Saturday, 4 October 2008

Top Cops in fight back as Boris fixes a toxic brew

A senior police officer ruled himself out of replacing Sir Ian Blair yesterday as the Association of Chief police officer warned of a 'toxic mix' brewed up by the Mayor.

The chief of West Yorkshire Police said that Boris Johnson had instigated a dangerous new constitutional settlement, in which he did not wish to play a part:

"I am not prepared to set aside my professional judgment and integrity, forged over 36 years, in order to meet short-term political expediency.

"The dislodging of Ian Blair is a demonstration of political will. Along this road lies danger. I am therefore staying put."

Meanwhile the Association of Chief Police Officers spoke out against the increased politicisation of their role:

"Over the last couple of days, the developments which led to the resignation of Sir Ian Blair as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service have dominated media debate. There is no doubt that the perception, if not the reality, of policing independence is fundamentally altered as a result of the last 48 hours.

“On the Today programme this morning, following consultation with senior colleagues, I set out the dangers we see in allowing drift away from the fine balance of interests between the tripartite players. In our country the duty to preserve the impartiality of policing rests squarely with us all; government, police authorities and chief officers. Politics, policing and vested interests make for a toxic mix.

“The new Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge spoke powerfully at the annual chief police officers’ dinner earlier this year of our history as a nation and the duty of judges and police officers to keep the “Queen’s peace” free from undue influence. Each police force, each police authority, each judge and our press are independent of each other, and perhaps most importantly of all, independent from unwarranted political pressure. All these independencies, by their very existence, support each other by acting as constitutional checks and balances.

“In recent years the balance has shifted. We remain concerned about the unintended consequences of adjustments to terms and conditions which position chief officers more as employees and less as office holders."

As Boris sent a letter to the Metropolitan Police Authority apologising for usurping their constitutional role, its recently departed chairman Len Duvall warned that:

"The Mayor appears to have blundered into this unilateral decision without a thought for the future of policing in London. Any commissioner will now be constantly looking over their shoulder, worried that a change of Mayor or change of government will mean they are forced from office. Londoners need to be confident the police are concentrating on keeping them safe, not worrying whether the Mayor will force them out.

"It seems that Boris has appointed himself judge, jury and executioner and is now compounding matters by indicating that he will not move to replace Sir Ian until a Tory government is elected. The Met must not be allowed to drift without firm leadership and the appointment of Sir Ian's replacement must, as with previous appointments, be made totally on merit; not on party political bias."

While it is clear that Blair's deputy Paul Stephenson is the favourite to replace him, it is also clear that Boris would replace him again if and when a Conservative government is elected.

According to the Evening Standard, Boris has had talks with LA police chief Bill Bratton and is considering pushing for a change in the law to allow for foreigners or even civilians to be allowed to head the force.

But as police officers in his own country fight back and as constitutional chaos spreads across local and national government, Boris himself appears to have gone to ground.

Asked yesterday who he had spoken to about the move he merely repeated that he had 'consulted widely' before making his decision.

But with it clear that neither the MPA, the government, or even David Cameron were consulted, it is not yet clear just who it was who forced his hand.

The Boris Johnson Show

The news that David Cameron was kept in the dark just days after speaking out against the move will further damage relations in a week in which he had hoped to retain all media attention.

In fact despite Cameron's best efforts to keep Boris out of the spotlight at the conference, it is Boris in the end who has had the last word.

But with his move now looking bold at best and reckless at worst, it remains to be seen just what long-term consequences will emerge from the latest episode of the Boris Johnson Show.


chris said...

Boris has made a hash of things as usual but in a way something like this was always going to happen. The constitution set up by Labour has been in limbo, ever since they created a city mayor without the powers of most city mayors.

The Troll said...

I think there is a case to be made for that. Bob Piper put it really well yesterday:

"Boris Johnson forcing Sir Ian Blair out of his job as Metropolitan Police Commissioner hardly comes as a surprise. I'm not really interested in the did he/didn't he aspects of whether Blair politicised his role and therefore could have anticipated the sack when there was a change of political control. There is a case for an American system where an incoming administration bring in their own staff who know and understand the programme expected of them. At least in that system people know the bureaucracy are politicised, unlike over here where we are all expected to think they are neutral servants of the state. Although anyone who has watched The Wire over the last five years will know the dangers of a police force subject to the daily whims of politicians looking to protect their own backsides more than their local population.

One thing I do find strange is the furore by Labour supporters over the behaviour of the Mayor. Successive Labour local government Ministers have been tramping the country for years telling us how putting untrammeled powers in the hands of directly elected City Mayors is the future. We are told it leads to swift, decisive decision making, instead of the trundling debate of committee. Well, Johnson has done just that, hasn't he? If there is anything good to come out of this, perhaps it will consign the City Mayor system to the political dustbin.

