West (who I imagine is gleefully looking forward to May next year when I expect he hopes to 'do a Clacton'). Ms Evans is the UKIP Deputy Chairman (none of this PC rubbish about Chair or Chairwoman of course!) and UKIP candidate for Shrewsbury & Atcham. So, two serious and I imagine leading lights in the party. I was interested to read this surgical analysis of Ed Miliband's speech...

You can read his whole blog here. I won't go through it line by line (I have a noisy cat to feed and indeed, I find if I read all of what UKIPpers write, I get a bit a headache...) But here are some choice bits for you to chew on...:

Mr O says (for example) Let’s dissect this sound-bite by sound-bite: “And above all Britain only succeeds when working people succeed”

Correct, but what contribution has Labour made to that? With their combination of Tax Credits and high benefits payments, there is precious little incentive to rise from being unemployed to low-paid work, thus starting up the ladder to success. Instead, they encouraged the import of cheap overseas labour, either willing to work, or willing to join the queue claiming benefits.

So the implication of this is that UKIP would do away with Tax Credits in order to incentivise people to rise from being unemployed to low paid work...

First thing is, you only get Working Tax Credit if you are working.. (Here is a helpful link for Mr O) The clue is in the name. You can get Child Tax Credit if you are not working although it goes down if a person starts working. The whole point of the tax credit system is to tackle the poverty trap whereby people on benefits, used to immediately lose all those benefits on finding work. Tax credits seek to 'feather' the transition from unemployment to employment in such as way as indeed to encourage people to work. So Mr O needs to say a) what precisely is wrong with the current tax credit system (set to be replaced by the Universal Credit system in 2017 - maybe) and b) what UKIP would do in its place? Or would they do away with all forms of income benefits so as to encourage people into (as he candidly puts it) low paid work? Any chance of a policy here? All we have been told so far is "UKIP supports a simplified, streamlined welfare system and a benefit cap". And that is it...

As for the second part of his 'analysis' about encouraging the import of cheap overseas labour, this is standard UKIP flim flam. What they seem to forget is that the EU is founded on the principle of the free movement of labour and business around the common market. No encouragement required.

But let's move on to the next slice of Miliband to be shown the UKIP knife:

“Basic British values”

What about them? Are they good, or to be despised and destroyed? Methinks that Labour would rather them destroyed.  The mass immigration that they started, and showing few signs abating, is rapidly diluting those values. Never forget that they wanted to “rub our noses in diversity”.

So here Mr O just creates a straw man: "methinks" etc. The "mass immigration they started" - when was that then? Was that before or after we voted to remain in the Common Market in 1975 (67% voted YES to "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?") or are we going back to after the WW2 when all those West Indians came over to the UK on the Windrush? Or some other unspecified time? Mr O, if you are going to do a dissection please can you be more specific otherwise people like me will say that you are just using soundbites and flim flam...

I am intrigued to know where the quote of “rub our noses in diversity” comes from. Is it just made up? Have quotation marks been added to make it appear somehow more authentic? Who said this, when and what was the context? Otherwise I will cite that famous quote "You can't trust UKIPpers, they just make everything up" said by someone important at some time, you know, you remember, don't you...?

OK, next bit. (The cat is getting louder though...)

“Security”

So, do we achieve security by meddling in foreign countries with ill-thought out plans, to introduce unstable governments that are easily defeated by rag-bag collections of Islamic fighters, or do we take a more sanguine approach to ensuring security of the homeland and our key overseas interests. On that, Labour failed again, by ensuring that we have a lot of potential terrorists resident in the country, and protected from prosecution by Human Rights Laws that favour criminals and minorities, rather than the law-abiding majority.

I think Mr O might be forgetting that it was Ed Miliband and the Labour Party that effectively stopped this government marching into Syria. And, I would argue, changed US policy, as a consequence. This was the first time ever, that a sitting government had lost a vote to deploy troops (I think). Yes, you can keep harking back to the Iraq and Afghanistan expeditions, but I think you will find that one of the reasons why Ed beat David was because Ed was not involved in that decision to go to war in Iraq... This is not something to use against Ed.

And who does Mr O mean when he says that "we have a lot of potential terrorists". What do they look like? Does he know where they live? Has he told the police or the security services?

And as for "Human Rights Laws that favour criminals and minorities, rather than the law-abiding majority" where is his evidence of this? It is an idea that some on the Right love to wheel out but I am guessing if Mr O was imprisoned without trial, he would be first to want to claim his Human Rights. Again this is not dissection... this is more like trying to cut a rope with an old pair of scissors.

As usually happens when I seek to unpack UKIP propaganda, I begin to lose the will to live. I will do one more (the last) section:

“And a country succeeding together, not ripped apart”

Taking all the above together, it is obvious that Labour’s smoke and mirrors strategy worked for a while between 1997 and 2010. There was n world economic boom they rode on the crest of, and the full effects of mass immigration were not fully noticed. Then came the crash of 2008, then the truth beginning to emerge about the failures in Iraq and other overseas wars, and over-stretch of public services. Labour keep blaming the Tories for the last 4 years, and they have done little to exacerbate the problems, but Labour were the architects of the declining and ripped apart nation that we see today.

