Monday, November 21, 2005

Blair speech reconsidered

Hello. My PC died at the weekend, but I have just managed to coax it back to life - it's now firing on all cylinders instead of emiting a sad groaning whirr and then dying after 30 seconds. Not being able to write or get online was making me bite my cheeks to pieces. As was the thought of having just lost a 4000 word piece commissioned by the Sunday Times.

Now I'm back again, and I wanted to revist the Sir Ian Blair thing after my somewhat overawed excitement at being invited by the BBC to go and see him perform live.

He was extemely adept at speaking, so much so that I was caught up by the whole experience, and found myself carried along on a wave on his self-belief and rhetorical flourishes ( plus I am slightly hamstrung by being genuinely grateful and thankful to the police due to a previous nightmare experience necessitating a lot of personal contact with them. They were fantastic with me, going well over and above the call of duty and several officers remain permanent fixtures on my Christmas card list. This is with ref. to a different serious investigation that I was, erm, a key witness in. In 2002, not 2005. So, I went along wanting to clap them as personal experience has made me sympathetic to them, and I wanted to be impressed)

Anyway. As a police chief, Sir Ian Blair is an excellent politician. And a damn good speaker. And he delivered a tour de force, in terms of delivery, presentation, passion, etc.

But was it any cop in terms of content?

And - this is the main thing- should a chief of police be quite so obviously such a consummate political operator and influencer? No, not really, I'd say. And the fact that he clearly fits so easily into the world of lobbying and - gasp - policy - advising is not right. Not. Right. At.All.

(UPDATE: Justin at Chicken Yoghurt says all this much better than me, so if you can't be bothered to read my woffly post and notes, read him instead.)

I watched the speech again on TV when I got back from the BBC gig but of course I'd had half a bottle of red by then and no dinner on so I'm afraid I was distracted ( 'Oooh, J, I can see the back of your head on telly!' in star-struck school-girl manner) and little considered sense could be got out of me. I would be a rubbish political reporter. So I have just read the whole script of the speech again.

Noted these points:

1. IB- 'the giant of personal insecurity, based on fear of anti-social behaviour, of crime and of terrorism, so that policing becomes central to our understanding of citizenship.'

Hum. Does it? I think my understanding of 'citizenship' is a lot more active than simply being about the managing of your personal insecurities.

2. IB- 'For a long time, the police service was consequently the preserve of the striving lower-middle class, predominantly white, predominantly male.There are now many more women - a third of our current intake - but class remains an issue'.

Race and class. Fair play for bringing it up. An impassioned plea that ' I need ...every race and creed, to be in the police.' Slightly defensive tone from IB, but he was doing a PR job and as a recruitment advertising platform that slot must have been worth a fortune.

3. And this brings me onto a major part of the speech - his point about 'citizens in uniform: who, as Peel said, 'are only members of the public that are paid to give full-time attention to the duties which are incumbent on every citizen'.

'Citizens in uniform' = how the police were set up. WELL THEN SIR IAN SURELY YOU SEE THE PROBLEM HERE? If the police are citizens in uniform, what the bloody hell are they doing - are you doing, Sir Ian - lobbying the government and even phoning up recalcitrant MPs to support the Whips trying to bash through the Terrorism legislation ( apparently) ? You can't have it both ways. Parliament is elected and reasonably transparent.
Well, the decision making process is reported at least. Not so with the police. We didn't even know they had a shoot to kill policy until they shot Jean Charles de Menezes. Nobody voted on it. Police are people paid to do a job. They cannot be voted out of office. They are not politicians and they should not be acting like them in terms of making policy. (Robert Peel must be spinning in his grave). The police service has clearly tried to modernise, but it done so silently, behind closed doors.
Ian Blair is right to say that this must change. But it is not a trade off - we'll make decisions in public but we'll take more power behind the scenes - become more like politicians, influencing legislation to a quite extraordinary degree. No.

The principle of habeas corpus has held firm through far more dangerous times than these - two World Wars, arial bombing bombardment of London on a daily basis, IRA bombings killing 3000 people - and no police officer - no police chief - no politician either - SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO MESS WITH IT - BECAUSE ULTIMATELY HIS CAREER PROSPECTS ARE TOO TIED UP WITH HIM NEEDING TO BE SEEN TO BE 'TOUGH ON TERROR'.

And this basic freedom not to be interned without trial is far more important than people's careers. It might make both Blairs' jobs easier, but that is no reason to play fast and loose in the short term with freedoms we have cherished and held onto for centuries.

4. It's not the police's fault. This Government has given them a ridiculously over-arching, frankly stupid brief. Listen to this: 'to build a safe, just and tolerant society, in which the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families and communities are properly balanced, and the protection and security of the public are maintained'.

That was from the the incoming Labour government in 1997. That is just daft. The police are not the 'builders of society'. How ridiculous. Nor can they 'balance the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families and communities'.How can anybody not be confused with that as a job description?

5. Ian Blair says 'Policing is becoming not only central to our understanding of citizenship, it is becoming a contestable political issue as never before.'

No shit Sherlock. He is right to ask for debate and feedback. But I don't see the signs of any debate being listened to - to me, it's 'tell us stuff so we can be seen to have listened and then we'll go ahead and do what we were going to do anyway'. Blair by name and Blair by nature.

