Category Archives: Police

Theresa May has been exposed as a political fraud once and for all

At last, Theresa May has been exposed as the ineffective, political fraud that she is. Quite a shame it is, though, that in order for the public to realise it, the country must sit and suffer through a minority government doomed to failure whether it is supported by the DUP or not. I doubt it will make it through the Brexit negotiations, or perhaps even to 2018.

One of the major reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to vote in this election was Mrs May herself. Aside from her woeful track record as Home Secretary, in which she clamped down on valuable freedoms, ravaged police budgets and botched spectacularly her efforts to get immigration under control, this election has exposed clearly her inability to lead.

Her advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, have rightly taken some of the criticism, but the buck will fall with the Prime Minister. And so it should. This Tory campaign was one of the worst in history. So bad, in fact, that it let an IRA-sympathising Marxist come close to Number 10. Let that sink in for just a moment.

There are many reasons why May’s campaign backfired so dramatically. One factor was a Lynton Crosby decision to make it all about their leader. It was Team Theresa, in which every vote for her strengthened her bargaining power in negotiations with the European Union.

Campaign strategy was personalised in this way in order to frame political debate in terms of the ‘strong and stable’ (ha) May and her opponent, the hapless, scruffy Jeremy Corbyn, knee-deep in attacks from his own parliamentary party and likely to require some sort of coalition in order to get into government.

It was a strategy that pitted the strong against the weak, the stable against the chaotic, and it made sense when coupled with early, convincing polling leads of up to 21 points. But there soon developed a problem. Mrs May is a very wooden and uninspiring performer, especially when put under pressure by opponents and journalists.

There were countless times during the campaign in which she blatantly avoided simple questions, and thanks largely to horrid gaffes from senior Labour figures like Diane Abbott, she was allowed to get away with them more or less unscathed. Perhaps this was the real reason she didn’t take part in either leader’s debate, forgettable and nauseatingly stage-managed as they are.

The Prime Minister knew that she would not perform at all credibly. But, regardless of the motive not to show up, there was revealed a fetid hypocrisy. Any strong and stable leader would appear at political contests of this kind to defend his or her party interests. May’s back peddling revealed fatal flaws in the Tory campaign message. It was here that things really started to unravel.

Compounding upon her oratory weaknesses was her profound lack of direction. Mrs May, ironically compared with Margaret Thatcher as her Prime Ministerial tenure began, got herself caught up in sticky, unnecessary U-turns both before and during the election.

We were told that there would be no snap General Election. We were then told that the National Insurance contributions of self-employed workers would not be raised. Then there was the debacle with social care, which was soon climbed down from for fear of alienating that vital pensioner vote.

I am sure the government is in far too weak a position to even consider pursuing it now anyway. By the time the policy is revisited, it is quite possible that Mrs May will be sitting on her couch in Maidenhead, relieved of her duties and wondering why she ever bothered to call an impromptu election in the first place.

Then came the manifesto; one of the most vacuous in modern history. In many ways it was similar to Ed Miliband’s in how lacklustre and minimal it was. It didn’t feel conservative, it felt rushed and lacking in adequate preparation. This may have been because Tory party advisers were expecting a comfortable majority whatever was written.

The Labour Party manifesto, on the other hand, was very impressive. And I am not saying that I agreed with its policy proposals. I have, for instance, spoken out against plans to scrap tuition fees and maintain that zero hours contracts have uses for a range of different people.

Labour’s manifesto was substantially more radical and included policies which retain popular support across much of the country, including amongst Tory voters. A good example of this would be renationalisation of the railways, which a recent YouGov poll (May 17th) revealed majority cross-party support for.

The latter years of the neoliberal period have been defined predominantly by financial collapse. The crash in 2008 sparked a new wave of deep mistrust of markets, but no party prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had managed to tap into that sentiment.

In this regard, I think the decision (accidental or otherwise) to leak a portion of the Labour manifesto in advance of the other parties was a wise one. Much like with Vote Leave’s use of the £350m figure during last year’s referendum, wide condemnation of Mr Corbyn’s Left-wing policies in the media backfired.

Finally, where May’s Tories spent time fire fighting with its core vote over plans to reform social care funding, the Labour Party managed to arouse younger voters and incentivise one of the surprise turnouts in recent electoral history. The great generational voting divide has opened up once more.

This blog post has been abnormally complimentary about Labour, and this is because I think they deserve great credit. I do, though, put their tally of 262 seats down mainly to Theresa May’s useless leadership and the influence of the Remain vote, seen most glaringly in pockets of London that remained blue for decades.

Labour’s radicalism was daring and paid off, but Kensington certainly didn’t become turn red in one dramatic election over plans to renationalise the National Grid. Moves towards a softer Brexit were undoubtedly made in these areas. Battersea, too, was a surprise gain for Corbyn and his team.

Despite picking up 43 percent of the vote share, Theresa May looks weaker than any Prime Minister in recent memory. There is no way she can stay in the long-term. Minority governments are rare precisely because they are a recipe for instability.