So Labour rode on the worldwide economic boom for which they did not have a hand in but somehow caused the worldwide crash of 2008 which created a "ripped apart nation". Hmm, no contradictions there then...

And as for "Labour keep blaming the Tories for the last 4 years, and they have done little to exacerbate the problems"... two things: the Tories (with Lib Dems) are the ones in power - of course they are to blame for the last 4 years! Duh! Labour are in opposition which means all we can do is oppose (again the clue is in the name) - Labour are not in power...!


And two, Mr O needs to check the meaning of 'exacerbate'... Of course Labour have done little to exacerbate the problems - we don't want to make things even worse for the people of this country!!

OK cat now needs feeding...

Come on UKIP, surely you can do better than this?!

Police & Crime Panels: fan clubs or proper scrutiny?

Imagine this: a local police Chief Constable has been doing her shrewd and level best to balance the books and endeavour to keep as many PCSOs and police officers working on the front line as possible. It has been difficult: large budgetary cuts have been made but community safety has been largely maintained. This process has been underway for several years and began well before the PCC was elected into post. Indeed careful precept management has been going on for many years, the foundations for which were put in place more than a decade ago under the previous Chief Constable and Police Authority.

The PCC gets elected on the ticket of maintaining front line delivery yada yada. And then a couple of years later, this begins to happen: Confusion reigns over likely impact of police funding axe followed a few weeks later by (after joint ducks have been lined up): Job cuts will not impact on safety, insists police chief

Now, I am not going to talk about the cuts stuff - that can be for another blog. But what I am going to talk about is the Police & Crime Panel (PCP). Remember the PCP is there to hold the PCC to account for his/her actions & decisions to deliver an efficient and effective police service. The PCC is the budget holder.

Now the first "confusion reigns" story above appeared in the newspapers on 24 September. The last meeting of the PCP was on the 19 September, 5 days previous. Therefore the next meeting of the PCP on 21 November will the first occasion that members of the panel will have to quiz the PCC about his handling of all these budgetary matters. I think that is rather important and deserves some proper public debate, don't you? After all, up until these stories broke, the PCC and the CC were seamlessly united in public (at least that is the impression I have).

So wind forward to the agenda set for the PCP meeting a week today. You can read it here. You will see that just 15 minutes is set aside to discuss Frontline Policing Numbers in the Thames Valley. On the other hand, a whole 60 minutes is scheduled for a discussion of rural crime. That is a third of the meeting. This is one of seven meetings of the PCP this year.

Remember rural crime has been defined broadly as agricultural crime (it isn't about crime in rural areas, by the way). In other words it is about crimes happening on farms, to farm machinery etc. (You can read the definition here.) And rural crime is so important that if I search for details of its incidence, I can find nothing on the Thames Valley Police Service site. What I do find are details of burglaries, homicides, assaults etc here (which, I might add, are broadly all going in the right direction except sexual offences which are going up - although that too might be a positive indicator than more incidents are being reported).

I will discuss rural crime in another post soon (FoI currently in and I am waiting for a response).

So I am left with wondering who really set the agenda for the PCP next Friday? It feels to me awfully like the PCC had a fairly big hand in shaping it towards what he wants to talk about whilst leaving minimal room for the issue that (I would argue) is of far greater public concern - and which he may not want to talk about...

Is this good governance in action? Is the PCP being just a tad too friendly and not enough challenging to the PCC? I know they have to be both, but the agenda for next week feels like fan club meeting.

What do you think?


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering peace

I acknowledge the value and importance that many people place upon evidencing their remembrance of the killed and maimed combatants and non-combatants from past wars & violent conflicts. People do this by wearing poppies (both red and white), attending parades and participating in such ceremonies as was seen at the Albert Hall on Saturday.

The Veterans for Peace (and UK chapter) "seek a culture of peace and the abolition of war". I am at one with them. And whilst many of them attend remembrance ceremonies, I remain deeply uncomfortable with the efforts of some (and it is only some) to mix in jingoism and muted glorification of war. And so along with others, and since it is my choice, I prefer to remain apart from such public events and shows of support. There are other reasons too, which I won't go into.

However, for me, this is a day when I do remember all the victims of all the political decisions to go to war. This is day when I admire the courage and spirit of people who are rebuilding their lives after being subjected to the physical and psychological violence of warfare. (for example, I am reminded of the powerful stage show "The Two Worlds of Charlie F" which I saw a few months ago in Aylesbury. Go see the show if you can!) And I reminded of my schoolboy reading of Wilfred Owen's poem:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
[Extract from warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html]

I recall my Mother telling me how her Father would never talk about his experiences in WW1. And I remember to link this day to Holocaust Memorial Day in January and other days that note the bloody & violent events of history.

This is a day when I remember how sad I am that there are still powerful people who believe that violence & war is the appropriate response to some events even when we have such shining examples of people who chose a different path: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and now Malala Yousafzai .

I also remember how much money is spent on weapons every year instead of materials and tools to grow crops, prevent illness and build peace.