Apparently the Mayor is saying there is no need for a permanent replacement for Blair until after the next General Election, presumably in the expectation that someone like the hapless Dominic Grieve will be able to endorse Johnson's nominee. Well, that may be, but with a Mayoral election coming maybe only a couple of years after the General Election, Johnson's choice may not build up much of a pension should Labour regain the mayorality.

It is, of course, a recipe for a game of political leapfrog at the head of the police service in London, and I suspect the poor bloody residents will be the last people to get some consideration... apart from being exhorted to put their cross on the paper every four years."

Tom said...

What actually needs to happen is to divorce the national and local responsibilities of the Met Commissioner (there isn't actually much justification I can see for combinining them in one role).

Then the Home Secretary can appoint the national Top Policeman to co-ordinate national and international affairs and the Mayor/MPA can pick their own man. This doesn't get over the probability of a change of Mayor meaning a change of Commissioner, but does limit the fallout to London, where the Mayor's mandate runs, rather than the UK as a whole, where it doesn't.

Anyone else think Boris's high-handed arrogance is reminiscent of the way his supporters view his predecessor? Scratch another one off the list of 'Things Boris Will Do Differently', I think.

The Troll said...

This sounds like the kind of policy the Conservatives would probably go with as it fits in with their attempts to be 'pre-localism'.

I can't really see any real problems with it aside from the obvious upheaval mentioned by Cameron.

Cameron might hold out on Boris though just to keep the upper hand.

angelneptunestar said...

"Ms. SMith says that when it comes to appointing a new met chief "What's important is that you keep party politics out of it."

what arrant hypocrisy! Sir Ian was the ultimate in political stooges. The truth is that Blair always did New Labour's bidding".
Amanda Platell.

Daily Mail, today's edition.

I often don't agree with the Daily Mail, but I do this time! Come on, you guys! Sir Ian was New Labour's creature!

Anonymous said...

There is no truth in the Rumour, that Boris will not be replacing the commissioner, and instead fixing a Bat signal to the top of the GLA building.

Tom said...

Quite. It's actually a 'Prat' signal. Switch it on, and Gilligan comes round on his bicycle.

Harold said...

Well, Angela - as New Labour was the Tories' creation, at least Sir Ian could be seen as bipartisan

Barry Rochford said...

It's not like football managment where you can bring in a top Portuguese or Italian. The idea of having US style management based on a presumption that police are armed, rather than monitored very carefully and only armed in certain circumstances, would be highly dangerous. Of course this is all rumoured, but clearly Boris is removing more than the police chief and is extremely evasive about what his objectives are.

Anonymous said...

There are some very good reasons for having national responsibilities with the Met.

National crime and international terrorism are not entirely separate from London-based crime. (Some other key forces also have mini versions of how the Met operate for the same reason). Both national and international crime and terrorism are funded, planned and carried out on a very local basis. Local intelligence is hugely signifigant.

At present the Met can utilise staff by moving them between departments: serious crime, special operations, fraud, murder etc. It also means that the officers involved spend time working on a borough basis, getting a feel for how local communities work. The creation of a national force will syphon off the 'top' of the police force or at least force officers into deciding whether to work locally or nationally an a fairly permanent basis.

The real reason for politicians, regardless of party, wanting this separation is to give them the opportunity to grasp more direct control of policing.

angelneptunestar said...

Sir Ian Blair was about as bipartisan as Robocop.

Anonymous said...

Boris has stepped into a minefield and he is in for a deservingly tough time chairing the police board tomorrow.
I cannot possibly see how he will be able to gain trust amongst Mets Police by just ditching Ian Blair in a manner appropriate to him and not by following the right procedures.
I have noticed that a lot of people reacting to this case, are not able to see that there is a great difference between disagreeing with how Sir Ian Blair was running things and the crucial principles that divides politics and police.
No matter how much Johnson tries to dismiss the general publics questions about the crucial principles at stake, the very action and the danger of this action speaks for itself. Johnson has always been good to brush things over in his own special way, as if to say, that "it is not a big deal, come on, "it had to be down, and let's leave it now please.
No, Johnson. You have for the first time clearly revealed some of your ruthlessness and this action marks a new chapter as a mayor of London.
The honeymoon period where you could use your clumsiness and your charm to get out of trouble has gone. More important things than your mayoral survival is at stake and that is national security.
What would you have done, Boris, if a bomb went off in Birmingham or London tomorrow while you hastily have removed the person who were meant to be the collective force in times of danger?
And this leads on to another question, did you first and foremost think about the security of London and Londoners when you literally sacked Sir Ian Blair on the spot and without proper consultation. Or are you first and foremost thinking of your own career and how you can succeed David Cameron if the Tories should win in 2010?

angelneptunestar said...

Anon, the Mayor had no confidence in Sir Ian, and had the right to remove him. Are you suggesting that after all the gaffes and concerns (the de Menenes incident, his bugging of the Attorney General, the financial concerns to name but a few) that Boris should have let matters drift?