6. He is right that we need better community relations - more neighbourhood policing, local intelligence, and that is true not only of the police but of neighbourhoods themselves. Godammit, we all need to be less selfish and individualistic and more focused on what is going on around us - more engaged.

7. The 'national debate' about policing as a whole - how is that going to happen? If it all happens at local authority level, well, show me one person who has an interest in or a clue about what happens in local authority meetings. That is not the same as a 'national debate'

8. IB: 'It is a time for politicians and commentators of every stripe and opinion actively to consider how citizens can be involved in a debate about what kind of police service we want.'

Hum. Politicians and commentators eh? But that is hardly 'public debate' either. I don't see how this public debate is going to be facilitated and no-one has told me either Blairs' plans to get it off the ground. Perhaps a focus group or two? Or a TV Q&A, like T. Blair does before the election, when he grits his teeth and uncomfortably suffers public questioning. Still. Nice man. ( Ian, not Tony) . Bit worried about who he thinks he is and who he works for/with, though. With whose voice does he speak? And to whom does he speak most regularly, and on whose behalf?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to start the "debate". To a certain extent, anyone in Sir Ian's position has to have (for want of a better word) political influence and know how to wield it.

At his level (and often lower) in any organisation, the use of such influence is how resources are acquired to perform one's job, whether this is the police, a bank, an IT consultancy ('cos I use mine skills often) or (dare I say) particularly media/advertising (Just look at how your own Boss works with other managers and his own manager - that applies to everyone, not just Rachel).

Sir Ian's job is not catching criminals, it is advertising and PR for the Met and part of this has to be advising HMG and suggesting policies (who else should we ask about policing, a nurse, a bus driver, the public).

Where we come in is voting for the politicains and raising our concerns about suggested policies.

So, if Sir Ian wasn't adept at using his political and public relationship he wouldn't be good at his job.

On that basis, I think I disagree with you on what Sir Ian's personal abilities should be.

Where I definitely agree with you is on how they are put to use and Sir Ian overstepped the mark on the 90 issue, but I think we must look at the emphasis placed on him by Tony Blair, it left Sir Ian very little room for maneouver.

I also think you are being harsh in your interpretation of some of his comments. If you use "policing" (small p), rather than Policing performed by the Police then I think he is spot on. We should all be doing our share of "policing" society and it must be a significant political consideration, whether it's helping someone being mugged (not always recommended), policing your own children (which is sadly lacking across all areas of society) or voicing your concerns about shoot-to-kill.

Politics isn't just about Westminster and your MP, it is a fundamental part of everyone's interaction with everyone else.

However, the Police must remain responsible to Parliament, not directly to the public. If the public get involved in making policies then the active few will (eventaully) come up with far more draconian ideas that any PM would consider pushing through Parliament and a Sun/News of the World inspired lynch mob police will be its legacy.

Hmm, only meant to be a short post (I', supposed to be working).

All the best, Gary

November 22, 2005 9:27 am  
Anonymous Antipholus Papps said...

I strongly disagree with this anonymous poster saying that the Chief of Police's job is basically PR. No it isn't. It's catching criminals. Overseeing and managing his force in their job of... catching criminals.

Ian Blair (I can't call him Sir after he lied for four weeks about the fate of de Menezes) seriously crossed the line on the Terror Bill issue. He seems to me to be Tony's stooge in the force, nice man or not. That he mislead the public so egregiously over the summary execution in Stockwell strikes me as grounds for instant dismissal.

28 days detention without trial is utterly odious and makes a mockery of English Common Law.

November 22, 2005 5:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Antipholus Papps, why I think you're wrong is that
(a) you wouldn't see Sir Ian out and about catching criminals - so his job cannot be catching criminals. and
(b) Overseeing and Managing people is, in its most basic form, a PR job which is what politics (in a broad sense, not just Parliament) is all about.

But I guess that really is the source of our two different views, and whether you and I agree on Sir Ian doing this sort of role is why we need this debate.

What we do agree on is that 28 days detention is a very long time. It just sticks in my throat that innocent until proven guilty now means less than it did before.

All the best, Gary

November 23, 2005 9:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have been moved to contact this site/blog (whatever) by the extra ordinary piece i read in the sunday times written by the extraordinarily lucky and gifted rachel. i say lucky because here is a woman who has come thru two irrational attacks on her person that would have destroyed the sanity of most at best, at worst these travails would have infected lesser hom saps with a bitterness and hatred that burns out all compassion, empathy and belief that we are inherently (as people)'good'. i believe some are some arent regardless of nurture but what do i know.
Rachel is alive and exceptional in that she has a perspective on life and the human condition very few people would a. want b.survive with rational outlook. having lived thru minor tragedy myself (of a personal, oft self inflicted variety) i found strength in her strength, perspective above and beyond my introspective selfcentredness(?)in short here is a woman with the REAL authority to inspire, the sort that doesnt come cheap and is born of the kind of adversity i often daydreamed of on my long boring commutes to canary wharf ( come on admit it who hasnt played the mugger bashing hero, the selfless sprinter into burning buildings etc etc paaaaathetic eh) reading the times today put me in my place thanx rachel and whatever your god and yourself decide to pursue in life i hope you always dispel self doubt and share WHATEVER IT IS your life presents i would be willing to bet it is solid gold to us all.

November 28, 2005 1:20 am  

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