This is certainly a day for remembering. It is also a day for action. 

Although I like to think that I spend every day helping to build a safer and more peaceful Buckingham, UK and the World, I will be paying particular attention to doing so today. This blog is part of that action. I will also point you towards: 12 Ways to Build Peace.

What action will you take today to build a more peaceful world?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Why Ed Miliband is a great political leader

There has been much talk in the last few days about a 'crisis' overtaking Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party and his prospects of becoming the next PM. I am not going to use this blog to list all the policy reasons why I sincerely hope that Ed will be this country's next Prime Minister. Nor indeed am I going to bother you with all the ways in which the media are seeking to undermine him. You can find all this stuff out for yourself. (Try following #WeBackEd hashtag on twitter for a start, which has been trending for the last couple of days now.)

Instead I want to spend some time looking at political leadership. Speaking for myself (I am not seeking to pretend this is some kind of objective academic list, even though I have I specialised in leadership, organisational transformation & social change for most of my career), I would say that great political leaders:
  • Provide hope 
  • Provide direction
  • Provide the ways by which all people can dream and realise those ambitions
  • Lead from the front but also...
  • Know when to step back and empower others
  • Provide evidence of their empathy & understanding
  • Make principled stands against powerful interests
  • Are unfailingly courteous, treating everyone with great respect
  • Listen twice as much as they talk
  • Risk unpopularity when pursuing what is right
  • Pay particular attention to those whose voices are quiet and often not heard
  • Know that glossy charisma is no substitute for deep integrity
  • Aim to become more like themselves
  • React to events but not be overwhelmed by them
  • Make people laugh and smile
  • Help people who don't, feel good about themselves
  • Make the political weather...

I could go on. 

Very few, if any, political leaders tick all these boxes. And even if they do, being in power, sometimes means a few boxes get 'un-ticked', as it were.

In my opinion, Ed is ticking the vast majority of these boxes at the moment. Therefore in my book he is a great political leader. But leadership is in the eyes in the beholder: it is a status earned not claimed. In part (since Ed is only part of the political package on offer), all this will be tested next May. 

I think the omens are still that not only will the existing PM and coalition government lose the next general election, but Ed and the Labour Party will win it too. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The sky is falling, the sky is falling!


Apart from Bristol & Doncaster, nine cities voted in May 2012 against the idea of an elected Mayor. The vote in Manchester (on a turn out of 24% - significantly higher than any PCC election) was 53.2% to 46.8% against the idea.

That was then, and this is now: George Osborne: Greater Manchester to have elected mayor (3 November 2014). Moreover the "mayor will oversee policies such as transport, social care and housing as well as police budgets".

Personally, I didn't know that referendum results had a half life which means that they can be ignored after approximately 30 months. (The Scottish Yes campaigners must be rubbing their hands in glee.)

I will leave it to people steeped in local government stuff to discuss the merits of this policy. Although I note today that several West Midlands councils have signed up to a "proposed alliance between Birmingham City Council, Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Dudley authorities" and which "would serve a combined population of 3.4 million people". No mention of Mayors though.

What I do want to focus upon is the inclusion of police budgets as highlighted above. This seems to me to be a recognition that the PCC model is not working. Sp before complete panic sets in, the ever political, pragmatic & urbane Chancellor has come up with a Plan B. The sky is not quite yet falling on the model of the PCC (possibly soon to be credited to a UKIP MP), but it is getting close, very close.

(Of course the begging question is why did Mr Osborne sign the agreement, not Mr Pickles under whom local government comes...)

But back to the governance model, this decision in Manchester (which may or may not happen in its current form, depending on the general election result) will have sent ripples across the PCC world. If this can happen in Manchester, it can certainly happen in Newcastle/Gateshead/Middlesbrough, Bristol, greater Birmingham and Bristol to name but a few.

So are we seeing the beginning of the end of PCCs, even from the party of Government that introduced them? I suspect so and the manifesto will probably go further. 

I will watch this space...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

EDM: Public free wifi

Anyone who appreciates the work of Abraham Maslow, will enjoy this cartoon! But it is a serious point now: how much do we all need wifi to (almost) breathe?

So I had an idea this morning (and I fully accept I may not be the first to have this), let's have an Early Day Motion something like below, debated in Parliament:

This House requires all public service buildings to offer free wifi to the general public. This may be done separately or in collaboration with other public services housed in the same building. For the purposes of this Act, public service includes all organisations funded directly or indirectly (as part of arms length or outsourcing arrangements) from the public purse.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hallooo...! Come in PCCs... your time is up!


We have been experiencing one of the warmest Autumns on record, I should imagine. I was in London last Friday walking around in just a shirt and T-shirt. As we all know, weather can influence whether people come out to vote or not. It is likely to be the case that this had an impact on the November 2012 Police & Crime Commissioner elections. However, last Thursday in South Yorkshire was a pretty fine day, I think.