Even the Tories’ new partners, the Democratic Unionists, have differences of their own to iron out. Perhaps people will now start to realise what social conservatism really looks like.

And what really displeased me was how unreflective her speech was of the nation’s verdict on Friday morning. She had to save face, of course, but her podium address outside Number 10 Downing Street reeked of ignorance and arrogance. It is no wonder many of her Conservative colleagues now despise her.

 


Terror is not a reason to suspend political campaigning

It is especially disheartening that Paul Nuttall’s most worthwhile contribution to this General Election campaign has been to refuse to cease political campaigning in the wake of Saturday’s London Bridge attack. Though occasions in which I find him even mildly impressive are rare.

But he is right that the country should not have to routinely disrupt its democratic procedure all thanks to the unfortunate and unsurprising persistence of jihadism in our society. Especially when polling day is just days away (perhaps it is me, but the whole thing seems to have gone very quickly indeed).

It is of course important that, for the sake of rebuilding broken spirits and reminding ourselves of the good in humanity, efforts to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives are made. Sometimes, a period of reflection and deep thought is useful.

But these things can be achieved independently of the campaigning of political parties. Most of us do not leave our charity at the door even in times of intense political contestation. Politicisation of tragedies, I have noticed especially amongst my generation, tends to be met with the scorn that it deserves.

What interests me far more, however, is the modern obsession with suspending our daily activities in response to mindless terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the midst of political campaigning, arguably an innately more vulnerable time for the country as it is a more politically-sensitive and reactive period.

This, the country that dealt with the menacing embrace of the Luftwaffe, now appears to want to scurry about in useless panic, desperately cleaving to whichever platitude it can offer in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, without meaning to sound crass, I don’t think platitudes are helping anybody. Especially not those most affected.

So, why do we suspend political campaigning? Is it a mark of respect? I don’t see how. All we do is afford jihadists and those waiting to follow in their footsteps more airtime than they perhaps warrant. Candles, prayers, bouquets and momentary unity are more than enough. The democratic process need not suffer too.

Terrorism is, if we remember, politically motivated. It feeds off the cameras, the alarm and the inevitable changes to public policy that serve only to further slice away at British liberty. I am trying carefully not to pen the very slogans that we have all become so tired of hearing over the last couple of years.

Indeed, there is something to be said for preserving most what the terrorists crave to bring down. Even more so when it is as precious and as (often) irrecoverable as freedom itself. This is why I am suspicious of renewed support for internment of our enemies in Britain.

It was tried in Northern Ireland not too long ago and proved a powerful recruiting agent for the Irish Republican Army. It is also a fundamental violation of Habeas Corpus, perhaps the most profound symbol of freedom ever marked by the country. I think there are better responses at our disposal (I will be exploring internment at this blog soon).

And shutting down the British election certainly oughtn’t to be one either. If anything, the magnitude of the terror threat we face demands an intensifying of political campaigning, not an easing of it. The country deserves to know what our potential leaders plan to do to help the situation, especially before such a time that they have been elected.

As I sit here and think about Thursday’s election, of Manchester Arena and of London’s blood-stained streets, I find it unfathomable that combating terror has not played a more significant role along the campaign trail.

Issues like police cuts have rightly been raised, and Jeremy Corbyn has been quizzed on his opposition to renewing Trident, but that has been the extent of security discussion. I am appalled by this. It is as if our leaders have no answers or are frightened to voice them. How has such an issue escaped political discourse? I fear the country will regret the relative silence of its leaders at this General Election.

And the more we suspend party politics, presumably to appease victims who are in no way enamoured by our doing so, the louder the silence grows.

 


First impressions of soldiers on our capital’s streets

I knew that at some point I would be referring to this blog to talk about the deployment of British soldiers in London. I wanted to wait until I had spent a reasonable amount of time in the capital in order to appropriately communicate my thoughts on their presence and what it means for public policy.

Yesterday (Sunday 28th May), I got my chance. I spent what was quite a lovely, if not rain-soaked, afternoon with a female friend in and around Westminster. Originally, we had planned to go on the London Eye, but since the weather made this a little implausible, we headed for the National Gallery and dinner instead.

Before meeting, I walked to Whitechapel via Buckingham Palace Road and The Mall, having been re-routed to London Victoria by limits on Southeastern train services. I got to examine our ‘Paras’ stationed in strategic locations, most notably either side of the front face of Buckingham Palace, at gated side entrances and exits, outside Downing Street and around Westminster Palace.

I was interested in taking a look at this intriguing new development because I wanted to gauge, firstly, whether the introduction of the British Armed Forces to the streets of London would make me, a Londoner, feel safer in the city that I love, and secondly, what kind of impression it would give of Britain’s security and counter-terrorism efforts.

The answer to my first question came very quickly. It did not make me feel safer (and that is not to say that I felt particularly unsafe to begin with). Terrorism is a distant, muted fear in the back of my mind when going about my business in busy commuter and tourist hotspots, but I am usually able to effectively repress any needless overthinking or stress.