Boris has done what Ken Livingstone should have done a long ong time ago. There is strong support in the press for Boris's action, he acted decisively and that is it, done.

That you can possibly imply that we should keep a Met Chief in whom the Mayor and the Met have no confidence is just astounding. It was damaging morale, Jacqui Smith was dithering even worse than Gordon, so Boris took charge and got rid of the guy. Well done Boris.

The Troll said...

It is possible to agree that Ian Blair should have gone without agreeing in the way that he was got rid of.

The problem with a mayor having this kind of power is that the police commissioner is in danger of being completely in the Mayor's pocket.

You can't run an election campaign questioning the independence of the police and their crime statistics and then create a situation where the next commissioner has even more reason not to be independent and to massage those crime statistics.

Now the police were overly politicised anyway and have interfered in politics too much as it is, but to create a situation where they are basically the employee of the mayor and where it is being openly briefed that they may lose their job if and when a Conservative government comes in, is an extremely dangerous position to be in.

Politically, this may have been the smart move to make, but I'm not sure it is much good for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Strategically, Boris may look upon this as a victory, but only the future will tell if this hasty act of his will let him sink further into a quagmire of distrust and suspicion or if he will be seen as a 'great man of action'.
Angelneptunstar, You are missing a very important point here...I know your devotion for Boris Johnson..and there are many people who wanted Blair's resignation. The problem is that Johnson did it in a completely wrong way. He didn't consult anyone apart from his Deputy Mayor, Kit Malthouse.
The Mayor of London holds no power over the Police Commissioner and rightly so. By refusing to consult the Home Secretary and the Police Board itself about his concerns, he has, unwillingly or not, deliberately or not, created a very dangerous precedence where politics and policing becomes more intertwined.
It would be interesting to hear if you think this is a problem or if you think this is just unproblematic.

angelneptunestar said...

I do take on board Adam's point, which is fair. I also have thought about your comments Anon. If you watched Boris Johnson on THE POLITICS SHOW,(just over) I think you would feel reassured in your concerns.

As Mayor, Boris is entitled to express that he has lack of confidence in the Chief of the Met. and in that he is not exceeding his role. The point that Boris made was that there had been too many distractions regarding Sir Ian for Boris to feel he was totally focussed on the job he was doing.

Sir Ian himself was only too well aware of the things that Boris was referring to. They both agreed it was unnecessary to go into the details or focus on any one thing, but Sir Ian knew what was meant, just as much as Boris did.

Sir Ian had a day to consider his position and the next day he resigned.

However she may represent matters now, and I am sure it suits Jacqui Smith to pretend that Boris exceeded his role, she also was only too well aware of the reasons for the cloud that enveloped Sir Ian. When she had the chance, she did not fight for him to stay, which, if he had been on firm ground, she certainly would have done. The thing is, sir Ian was NOT on firm ground, he was on the opposite of firm ground and so she accepted his resignation.

If Sir Ian had felt that he ws being treated totally unfairly, he would hve responded differently. As it was, he did the decent thing and went quietly. It is only people to wish to misrepresent matters for their own reaons, like Ken Livingstone, who have since stirred things up as hard as they can.

Boris has showed firmness and decisiveness, but any suggestion that he has exceeded his role, is, in his own phrase, balderdash and piffle.

The Troll said...

I did watch the Politics Show and I was far from reassured.

Boris has taken a 'might is right' approach which is up to him, but if you are going to take that approach you should at least admit to what you have done and defend it.

Boris has basically gone into hiding since doing this and on the first occasion that he has had to answer any questions on it he says oh well it's all 'balderdash' and I have 'sucked that lemon dry'.

He even seemed slightly annoyed that Sopel should be taking up his time by asking him about it.

If anyone was worried that he is becoming arrogant with power, then they will not have been reassured by that performance.

angelneptunestar said...

Adam, Sir Ian did resign. And Jacqui Smith accepted his resignation immediately. If those two things had not happened, you might have a point. But they did. Boris has a lot of other things to deal with, he has explained and if people can't follow his explanation, he cannot be endlessly explaining. What he said seemed crystal clear to me!

Tom said...

"Boris has a lot of other things to deal with"

No shit, sherlock. Why doesn't he go and do them, instead of wandering around starting rows with central government and bleating on about airports? Where's the funding for ELLX Phase 2 (and, really, starting rows with New Labour isn't going to help, is it)? How's Crossrail getting on? Where's the explanation for why £60m a year to get rid of bendy buses is good value for money? What about Metronet and Tube Lines? Substantive proposals for reform of the Congestion Charge to bring it up to date?

Yes, he has got a lot to do, and he needs to get on and do it instead of arrogantly deciding the boundaries of the job are where he thinks they are, not where the law says they are.

Minty said...

Sir Norman's being pretty sensible if you ask me! Ian Blair's lot was not a happy one...

angelneptunestar said...

Boris just stood him on the cliff edge. He didn't actually push him off.