The turnout in the election was 14.65%. This is marginally more than November 2012 when it was 14.53%. Given the PCC role is unique, it is difficult to compare this by-election to any other. But for a moment imagine that Boris Johnson had stepped down in similar circumstances to Shaun Wright. The turnout in the London Mayoral election in 2012 was 38.1% (down from 45.33% four years previous).

In such circumstances would you expect the turnout to go up? Or down? Or remain about the same? I would expect a significant increase in turnout. At the very least, probably more people would be aware an election was happening. 

To return to South Yorkshire: here was a case where the electorate were choosing someone to oversee the response of the police service to a range of great local controversies: Rotherham, Hillsborough & Orgreave. The issue of Child Sexual Abuse was (and remains) 'off the scale' hot, in political terms (and rightly so).

So please tell me: how is it that only a few more people came out the vote? I predicted that there ought to be at least a comparable turnout to an ordinary local government election. But there wasn't. The turnout fell far short of this.

So to summarise, South Yorkshire had:
  • 2 years in to the new PCC role 
  • a previously high profile and now shamed incumbent
  • very active campaigning by all parties involved, especially UKIP who appear to have thrown buckets of money at the campaign
  • wide coverage in national and local newspapers
  • clear explanations of the role of the PCC - including their role to oversee the Chief Constable and the whole police performance
  • generally a highly charged political context involving the abuse of children and young people
  • several other issues of great concern

And even with all of this....! The turnout was just bumped up a little more than the very low turnout last time.

If there is anyone left who thinks the PCC role is a credible structure for holding the police service to democratic account because it is based upon a public vote... please let me know. 

This by-election, more than any other, will surely now mean that the PCC experiment is consigned to the history books at the earliest opportunity. If it remains without root & branch reform, then this will show that a future government is just not listening to the public.

What do you think?

Friday, October 31, 2014

The reasons why UKIP lost the South Yorkshire PCC election

Alan Billings, the Labour candidate has just won the South Yorkshire PCC election which was triggered by the resignation of the previous Labour PCC over the Rotherham scandal. I suspect that UKIP genuinely thought they would win this election.

However, Labour won on (just) 50.2% of first preference votes, I believe. In 2012, very few PCC elections were won without the count going to second preferences (where more than two people stood). Therefore, given the circumstances, this is a significant Labour victory. (I know that I feared that UKIP would snatch this election given the febrile context.)

From the tweets I have seen, I suspect that UKIP campaigners and supporters are aghast and disappointed, to put it mildly. They must be wondering how come they lost. Allow me to suggest why:

Lesson one: you have to respect your electorate. I have just seen this despicable tweet which leaves me worried, very worried:


If this is the mindset of UKIP supporters, they are not going to do very well. Are there now any UKIP supporters who are Muslim? This tweet effectively says that if you voted Labour, you are morally equivalent to a child rapist. Nice.

Lesson two: invoke & add to the suffering of people who have been abused at your peril. As an earlier post of mine highlighted, campaigning on the basis of '1400 reasons to vote UKIP' is going to upset many people, and, guess what, these people have votes to cast. Such a campaign might just rouse your supporters but it is unlikely to gain more.

Lesson three: have something positive to say. The UKIP campaign was almost entirely negative. The fact is they have nothing to offer as a way forward from the growing scandals of Rotherham, Sheffield, Manchester, Oxford, Aylesbury (and wherever next...) Their only vaguely relevant policy is to ban political correctness... so how is that going to work or make a difference then??

Lesson four: don't ignore all the other issues. Despite what UKIP wanted this election to be all about, it wasn't. The investigations into Orgreave and Hillsborough were high profile as well. As indeed is how to make policing even better / communities even safer in South Yorkshire. UKIP might like to think they can shape the agenda but actually it is the electorate who do so...

Lesson five: police officers do not necessarily make good police commissioners. UKIP made much of the experience of their candidate. Obviously. But voters are not stupid: they know it takes more to be a good PCC than being a police inspector 8 or 9 years ago.

Which brings me to Lesson six: don't underestimate the electorate! The UKIP campaign was an object lesson in saying "well, I wouldn't start from here" when asked for directions to somewhere. UKIP might like to think they are men and women of the people but this result shows that to be not the case.

UKIP mounted a nasty, divisive and ignorant campaign. The electorate have shown UKIP that they are not like that.

Good!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Zero reasons to vote UKIP

It is difficult for me to put into words quite how disgusted & despairing I feel over UKIP's campaign in the South Yorkshire for their PCC candidate.

I am disgusted that they have shamelessly further exploited young and vulnerable people by wrapping them namelessly into their political campaign. The irony that they feel able to criticise Michael Fallon for using the word 'swamped' (Ukip also accused Fallon of resorting to “intemperate language) whilst doing this, leaves me aghast. And also here is a party that has just joined forces with a Polish MEP (in order to save their EU funding arrangements) whose party has, at the very least, some extraordinarily 'dodgy' views on the Holocaust and violence against women.

And I despair that this viciously, vacuous and vindictive campaign could win them a substantial number of votes. After all, precisely what policies are UKIP promoting in order to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation, not just in Rotherham and Sheffield, but also in other afflicted areas like Oxford and Aylesbury? None is the answer apart from (as they might see it) banning political correctness...