I spent some time watching every soldier I spotted. Most appeared utterly bored by the whole ordeal, as I would imagine is the overriding emotion after standing in the same spot watching people for hours on end. Others were entertaining themselves through mild conversation with accompanying police officers (it might be worth asking why we didn’t just reverse cuts and invest in more officers to begin with).

Please don’t think I am attacking individual Paras, but what struck me most was how static and distracted they seemed. They are exceptionally well trained and will, I’m sure, give their utmost to protect citizens in the likely event of more jihadism. But they certainly didn’t make me feel any safer.

If anything, the presence of troops stands as evidence of the now blatant failure of deep cuts to police budgets. This has been made exponentially worse by a sizeable increase in the UK’s population and alterations to the national terror threat level.

French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris many moons ago and we can hardly assert that incidents of terrorism are less likely to take place, if we have been paying attention to anything over the last two years. Any reasonable betting man will also conclude that more attacks are on their way, whether London is cluttered with British Army regiments or not.

Furthermore, what of Manchester? Or Birmingham? Or other major British cities otherwise excluded from the nation’s Westminster-dominated political consensus? Will they be supplemented with soldiers that make them look as vulnerable, violent and incapable of civil defence as the more corrupt corners of Africa and Eastern Europe? I hope not. There are better solutions available to us.

I do think that most of the support their mobilisation this week received was down either to tribal, instinctive support for the country’s foremost line of defence, or to the fact that most people consider soldiers to be exotic and a rare spectacle, which I think explains the craving that many have to take pictures with them and attend various community events and displays.

As a patriot, I admit to sharing in the glamorous appeal that the British Armed Forces retain. I have huge admiration for their skill and bravery. Just not for the decision to station them in predictable and already robustly defended parts of the capital.

Military presence, despite the talent and authority of the individuals on guard, has the ironic effect of making the country look a little weak; frightened into action by jihadists the government isn’t strong enough to take care of by itself.

It violates the country’s most profound value: liberty. Historical accounts tell me that we were once a free, calm country and one not easily panicked at home, but increasingly we seem troubled and unfree. I think this is worth pondering.

Deportations are in order where legally possible, prisons and mosques are in need of thorough combings in the search for radicalising forces and the long, slow path back from the perils of multiculturalism must too be forged. Soldiers, though, could well prove to be a non-answer to a very complicated problem.

And when terrorism once again meets the streets of London, perhaps even Westminster, you’ll see what I mean.


Jump on the May bandwagon? Count me out

The more I think about it, the more I respect the Tory campaigning strategy ahead of this General Election. The Prime Minister and her advisors have succeeded in making this campaign all about her. It’s all about her, ‘Team Theresa’, where every vote for her strengthens her hand in negotiations with the European Union.

It is, of course, a false trail. Our negotiations with the other EU states will depend largely on their mobilisation, not ours. I say I respect the personality tactic because it is effective in highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s glaring leadership weaknesses. It pits ‘Strong and Stable’ May (she is anything but) against the hapless Labour leader. This point was made rather well by my friend Charlie Peters on Sky News this morning.

Well, I for one will not be jumping on the May bandwagon anytime soon. She is not the visionary architect of the new, third era in post-war British politics. I am particularly disturbed by the artificial and vacuous term ‘Mayism’, which as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, is not actually a thing. Mayism is in fact the name that has been donated to the political changes forced by massive swings in public opinion over the last few years.

These changes are characterised primarily by distinct mistrust in markets and disillusionment with neoliberal capitalism (fuelled predominantly by the 2008 financial crash) and Left wing social projects like mass immigration and multiculturalism. Latching on to these sentiments, Mrs May is, if anything, an opportunist.

She is not the driver of anything. In many ways, she is in an unfortunate, subordinated position. She is seeking election on a premise that she fundamentally disagrees with, will no doubt find herself at the mercy of other European leaders and unprecedented Tory polling leads mean that she can only hope to decrease the population’s margin of support for the Conservative Party. Her legacy will not sound or look anything like the one she envisaged when she entered the political arena back in the 1990s.

And if we look, the process is already under way. Her proposed changes to the funding of social care are already frightening many pensioners into abandoning the blue corner in favour of the red one. You can hardly blame them. May has for some time appeared strikingly untrustworthy, showcased by several U-turns (which are neither strong nor stable) and her abysmal track record on issues like immigration and personal liberties.

Immigration stands as the largest blemish on her political record. She echoed conservative sentiments against mass migration at Conservative Party conference a couple of years ago, which prompted quite a backlash, but didn’t even try to do anything reasonable about it in government, refusing even to campaign for a Leave vote during the referendum campaign. May is not interested in sovereignty. But, now that she has the chance, she does want to be the Prime Minister that manages to drastically cut net migration figures (though this will more difficult to achieve than most expect).

