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Let’s vote on the Police

Graham Stringer, Blackley MP, on Boris, Sir Ian Blair, James ‘barking’ Anderton and police accountability

Published on October 13th 2008.

Let’s vote on the Police

How strange that a Thatcherite relic disguised as an inbred 18th century aristocrat has achieved what Labour Councils and Labour Governments have failed to accomplish in generations.

Make no mistake about it, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson has, at a stroke, made the police accountable to the local democratic process.

By forcing out the hapless and incompetent Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, he has done, what many Labour councillors and Labour MP’s could only dream of doing. And they were faced with even weirder and less able chief constables.

I am astonished that so many Labour Ministers and ex-Ministers have joined self serving Chief Constables and condemned the Mayor’s action.

Surely the memories of the ex-Home Secretary, David Blunkett and his successor Jacqui Smith have not been so excised that they do not recall the debates and rows about the police in the 1980s.

Nobody who lived through this time could doubt that Chief Constables were political to their finger tips. Through their national association they achieved an unwritten understanding with Thatcher. This deal can be stated very simply from the police side as “give us more money, get these elected local lefties off our back and we will sort out crime, and the miners for free.’’

This meant that Chief Constables like James Anderton here in Greater Manchester felt they had carte blanche to use brutal policing methods in ethnically mixed areas, like Moss Side. As well as making inflammatory remarks about the gay community.

Life on Mars was a very soft-focused view of policing in the 1970s when compared to the homophobic bigotry of the Chief Constable and the violence of day to day inner city policing.

Thatcher delivered on her side of the deal, police salaries rose and the local democratic control of the police was weakened.

The result, crime rose and ethnic minority communities were alienated from the police for a generation.

The Labour political establishment argues, in the words of ex-London Mayor, Ken Livingstone: “I don’t think Chief Constables should be appointed politically, you want a good copper who can actually bring crime down, not someone you feel is closer politically to your view.’’ His argument is superficially appealing but is at odds with the historical facts.

It also misses the point about the importance of local democracy in setting police priorities. Nobody should care about the party political views of a Chief Constable. However, if the local electorate want more police on the street to give a greater sense of security and reduce mugging then they should have the right to vote for a local candidate who will be able to change police priorities.

Does anybody think that a candidate for election would win votes by standing on a platform of more planes and helicopters for the police, as opposed to wanting more police officers on the beat?

Yet Greater Manchester Police insisted on creating an embryonic air force (the GMPAF perhaps? Ed) in the face of opposition from the community.

The same community which desperately wants to support and have confidence in their local police force but unsurprisingly perceive the police’s priorities to not be theirs.

It is unacceptable in a pluralistic democracy that the electorate cannot go to the ballot box and vote for councillors who reflect and implement their views. Crime and policing are the number one concern for many of the people I represent.

The legacy of Thatcher’s dirty deal should be eradicated and the control of the police should be returned to local democracy. The police point out that they swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, so do MPs, not to local leaders. This is no excuse for not being accountable to the electorate.

Ian Blair should have been sacked on many occasions, not least for trying to stop the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) starting their inquiry into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The fact that he wasn’t removed is a strain on a democratic society and his demise should be celebrated. It will strengthen local democracy and the police.

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AnonymousOctober 13th 2008.

Police that become accountable?? Whatever next, Public bodies that introduce efficiency? Councils that spend money on services rather than their own spin (or spend on bad investments)? Public servants that serve the public??? Its a nice idea....but I can't see it happening. Either way - well done Boris!

Ken WyattOctober 13th 2008.

If you were trying to get rid of incompetant plods then don't stop with Chief Constables.What a useless bunch of t#ssers most of 'em are.And, NO I haven't just been "done" for anything.When I was a fireman we had to work quite closely with them.the women just wanted to spend the time at our station drinking tea and chatting-up the lads and every so often ducking down when the Sergeant drove past.

James BondOctober 13th 2008.

Brilliant, squadrons of Spitfires blazing away at the Chavs....Stringer's right I'm sure, the police would love more vehicles to hide in,but don't want us to vote on whether we agree.

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