And of course, since UKIP is an irony free zone, they would not be able to see why 'free speech' includes using, if one wishes, politically correct language. Or as one illustrious Guardian letter writer (Allan Jones) put it, after Mike Read withdrew his Calypso from sale, isn't this a question of 'Political madness gone correct'...

But back to South Yorkshire, I much prefer this poster as devised by Michael Abberton


I sincerely hope that good governance prevails and a person worthy of the position is elected to become the Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. Let's see what democratic result emerges...

Friday, October 24, 2014

UKIP Cabaret

I love this song by Liza but the end of the film always chills me to the bone... Perhaps Mike Read will do a parody / cover of this one day...


Recently, I have been doing my little bit engaging with some Kippers on Twitter. But I am reminded of GBS's famous quote "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it". But for me this is a key question: how much do I (and people like me) attempt to tackle and deconstruct the myths, lies, fatuous arguments and downright hateful things that UKIPpers say & publish? I have been pointed to their list of 'policies' in recent days. You can read them here for yourself.

The list is little more than fantasy politics: cobbled together and populist statements with about as much similarity to a programme for government as the back page of the Daily Star.

Should I / we spend time unpicking the daftness of most of these 'policies'? 

For example, last night on BBC Question Time, the UKIP MEP declared that the reason they have a 'policy' against plain paper packaging for cigarette packets is because this would allow more contraband cigarettes into the country! Personally, I would have thought that they would be in favour of plainer packets of fags, as this would provide UKIP with more space on which to compose their policies... (For the record, it is not hard to counterfeit cigarette packaging whatever it looks like... ask a printer!)

UKIPpers don't like detail and they seem to hate specifics. They would rather simplify & reduce everything down to a few tired polemics on Europe, political correctness and the LibLabCon parties all being run by nonces (yup, I had that this morning on Twitter).

But read this article by Rafael Behr: This isn’t about the Tory party. It’s a battle for the soul of British politics - Ukip is waging a visceral culture war in its pursuit of byelection votes. In it he says:
Ukip sells cries of protest to people with deep-rooted problems who feel voiceless. It aggravates grievance to expand its market. This is a different business model to the one the so-called mainstream parties should pursue. They are elected as purveyors of credible solutions. Farage is not just a new entrant in the marketplace for votes where loyalty to the old brands is fading; he is waging a culture war against the politics of practical solutions and workable imperfections.
How much should we engage in this culture war? As I have mentioned a couple of times, my blog which deconstructs the UKIP local government manifesto from May this year, has shot to all time number one on this blog. I am not sure why except to wonder whether people are hungry for ammunition against UKIP.

But my weapons against UKIP are based on reason, evidence, research, complexity, logic & analysis. UKIP peddles a different kind of approach which seems to me to be based on emotion, anecdote, polemic and crass simplicity.

I am really not sure what the best way forward is... I just remember how Cabaret ends...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A critical test of the PCC structure

A week from now, the polls will be open across the South Yorkshire police area to elect a new Police & Crime Commissioner. This will be the second by election for a PCC: the first was in the West Midlands and followed the untimely death of Bob Jones. The turnout in that election was 10.4%

The South Yorkshire poll could not be happening in more politically controversial circumstances: not only does it follow the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal & subsequent tardy resignation of the former Labour PCC, police conduct matters, long past but still very raw, also feature (Orgreave & Hillsbrough). The four candidates (Conservative, English Democrats, Labour & UKIP) featured on a live webcast a couple of days ago, in a live Star and Sheffield Telegraph Question Time-style debate. (I would say it was more oak, pine & cedar that QT style!)

The election will be a critical test of the PCC governance structure. Given the context, if this by election does not gain at least a 35% turnout (roughly equivalent to an average turnout in a local authority election), then the claims that PCC role is all about popular democracy & local accountability will be simply null and void.

As a (British!) democrat, obviously I hope that the turnout will exceed this minimal threshold and perhaps even match what we saw in Scotland a few weeks ago. I want people to be actively engaged with the future of policing, crime and community safety. (For the record, I also want the NHS to be much more democratically accountable, and far less stitched up by professionals with dubious conflicting commercial interests as I have reported on before. Why isn't it Tory policy to have elected Health Commissioners too?)

Despite the political protestations of the (neutral civil servant?) Chief Executive of the Office for the Police & Crime Commissioner of the Devon & Cornwall in an article in Police Professional a few weeks ago that he has:
worked in both recent governance arrangements – the police authority and the current PCC set-up. It is true that the power in police authorities was spread across the 17 to 21 members. This, in itself, might not be an issue. The issue – and Labour and the Lib Dems seemed determined to repeat this with their emerging proposals – is that police authorities found it impossible to make decisions.
...I assume he will have read the Stevens Report and subsequent statements by front bench spokespeople from both Labour & LibDem parties. In his role as the impartial professional adviser to the PCC, he would know that democratic accountability is a key ingredient in both emerging policies.