She is a renowned opponent of free speech and has a dark authoritarian streak within her. Spiked have produced some useful compendiums of some of her political interferences with freedom of expression both here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/theresa-may-the-new-prime-minister-grave-threat-to-freedom/18547#.WSL_Xuvyvcs and here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/dont-look-to-theresa-may-to-defend-freedom/19602#.WSL_8uvyvcs, detailing her barring of citizens she deemed ‘not conducive to the public good’ and providing Ofcom with powers to block any TV content it considered ‘extreme’.

This is without mentioning her overseeing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which received Royal Assent last November and threatens our online privacy, and Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which stands to regulate the British press through an independent body known as Impress and would no doubt have been passed by both Houses had a snap General Election not been called.

Her record as Home Secretary was also marred by her disgraceful treatment of police forces, which have been shredded beyond belief by needless austerity measures during a period that has seen massive population growth. (I wrote on this some months ago; the statistics on frontline police numbers in England and Wales alone are nothing short of remarkable: https://norgroveblog.com/2016/10/04/heres-what-really-ought-to-be-in-hammonds-autumn-statement/)

At the time, she tried to defend a policy of deep cuts by suggesting that more could be done with less, and that since crime statistics (which are hard to analyse due to changes in police action and thresholds for prosecution) were falling, more police officers were not needed. But since crime is an iceberg issue, this argument is fatuous. Lower recorded crime does not necessarily mean less crime. If there is a lower police presence on the streets, correspondingly less crime will be seen and dealt with.

Her political blunders over the years only further dispel the myth that she represents strength and stability in government. In her 10 months as Prime Minister, she has U-turned on a number of significant issues, like a rise in National Insurance contributions for self-employed workers and the holding of a snap General Election. If Mrs May has shown anything in her premiership so far, it is that we ought not to take her word for very much.

I have decided not to participate in this election, other than through this blog as an independent. I shan’t be campaigning for any party and will not cast a ballot either. Politics for me will resume once the country has parted ways with the European Union.

 

 


Immediate reflections on 2017’s General Election

I suppose it made sense in the end, in spite of Mrs May’s repeated claims that there would be no early General Election. Polls were warning us for weeks that it might happen, and those warnings were only growing sterner.

And let us not pretend that the Prime Minister needed yet another mandate in order to carry out Britain’s departure from the European Union; we had a clear enough one already to those who bother to pay attention.

This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.

But, more than that, yesterday’s announcement from Michael Crick may have been just as important. The Crown Prosecution Service, he wrote, will investigate up to 30 Conservative MPs for electoral fraud at the 2015 General Election.

I think this will have played a role in forming Theresa May’s decision to hold a quickfire election. Her advisors are acutely aware of proceedings, and presumably, if the CPS’ investigation had led to the sacking of up to 30 Tory MPs, an election would have been thrown together anyway.

And so, regardless of the motive, we have another General Election on June 8th. I have mixed feelings towards elections. I find election night immensely thrilling to watch unfold, but there is no denying that these events are merely public relations extravaganzas.

In particular, I am dreading the prospect of listening to the Liberal Democrats droning on about remaining in the European Union for the next eight weeks, though of course, it would be wise from en electoral perspective for them to do so.

If they mobilise effectively, and their rapid membership growth since yesterday morning’s announcement suggests they may, the Lib Dems could use this year’s election to become the government’s co-opposition, or in the case of an almighty shock, the opposition.

Yesterday a colleague and I tried to find betting odds on the Lib Dems winning more seats than Labour in June, but we could find no such market. I wonder if one will open in the coming weeks, and whether or not it would be worth a punt.

For the record, I think the Liberal Democrats will do extremely well. By leading a policy of Brexit reversal, they garner the attention (and many of the votes) of many millions upset with the direction the country is headed in.

This snap General Election is the last obstacle in between Brexit voters and what they desire most. It is therefore imperative for them to support the party most willing to secure the very things the country wanted to reclaim control of last June.

Since the Tory Party (and the Tory Party alone) fills this bracket, I shall be voting for the Conservatives on June 8th. I am politically unaligned and have been for much of the year, but this election is the last port of call for those desperate to rally behind Brexit.

As far as the Labour Party is concerned, I think we should first give Jeremy Corbyn credit for sticking by his word and accepting the challenge of a snap election. Of course, he won’t win, but who in his position would lead Labour to victory?

I have for some time thought that Yvette Cooper, known for her tremendous parliamentary performances, might have been a far better candidate to lead Her Majesty’s opposition. Corbyn is a good politician, but a hopeless leader.

Labour members ought to be worried. Most polling and local election results suggest that they will take significant hits come June, but their worry should not necessarily be triggered by the Tories.

For the first time since the early 1980s under Michael Foot, the Labour Party is in very real danger of losing its status not only as opposition, but as the party of working people.

The Lib Dems, who appear much more organised and viable an opposing party, have a chance to leapfrog Labour at this election. And their members know it. Through talking to Lib Dems, as I have been, I have found the sense of optimism striking.

My one fear is that they win enough seats to make up for Labour losses in rural England that they are able to thwart a Tory majority. I don’t think this will happen, as a weakened SNP in Scotland may allow Ruth Davidson to take more marginal seats, but it is indeed a possibility.

