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.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Plebian correctness gone mad: the Secret PCC develops new ethical guidelines

Of course in my day, back at the old alma mater, you could pretty well call the boys in the nearby village anything you liked... but not to their faces of course. The annual school vs oiks cricket match (or "community engagement project to avoid VAT being added to our school fees" to give it its proper full title) was an exercise in restraint and good manners. If things got heated over a boundary call or an LBW, words like cad, bounder and "look chummy, that bat was inside the crease, I'll have you know" were used instead.

Just as we learnt how to treat our seniors and betters, we also learnt how to treat the non-commissioned ranks (as it were) too. Which is why, I have never quite understood all the hoo-hah about plebgate and what Mr Mitchell was meant to have said or not said. Anyway today, it would seem that he has lost because he lost it.

So I have been pondering (for all of 30 minutes) on the implications of all this to my police force and what ethical/behavioural rules we need to set down to avoid any such occurrence happening on my watch... So here they are.

All police officers and members of staff should:
  • Never refer to anyone as a pleb, plebian, prole, member of the great unwashed, pond life, oik or any other word that you would not use in the company of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton
  • Avoid refusing, in a provocative way, to open a gate for someone very important unless there are some very good (i.e. documented) reasons for doing so
  • Show bottomless humility and grace towards anyone a) riding a bike b) of a lower or upper class c) with a camera / recording equipment
  • Acquaint themselves with headlines & stories from the tabloid press and ITV2 'moments' as a guide to handling 'working people'
  • Be very wary about using the Daily Mail or Katie Hopkins as a guide to ethics in public service practice: the Telegraph is a much better starting place
  • Develop an innate sense of knowing when to give up, smell the coffee and walk away...
I will be consulting on these guidelines over the next few weeks...


The Secret PCC Diary until now:

Legal disclaimer: just in case you thought this series of secret PCC blogs is based upon a real person or persons: it isn't. It really isn't. Any similarity to a living PCC is entirely coincidental.

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...)


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]

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?