Mr White also reflects on whether the public do or do not want PCCs, that it would be an 
interesting challenge to any politician to see how much the public would lend their support to any of them.  
Chief Executive Mr White might want to reflect upon how many people vote in other elections which is the critical way in which most citizens show their support...

Let us all reflect on the implications of the South Yorkshire PCC election, eight days from now. It will be fascinating to see who wins and what the turn out is...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Never give up!

I awoke yesterday morning to the breathtaking news that an Anglo-Polish team had managed to use a man's nasal nerves to repair his spine and restore some life changing functionality to his lower body. Amazing! For me, this was a Christiaan Barnard moment: a genuine breakthrough in medical science. My hearty congratulations to everyone involved, not least the courageous patient at the centre of it all.

I listened to a humble, excited and indeed 'frightened' Professor Geoffrey Raisman on BBC Radio 4 talking about how his research had begun in the 1970's. He said he was frightened (I think) because the future is now so pregnant with possibilities for thousands of people, that it is so daunting and scary.

This is of course just one case and replication will be a critical next step. But I cannot express how excited I am at the idea that our bodies can be helped to repair themselves in ways that we never thought possible. If this research can lead to treatments that can help people regain control of their limbs, bodily functions (including breathing) after traumatic injury or strokes: this is truly momentous!

All of which got me thinking: are we using all the technology available to us to build community safety, prevent crime, reduce road fatalities and generally achieve an even more peaceful society? What crime prevention ideas have been bubbling around for 30+ years (in the heads of people like Professor Geoffrey Raisman) that are doggedly being pursued but which have not yet made it, as it were?

And by technology, I don't just mean the machines that go ping or the clever use of biology or chemistry: critical though they are. I also mean the new ways of thinking, the news ways of practising that can really make a difference...

For me, one of the key ideas in this latest news above, is "don't give up": if you think you know of a way that will help humankind, stick at it! It may take you 40 years but if you know it can work...

And it all comes back to leadership: the best leaders in the world listen lots and look for every which way to support innovation in practice. How is your leadership doing?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Questions for UKIP

Twitter is awash with outrage about Mike Read's 'just for fun' UKIP calypso sung in a faux Jamaican accent. Personally, I am now looking for his covers of Al Jolson's Mammy & Peter Sellers' Goodness Gracious Me... But as I have said before, we should not be distracted by these silly antics. Mr Farage and his acolytes are no fools: they know that by consistently creating such ridiculous promos, the public will fail to notice what a) they are really doing and b) the gaping chasm of policies for any serious political party.

Did you know for example that yesterday, UKIP managed to patch together a new European Parliamentary grouping so as to save its funding? You can read the story here: Ukip does deal with far-right, racist Holocaust-denier to save EU funding Funny how that story broke on the same day that Mike Read's single was released...

And if you Google 'UKIP Policies' you get this: What We Stand For, which is about as informative as soggy food label which may contain nuts...

So, I thought I would ask ten questions of UKIP, so that we can shine a little more light on their programme for government should any of them get elected or even hold the balance of power next May...

1) Do you think that free market economics should apply to health & social care, including the application of TTIP (which is likely to mean many US companies bidding to run our NHS)?

2) You say that you will allow for the creation of new grammar schools: how will such decisions be made and who will fund the consequent costs?

3) One of your 'issues' is "No to Political Correctness - it stifles free speech". Do you have a glossary of which words, phrases or practises that would be banned? Also, does free speech include politically correct phrasing?

4) You state that you will "prioritise social housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born locally". How will this impact upon the responsibilities of local government to house at risk homeless people? And is it 'parents and grandparents', or ''parents and/or grandparents' or ''parents or grandparents'? Will there be extra points for great-grandparents too?

5) You say that you will legislate for "binding local and national referenda, at the public’s request, on major issues". What will be the threshold for the 'public's request' and 'major' issues. Who get's to decide on what is 'major', for example?

6) You say that "Immigrants must financially support themselves and their dependents for 5 years" and this means such items as "private health insurance (except emergency medical care), private education and private housing". What about other state funded benefits such as motorway maintenance, policing and the fire service? Would immigrants have to fund their own private versions of these also?

7) If the UK leaves the EU, what will happen to the millions of Brits currently working and living in mainland Europe?

8) You say that there will be "No tax on the minimum wage". Does this include people who have other incomes that take them above the personal tax allowance but decided to earn some more money on top, but at a minimum wage?

9) You say that you will "Scrap HS2, all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies" while developing "shale gas to reduce energy bills and free us from dependence on foreign oil and gas". Please can you confirm that shale gas/oil will not be subsidised in any way?

10) You say that you wish to "remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights": which Human Rights currently covered by the European Convention do you not agree with?

I look forward to the answers...

PS UKIP promised a document outlining more detailed policies... when is this going to be published?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bread & Roses: the march goes on

I have just blogged about Pride: the wonderful and inspirational new movie about the time when a group of gay men and lesbians supported some striking miners in South Wales in 1984. Please go and see this film. You will laugh, smile, cry and (maybe even) punch the air (I did).