I would also draw the attention of readers to two other interesting political developments that may have a significant impact on this summer’s election.

First, 2018’s boundary changes (which I had forgotten about entirely until I was reminded of them on Facebook last night) are a potential problem for the Conservatives. ‘Holding off until 2020 would allow the Tories to take advantage of boundary changes that come into force in 2018’, writes Will Heaven yesterday in The Spectator.

Secondly, the prominence of Sinn Fein ought not to be ignored. The Tories have always benefitted from a useful Democratic Unionist Party contingent in parliament, and they will regret the number of DUP MPs falling.

These are my most pertinent thoughts on this election. My vote, as a matter of supporting Britain’s exit from the EU, will go to the Tories, and I should expect them to win a majority. But I will keep a beady eye on the Liberal Democrats.

 


Don’t arm Britain’s police in the name of terror

After a terror atrocity, it usually takes at least a few days for rational thought to creep back into political discourse. Sometimes it can be much longer than that.

It was for this reason that I waited a little while before commenting on the horrific incident in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to distance myself from some of the hysteria that I feel unhelpfully attaches itself to events of this kind, especially on social media.

One of the most common post-attack and counter-terrorism suggestions from the public and members of the intelligentsia has been to arm all British police officers.

This is a policy that has been advocated for years, it doesn’t just come from the screams of statists after March 22nd. As the UK’s terror threat has heightened (somehow, a terror threat can be measured), so too have the calls for arming all officers intensified.

The trouble is that the proposal is a gimmick and not a silver bullet, is opposed by most British police officers and radically transforms the nature of the relationship between police and the public.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, who introduced the Metropolitan Police as Home Secretary, wrote his ‘9 principles of law enforcement’. Principle number seven will interest readers:

“The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.”

Officers are citizens in uniform, not a militia that, in effect, provides the state with a monopoly of force. Policing must be carried out at the consent of the public, which it is, and not at the barrel of a gun.

I think that to arm all of Britain’s police officers is a fundamental betrayal of their purpose and the values that Robert Peel had in mind when he introduced them 187 years ago (which included a period of mass public armament, lasting until 1920).

It is no surprise to me that in a recent Metropolitan Police Federation poll[1], most officers opposed the compulsory arming of all British police officers, similar to the system that currently operates in Northern Ireland.

Of the near 11,000 police officers polled, only 26% said that they believed all Metropolitan police officers ought to be routinely armed on duty, though most reported that there should be more authorized firearms officers on the streets.

Given the trials and tribulations that follow police shootings, it is not hard to see why the majority oppose forced armament. Months of stress and lengthy investigations will take their toll on any police officer.

Difficult, too, must media coverage be to deal with. Often, a person knowingly and deliberately shot by a police officer is painted as a sympathetic figure after such an incident. Those who remember the London riots of 2011 will be fully aware of this.

Police officers do not want to have to shoot people. That is the job of soldiers or specialised units with years of training and experience. Investigations on officers who do use their firearms, no matter the circumstances, will come under incessant questioning.

This poses a huge problem for forces that increasingly have to deal with policemen and women (rightly) taking time off to ease any psychological issues that they may be having. Having relatives in the job, I have seen the physical and mental impact policing can have on those who do it.

The reality is that some officers will be far too trigger-happy and others unable to deal with the guilt and burden of having to end another person’s life. We love and idolise our police officers during times of crisis and terror, but seldom do we think about them when normality resumes.

Robert Peel visualised police officers as being men and women whom we can approach at any time, place our trust in, feel comforted by, equal to and yet at the same time revere as both a source of reasonable authority and a rallying point for the frightened and vulnerable.

Like the officers surveyed, I oppose the obligatory arming of all British police officers, and indeed oppose additional armed units, whether in busy, metropolitan areas or not. We have plenty of authorised firearms officers in Britain already.

The problem created by continually expanding upon armed units is that police forces will inevitably be sucking resources away from ordinary policing. That is to say that the more money, time and manpower diverted to armed officers, the less there will be for patrolling constables and the public will feel abandoned by a force already accused of withdrawing from the streets.

As any daily commuter into London now knows (and I reference London because it is both fertile soil for these sorts of atrocities and the jurisdiction for the officers who took part in the Met’s poll), armed officers roam the capital’s busiest regions on a daily basis.

Major train stations are crawling with them, as are landmarks and buildings of significance. Even suburban shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Lakeside, and town high streets have seen a notable increase in armed police presence in recent months.

As I walk around these sorts of places, I feel a distinct unease. This is not just thanks to the sight of assault rifles, which are designed to frighten others into obedience and drill holes in human flesh, killing mercilessly.

It is also because the very visual of watching your local neighbourhood patrolled in such a sinister manner is a telling sign that we are gradually becoming a less free society.

Take a quick look outside of Britain, and focus on what is happening in mainland Europe. France, Germany and Turkey, current experiencing problems far worse than our own, all have very heavy armed police presences.