At one point the film features a stirring and touching rendition of 'Bread & Roses', sung by Bronwen Lewis (a contestant on the Voice a couple of years ago). The film is all about the power of solidarity. This song punctuates the film with a (musical) note that the struggle for fairness and equality is not just about bread. It is about roses too.

Here are the words to the song (taken from this Wikipedia site):
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,For they are women's children, and we mother them again.Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women deadGo crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.The rising of the women means the rising of the race.No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
(the words are by James Oppenheim)
The original inspiration  for the poem/lyrics came from a speech by Rose Schneiderman who was a notable United States union leader, socialist, and feminist of the first part of the twentieth century. She is quoted as saying "The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too".

It is difficult to contain all of my thoughts and feelings arising from both the movie and this song into a (relatively) short blog post. I could write reams. So here are just a few thoughts:
  • I feel enormously proud and humble to be part of a worldwide movement that simply believes in people as humans, and not just as commercial units to add to a financial spreadsheet.
  • Art and beauty are as important as basic needs: we must have bread but we must have roses too...
  • There is nothing that cannot be achieved when people come together in true solidarity and open friendship.
  • While there will probably always be hate and prejudice, this will always be dwarfed by our capacity to reach out, find common cause and nurture love.
  • There are people who are intent upon building a world based on division and subtraction: but I believe there are many more of us who want a world based on multiplication and addition. (This is the Right and Left Wing Maths of Politics)
  • There is no hierarchy of equalities: creating a sustainable, fair and ambitious world rests on everyone's talents & creativity being honoured and developed. Only then will all people be able to dream and have the resources to achieve those dreams.
  • The people united will never be defeated 
  • Or to quote another movie, everything will be alright in the end. And if it's not alright, it's not the end. The march goes on.
... the march goes on...

Monday, September 29, 2014

So what is UKIP's policy on Police & Crime governance?

The bubbling news over the weekend, as the Conservative Party sat down to pray in Birmingham, is that Mark Reckless has done a Daniel Carswell... and joined UKIP. Following the Clacton by election where polls are suggesting that Mr Carswell will be elected as the town's UKIP MP, there will now be a by election in Rochester & Strood as well. It is too early to say whether Mr Reckless (a notable member of the Home Affairs Select Committee) is likely to be elected or not. I would imagine that the Conservative Party will be throwing quite a few kitchen sinks at both constituencies in forthcoming days and weeks.

Now, it is most interesting, as far as this blog is concerned, that both of these men are architects of the Police & Crime Commissioner based governance system. The other main people (culprits?) are Dan Hannan MEP and Nick Herbert MP. (I imagine the whips will be seeking them out in coming days too.)

So this got me wondering what the UKIP party's policy is on police & crime governance. It is difficult to 'nail down' UKIP policy when it seems so changeable of course. (What happened to the 'wag tax' as it was dubbed on Friday?)

So I went first to the official UKIP website. Given that they have just had their conference, I expected this to be a good source of guidance. They appear to have 'issues' rather than 'policies'. They have one section entitled: Safeguard Against Crime, which has the following 'issues':
  • No cuts to front line policing.
  • Make sentences mean what they say.
  • No votes for prisoners - that’s what losing your liberty means.
  • Prevent foreign criminals entering the UK - by re-introducing border controls that the EU forced us to abandon.
  • Scrap the European Arrest Warrant, which sends British citizens to foreign jails without evidence, just to answer questions - replace it with a proper extradition system.
  • Remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. 
Naturally, anything with a 'European' tag is anathema to UKIP which accounts for 3 of these 6 'issues'. Arguably, since it was a ECHR decision, the third issue is also part of the European thing. Which just leaves us with the first two: no cuts to frontline policing. I think we can dismiss this as mere motherhood & apple pie since all political parties will say no cuts to the frontline (even though that is, of course, what happens when you reduce budgets as fast as they have been in recent years...)

And so we are left with making sentences mean what they say. I have never read a full custodial sentence delivered by a judge but I would hazard a guess they contain all the words necessary to either state explicitly or implicitly clearly reference the precise legal implications of the sentence. In other words, they already mean what they say. So frankly I have no idea what this 'issue' statement means other than to trigger (without actually saying such) thoughts as 'life should mean life' etc. Indeed this is typical of UKIP statements, they often hint rather than state what they mean on the basis that keeping things vague leaves them plenty of room for manoeuvre.

So, in terms of policy on policing, there isn't much. So I thought I would check out the latest UKIP candidate for the forthcoming PCC by election in South Yorkshire. He has been named as UKIP councillor Jack Clarkson. He is a former Lib Dem councillor and was a police officer from 1976 to 2006. He is now on record for saying "Only UKIP can guarantee that political correctness will not get in the way of investigating crimes and only UKIP can promise one law for all".

Hmm.

So exactly how will this guarantee and promise work? I hope someone asks him this at a hustings sometime soon. 

He also states that it is his "commitment to the people of South Yorkshire that [he] will give them back a police force they can trust, a force that has a more visible presence, with more boots on the ground and more community policing that will safeguard our communities". All stirring stuff and a plan which deserves to be scrutinised for its practicality within the current levels of funding. From where will these 'more boots' come from?