I might argue that increasing the visibility of armed officers has perhaps encouraged terrorists. It has sent out the signal that people are afraid and need protecting, and that by engaging in these dreadful acts of violence, terrorist actions are influencing public policy, leaving a legacy of their own and appealing to the vanity of other potential attackers.

Admittedly, there are structural differences between Britain and other European countries in response to terror. Strict gun laws and the English Channel make gun smuggling and possession much more difficult for criminals in the UK.

And so I think the current Islamist threat, which I believe exists but is not anywhere near as pertinent as is often suggested by politicians who will never let a good crisis go to waste, is not comparable to problems faced in, for instance, Northern Ireland prior to police being routinely armed.

For one, and unlike problems caused by the IRA, the Islamist threat can be largely countered online, through bans and monitoring, and secondly, the nature of the radical Islamic threat is changing rapidly. I also think that Islamism is more discreet and covert than the IRA-sponsored threat faced by the UK some time ago.

But when attacks do happen, increasingly we see that vehicles are the designated weapon of choice. Cars and lorries are not easily stopped by even the most highly skilled of armed police officers.

So the latest wave of support for Britain’s unarmed police to carry anything more than tasers, which I believe (as the incident at Leytonstone tube station showed) are effective enough tools for modern police, strikes me as yet another encroachment on our liberties.

Western governments are renowned for offering us the fig leaf of security in exchange for our most prized personal freedoms. I am shocked they haven’t already started hiring the many thousands of instructors (which we don’t have and can’t afford) that will be needed in order to arm all of Britain’s police.

And as I write, I am reminded by an infamous Benjamin Franklin quote, as relevant as it has ever been.

 

 

 Notes

[1] http://metfed.org.uk/news?id=7185

 


Justice for police dog Finn: Help to bring about a change in the law

Late last night I was informed of a petition that has emerged on parliament’s website, calling for justice in the case of the recent stabbing of police dog Finn. I confess that I don’t usually pay too much attention to governmental petitions, as most go unanswered and many are based around unrealistic demands.

I was saddened by this particular case, which can be read about here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-37621671, because I am the relative of a handler, who works with two dogs of which I am now very fond. More importantly, though, I am a thankful member of the public who recognises the extraordinary lengths that the animal are often forced to go to in order to protect the general public. It is worth remembering how integral animals are to various police activities and investigations.

The petition asks the government to change the status of police animals, namely horses and dogs, from that of ‘property’ to ‘officer’. Until the petition started to go viral, I was unaware that animals serving in both police and military roles were treated in law as property. This means that a 16-year old, knife-wielding charmer from Lewisham (shocker) will be charged with criminal damage and not with the assault of a police officer; a crime which ordinarily demands harsher sentencing.

The petition can be signed below. Please spare a minute of your time to help, and encourage others around you to do so as well.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/168678

 


Here’s what really ought to be in Hammond’s Autumn Statement

I look forward to Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement next month. It will, I’m sure, be refreshing to hear a chancellor who isn’t George Osborne promising to meet targets which aren’t possible in order to stabilise an economy which isn’t actually all that strong at all. If his comments at Conservative Party conference yesterday are anything to go by, then we should all hope to receive a dosage of clarity in the political fog in which we now live. Pleased so I was, also, to hear of support for renewed public spending; a term wildly misused and, in practice at least, lop-sided thanks to the frontrunners of the previous government.

Fresh faces inside Number 10 will bring new direction and focus to British government. The unique political situation ahead, namely Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, presents Hammond with the opportunity to scrap ludicrous pre-referendum economic targets and install newer, more realistic ones. The Treasury has pledged new funding for tech innovation, the biomedical catalyst fund and, thankfully, the building of new homes. Brownfield sites will at long last be pushed forth as centres for new house-building projects in a belated attempt to try and stunt the growth of rapidly-expanding housing bubbles (more on this another time).

These new measures are welcome, but one vital public service, ignored it seems since the London riots of 2011, has been left by the wayside. Earlier this summer, police figures were quietly released and jumped on by the BBC. They were shocking, even for those of us (like me) who do not necessarily relish the prospect of increased public spending. Figures such as those that follow will undoubtedly put the issue of cuts to policing into perspective. Sources are provided both here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00634/SN00634.pdf and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544849/hosb0516-police-workforce.pdf

As we can see, in 2003 there were 110,910 frontline police officers, compared with just 106,411  in the year ending March 2016. A reduction of four and a half thousand is magnified by the notable increase in the population between the provided years. ONS estimates show that the UK’s population in 2003 lingered around the 59.7 million mark. By 2016, it had reached more than 65 million. An increase of almost six million people combined with a decrease in the number of frontline officers cannot be considered much of a success, and with the scent of Osborne-induced austerity still lingering in the air and a general public becoming increasingly frustrated with less than proactive police forces, I don’t know how inadequate funding can realistically be continued.

I am distressed that even a severely weakened and distracted Labour Party didn’t make more of an effort to draw attention to them. Writing as somebody who is related to police officers from two different police forces, I have seen for myself the effect that the cuts have had on individual frontline officers. The numbers highlighting sick leave are staggering, but not altogether surprising. They suggest to me that in all the babbling about crime figures and whether modest decreases justify piercing cuts to police forces, a more physical and emotional price is being paid by those serving on the streets. If you speak to police officers, most are one or more of fatigued, suffering from mental breakdown, demoralised or in chronic muscle or joint pain. It would seem reasonable to me to suggest that due to a sharp decline in the number of frontline officers, most still serving feel overworked and stressed as a result. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37530914 into the current state of officers in Scotland is particularly eye opening.

But the effects of the cuts aside, it now seems most opportune to try and undo some of the damage done to our police forces with autumn’s upcoming statement. I don’t think policing will feature in the budget, but I consider it to be a top priority for the government. Cuts to police budgets have failed officers, the public and left trainees without employment hopes. Austerity has always been a disaster in the past, and is likely to be just as harmful in the future. Notice that it hasn’t brought about the recovery it was predicted to after the coalition government was formed. Notice also, that it tends to be supported by the rich, not the poor. You don’t have to be Left-wing to oppose austerity. I oppose it. Firstly, because it encourages economies to shrink (remember that national debt is relative to GDP), secondly, because it is grossly unfair to workers on the lower end of the income scale (particularly those who work in public services, who end up losing their jobs) and thirdly, it has had a crippling effect on fellow European Union members. Has austerity actually worked anywhere?

Philip Hammond is in a unique position as British chancellor. He is arguably under less pressure than any chancellor in recent memory. Despite crippling austerity measures, Osborne’s recovery was the slowest on record, and the public are fully aware that an EU departure will present bumps in the road to come. Here lie Hammond’s excuses in the event of economic failure. Even the opposition party back his plans to increase borrowing and ditch budget surplus targets. All the stars have aligned for Mr Hammond to really make his mark on British politics.


The mainstream media must lay off mental illness now, before it’s too late

I wanted to address a problem at this blog that grabbed my attention earlier this morning, concerning coverage of last night’s stabbing incident in Russell Square. Thanks to a BBC app notification, I was made vaguely aware of the attack before I went to sleep, but only decided to read more carefully into the report once details had emerged a few hours ago. I wish to express my solidarity with the family of the poor woman killed, and wish the five who were injured a speedy recovery.

I have, though, been left extremely disappointed by the immediacy with which fingers were pointed at mental health issues, and felt the need to raise my concern and explain why this is so. I haven’t the time to cite every media publication, for obvious reasons, so will use major outlets as examples.

Just after its introduction, the BBC’s news update reads:

‘Police using a Taser arrested a man of 19 who is being held under armed guard at hospital. The Met said mental health was a “significant factor” in events’.

This angle is also reported in ‘The Guardian’, which (to nobody’s surprise) leads with its involvement:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2016/aug/04/london-stabbing-russell-square-knife-attack-live

…Daily Telegraph, who note: “Early indications suggest that mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry. But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and, consequently, terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of enquiry for us to explore.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/04/russell-square-stabbing-everything-we-know-about-the-attack-on-t/

…and Daily Mail, which reports: “Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley gave a press conference outside Scotland Yard at 3.40am and said the 19-year-old appears to have ‘significant mental health issues’ but admitted terrorism could be a motive.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3722796/Woman-killed-five-people-injured-terrorist-knife-attack-central-London.html

How generous of Mr Rowley to concede that terrorism *could* be a motive in a terrorist incident. I can feel comforted this morning by the foresight of our intelligence chiefs.

I am angered by the sudden focus on mental health (though do not deny its involvement) for several reasons. It is obvious to me that ‘The Guardian’ chose to lead with Scotland Yard’s mental health angle, as would be expected of any Left-leaning, liberal publication, in order to avoid immediate anti-Islamic hysteria. The Mail and Telegraph would have no such motive.

Notice how frequently phrases such as “early indications show” crop up in these reports. How often do we hear of ‘sane’ knifeman roaming the streets of London, chopping people to pieces? Which other indications (aside from the blood spilling rampage) *suggest* that mental health issues were a major factor in last night’s stabbing spree?

By definition, terror attacks are committed by people who are not all with it. If they were, why would they take it upon themselves to commit mass (or attempted) murder?

But this is not the point. I could care less by how obvious the cause is, and I am not disappointed by the lack of emphasis on Islamism either. My annoyance at this reporting has been caused by two things.

Firstly, there is the alarming lack of consistency. If the media are intent on pointing fingers and outlining allegedly definitive causes before blood has dried, then they must be consistent about it. Quite rationally, links to Islam or Islamism are not included in premature reports, even if links are suspected, so as to reduce any stigmatisation of Muslims. I am happy for this to be the case, and think it wise to continue with such a policy.