It will be interesting to see what background is dug out about Jack Clarkson and to hear more of his plans and policies. Will he receive the campaign support of the two Conservative architects of the post for which he is seeking election, I wonder?

But meanwhile some more background on him (from LinkedIn):
  • Jack retired from SYP at the rank of Inspector after completing 30 Year’s service.
  • Soon thereafter he became the Rotherham Branch manager for 'Victim Support' assisting and caring for victims of crime. 
  • Jack's area of of expertise surrounds community cohesion, engagement and safety.
  • Jack is now self employed working for companies and private individuals relating to confidential and sensitive security issues (listed in part as: May 2011 to Present - Bespoke investigations on behalf of clients - Business and Private, ranging from Professional witness service to tracing and tracking.)
He also features in a UFO type incident on Howden Moor in March 1997. It would seem he was involved in policing at least part of Rotherham beyond his sojourn in the 80s during the miners' strike.

On January the 10th 2013 Jack Clarkson decided that he would represent the UK Independence party as Town Councillor for Stocksbridge, (as announced by UKIP). This timing is somewhat intriguing as he had been already announced as running mate to the UKIP candidate for the original PCC elections in November 2012. He stood as Lib Dem in May 2012 Sheffield City Council elections. He stood and won as a UKIP candidate in May 2014.

I watch this space and look forward to understanding more about UKIP's approach to policing and its governance...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Intriguing timing

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that PCC Anthony Stansfeld (Thames Valley) has declared that 400 police officers will have to be cut in order to balance the books and meet the falling contributions from the Treasury. The article goes on to say:
“There will be across-the-board cuts on most, if not all, types of policing.” Mr Stansfeld said the prospect of losing so many officers meant it might not be possible to “keep a lid on” crime in larger towns in his area, including Slough and Reading.
The timing of this is intriguing. Perhaps it is a shot across the bow of the government and a way for Mr Stansfeld to assert the importance and indeed independence of PCCs. In a week where the Labour Party conference is underway and Yvette Cooper has announced that a future Labour government will axe PCCs, I am left wondering just who Mr Stansfeld hopes will hear his words?

Thames Valley of course polices both constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary... It is curious though that only in July was the Chief Constable reported as saying that "she needed to cut 77 officer jobs by March, as part of £38m budget cuts over the next three years".

I will be watching this space...

UPDATE 1711 | 230914: After some space watching and a helpful tweet from @MartinPetchey, the MK Citizen has published this story "Police job cuts: Chief constable denies claims". Huh? So what exactly is going on? There appears to be a significant difference of opinion between the Chief Constable and the PCC... Perhaps they would like to explain further?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PCC: irony (ˈʌɪrəni/)

Regular readers will know that I have referred to Anthony Stansfeld (PCC for Thames Valley) as the gift that keeps on giving. He has not said much of late but the Oxford Mail published an interview with him last Saturday. You can read it all here.

Here are some gems:
Mr Stansfeld said a fall in crime proved PCCs had been a success, but said media coverage often painted them in a bad light. He said: “The vast majority have been a considerable success.”
Yes, you read that correctly: the fall in crime proved PCCs had been a success...! Now to be fair to Mr Stansfeld, the news story does not contain a direct quote on this and perhaps the journalist will need to say exactly what Mr Stansfeld claimed but... it does not look good!

He also asserts, this time with a direct quote given, that the vast majority have been a success without providing any evidence to back up that claim. On what basis have they been a success? As readers know, I believe there have been some successes and I praise the PCCs who are making a difference but "vast majority"... hmm.

He also goes onto say
“What I find ironic is that the profile of PCCs is only raised when something goes wrong.”
Here is a web definition of 'irony':
- the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.("‘Don't go overboard with the gratitude,’ he rejoined with heavy irony")- a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result. ("the irony is that I thought he could help me"- a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.
As it happens I think that it is tragically perhaps but clearly inevitable and often wryly amusing that the profile of PCCs is only raised when something goes wrong... And PCCs are probably an example of latter day Greek tragedy in that many of them (and I can think of one or two...) do not know the full significance of their actions and words even though it is bloomin' obvious to the rest of us!

In this sense, Mr Stansfeld is on the money: PCCs are the epitome of irony, perhaps even quintessentially so...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Child Sexual Exploitation: what parents can do...

I will say more later on, but I wanted to get this information out as soon as possible. I have been pointed towards what seems to be an excellent publication produced by PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) which seeks to offer advice to parents in these circumstances:

Working with the Police: The role of parents in investigating child sexual exploitation

I have not read it in detail but it seeks to offer some helpful ways forward whereby concerned parents (and 'concerned' is probably an understatement!) can assist in the bringing to justice the adults involved in exploiting their children.

For your information: Who are Pace?
Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) works alongside parents and carers of children who are sexually exploited, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, by perpetrators external to the family. At our heart is a network of affected parents, whose expertise is central to our mission. Individual parents’ experiences are referred to throughout the booklet in distinctive handwritten type. You can read more about Pace and how we can help on pages 48–49
I will write more about this subject in later blogs. But for the time being...