But, as I alluded to a moment ago, we need to ask why the mainstream media display such a startling lack of consistency over the matter. If we are reluctant to engage in the stigmatisation of Muslims, then why are we not so in the case of the mentally ill? The term ‘mental illness’ (far too often used pejoratively, and seldom an expression associated with amazing achievement or ability) is wonderfully umbrella.

Savants and those with strains of autism, for example, often exhibit rare mathematical, kinaesthetic or literary genius. We never attempt to decipher between different kinds of ‘mental illness’ and nor is it fair to associate the ‘mentally ill’ with perpetrators of terrorist acts. In this, or indeed any other circumstance, quick fire reporting on suspected motives before police action or a trial have taken place would seem to me to be a mistake. In my view, media publications should avoid speculating upon motives in the aftermath of such incidents, and should instead stick to reporting on what they know to be cold, hard facts.

On a side note, a video of Nick Ferrari exploding on this very issue on his radio show exists somewhere on social media, but, alas, I cannot find it. It may be worth searching in your own time.

The second reason for my disapproval at this kind of reporting is that it could well help to undo years of good work trying to unravel exactly the sort of mental health stigmatisation that I referred to a moment ago. We have come a long way in recent years and, while we do tend to over-diagnose and perhaps still fail to understand certain conditions, for our progress to be threatened by the actions of murderous terrorists would be a huge step backwards. It is not morally correct to encircle those fighting to overcome a whole range of mental problems with those willing to kill in the name of Islam. I urge journalists to remember this.

Readers may at this point be interested to know that I suffer from a condition called bipolar disorder, also known (more sensibly) as manic depression. I suspect that quite a few people reading are familiar with depression, having experienced it themselves or seen it affect other people. Without making last night’s stabbing incident about me or people like me, I wanted to express my concern that those, like me, who experience difficulty on a regular basis could well find themselves subject to unfair prophecies or labelling. To take steps in this direction would damage our society and split tolerance asunder.

Content with protecting British Muslims from stigmatisation in the wake of terror attacks, the mainstream media has turned its attention towards ‘mental illness’. It’s far too easy, damaging and contradictory. But will anybody listen?


Good news for cannabis smokers as police incompetence spreads to Durham

Yesterday’s BBC Breakfast report on cannabis decriminalisation and policing should have received much more attention than it did. Alas, I am frequently puzzled by the lack of attention paid towards the backdoor legalisation of cannabis possession in England. It’s a topic that most have an opinion on, but so very few bother to look at what is really going on up and down the country.

In the feature (to which I have linked at the bottom of this post), Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Mike Barton explains why his colleagues have given up arresting for possession of cannabis in their jurisdiction, explaining that it is ‘a logical move towards tackling the issues which are most harmful to the public’. Mr Barton, apparently, hasn’t been adequately informed about the potential consequences of mind-altering drug taking, nor about the concept of deterrence .

The danger here, is that if police forces actively withdraw and deterrent is quashed, young people will be sent the message that smoking narcotics like cannabis (which, in many cases, can lead to experimentation of more drugs, or to irreparable damage to the individual’s mental health) is a risk-free and actively encouraged endeavour. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

Barton then goes on to refer to dealing, reminding viewers that “We’ve always made it clear: we have zero tolerance when it comes to drug dealing”. Well, why, exactly? If no effort is made to suppress demand, then a battle against the dealers is going to be one which is made yet harder to win. The Chief Constable’s comments act as yet more evidence that there is no war against drugs in Britain, or that if there is, it’s being fought with such incompetence that authorities may as well lie down and surrender.

This, as well as some intriguing statistics provided by the BBC’s damning report, will come as welcome news for Britain’s cannabis brigade, which as the Home Office notes, is now around 7% of the population including 15% of 15-24 year olds. Since 2010, arrests are down by 46%, cautions are down by 48% and charges have also decreased by a third.

There are, however, two other things which I found most interesting about this video package. The first is the Chief Constable’s excuse that avoiding arrests is a good way to “free up” police officers so that they can deal with more important issues, like (I presume) offensive comments on Twitter or sitting ten to a van in the middle of city centres. Why do these people constantly use the phrase ‘free up’? A battle against drug use is no small feat, and nor is it a problem of small significance, and shouldn’t be treated as such by leading figures within police forces.

The second, equally noteworthy point about all of this is a more philosophical one. I am personally very disturbed by the fact that police councils and chiefs have the power to overturn national law and implement their own artificial penal codes. The job of a police officer is to uphold the law, not to make up unique rules or punishment quotas. If we allow police this much freedom with cannabis, it’s hard not to imagine a situation where police-invented punishments are used right across the board.

How long before we see burglary warnings, or assault warnings, perhaps? The journalist in the report asked one very clear question in the middle of the report, asking viewers rhetorically: “If, as these figures would suggest, other police forces are also choosing not to target those who are carrying out an illegal act, then what is the point in that act being illegal?”

He’s right. We are stuck in no mans land on drugs, and a clear choice needs to be made. Do we get hard on drugs and strive to deter those thinking about taking a potentially harmful drug, or do we turn the state into a drug dealer and permit recreational use…for good?

The report can be watched in full, below: