Saturday, 4 February 2012

Boris Johnson Policing Conference: An abject lesson in how not to consult communities

The dynamic Mayors policing conference.
On a cold February Saturday morning in Croydon the Mayor held a consultation with Londoners on his new policing powers. With the democratically elected and representative Metropolitan Police Authority now abolished, the Mayor has assumed full control of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

Given the parlous state of relations with London’s black communities on such issues as post riot policing, stop and search, deaths in police custody and youth violence one would have thought that such an event would be a serious attempt to engage and consult.

No mention of deaths in custody...
As usual Boris and Kit produced a pale facsimile of consultation. There is a deeply worrying tendency within the Mayor’s Office that seeks to stage manage these events and organise them in a way that prevents and suppresses any open criticism or dissent. They are completely obsessed with media and event management

His Croydon event provides a good example of how the Mayor’s office conducts its consultation on these important issues.

Firstly the event venue is chosen specifically to deter large-scale attendance and is almost always in outer London.

Secondly they set a ridiculously short time for the event. On this occasion rather insultingly, only two and half hours were allocated.

Thirdly the Mayor’s Office did little if any real advertising or promotion among London’s communities. Was the event promoted for example in London ethnic press?

Fourthly the Mayor’s Office then limits discussion by failing to provide any conference discussion papers for the event itself.

Finally they then ensure all events require pre registration and questions, are of course, to be submitted in advance.

As you can see a hive of activity...
Bizarrely, the Mayor’s Office having  required you to pre register then advised us that,

‘Doors will open at 9:30am and the event will take place from 10:00am. Please note that entry will be on a first come, first served basis and your ticket does not guarantee entry.’

40 people attended the conference mostly elderly people from Croydon itself. There were no young people in attendance. This is was of course exactly what the Mayor’s Officers prefers and fits in with his modus operandi and desired outcomes regarding consultation.

Contrast this with the annual State of London conferences held by Ken Livingstone. Thousands of Londoners attended an open public debate on the critical issues of the day with attendance by all the senior figures in London of the day. Add to this MPA’s practice of holding all its committee and subcommittee meetings in public with papers published in advance and the scale of the current democratic deficit becomes apparent.

I believe that the Mayor’s Office, has developed a profoundly undemocratic culture and is running scared with community accountability through consolation, which they view as “getting in the way” of running London. This is a profound and stupefying error, in particular in regard to policing which requires a consultation culture that includes not excludes.

The concept of policing by consent is critical to improved relations with London’s diverse communities. The Mayor’s Office culture of “cut and run” consultation deeply corrodes this important principle. Policing London, given the complex issues of human rights, civil liberties, race equality, faith and gender politics, must be informed and underpinned by an extensive and inclusive range of public consultations strategies.

Over the last year with the impending prospect of the abolition of the MPA, its political influence has waned significantly. This easing of accountability and lack of enthusiasm for black community consultations is informed by the Mayors ideological driven attack on all significant race equality policies.

Issues such as these cannot be simply left to the MPS who have lost a senior cadre of officers who understood the importance of such things. The consequences of these critical developments, loss of experienced senior officers and the absence of fierce democratic scrutiny, have resulted in the MPS returning to their cultural default setting of increasing levels of institutional racism. I cite massive increases, under Boris’s tenure in both stop and searches and deaths in custody rates. Both provide concrete evidence of this dangerous policy shift.

The consequences for London of a Mayor who decries race equality policies, the loss of senior committed police officers who understood the importance of race and policing and a profound disdain for genuine consultation have been profound and can be detected in return in a huge increase in police and black communities tensions to a level not seen in London since the mid 1980’s.

No mention of the riots but thats the way they wanted it...

Such is the level of deep alienation within London’s black communities that even those leading black London figures such as the Mayor’s right hand man Ray Lewis and the influential Pastor Nimms Obunge are now publically critical of the Mayors obvious lack of commitment to dealing with race issues in London.

An example of the grievous and criminal naivety of the Mayor’s Office was exemplified by Police Commissioner Kit Malthouse whose long and laborious speech at the Croydon event provides an insight into an alarming lack of insight and profound lack of political insight on these issues that exist in the Mayor’s Office.

Malthouse in speaking about the issue of sexual violence stated that, and I quote, “rape is a cultural issue”. Because of the constrained nature of the event and lack of time he could not be questioned as to precisely what he meant.

This must be a reference to youth or ethnic culture or maybe both. I am unsure as to what he meant and I think it is important that he clarifies this statement. There are obvious alarm bells that are activated by such an unqualified statement. In any event it appears superficially, to be a crass and stupid thing to say.

In relation to gangs he repeated his mantra that he intends this to be his number one priority.  He announced the launch of a brand new Mayoral strategy to take place Thursday 8th February. (Look out for pictures of Boris in body armour charging into a council flat or something of the kind).

Of course, this will be welcomed by many no doubt.

Gangs are the new “folk devils” of late considered by many to be responsible for all the ills of society.

The problem for Boris Johnson is that he in part, got elected on a manifesto commitment in 2007/8 promising to tackle this very issue. He has singularly failed to do so, illustrated by a increase in youth violence and the complete debacle of his much trumpeted mentor scheme for black boys. 

His credibility and that of his office is, if I may use an inappropriate metaphor ‘shot to pieces’ on this issue. He was challenged on this by a member of the audience who reminded him that we did not need yet another new “gang strategy”.

The fact is, he was told, the Mayor was not listening to those with a proven track record in this area and had ignored perfectly sensible solutions in favour of cheap publicity enforcement led solutions. He was reminded that you cannot simply police your way out of this problem.

The tired response to criticism of the Mayor’s Office on this issue is usually a reference to the last year of Kens Livingstone administration. In 2007 there were 30 youth murders and the current much reduced figure is cited as progress and to be fair, yes that is correct.

However 2007, was an exceptional year in more ways than one. During 2002 -2004 over three thousand high-powered converted guns were being sold on the UK streets by two white ‘criminal quartermasters. Over that period and the following three years leading up to 2007 these guns were first bought at a discount and then literally “rented” at incredibly cheap rates to criminals.

Thousands of these guns made their way to the streets of London.

The reduced cost and easy access to high-powered weaponry produced a tidal wave of fear that spread throughout the criminal fraternity. All had cheap easy access to serious weaponry with many of these guns making their way to crime capital of the UK, London. By 2007 London was flooded with guns. The result was inevitable: a huge rise in the level of serious violence and murder.

The other explanation for the reduced rate in murders in the context of increased levels of youth violence is advancements in medical care and the skill of surgeons benefiting as a result of military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reality is that violence has increased in black communities and despite the reduction in dead bodies, the misery of violence continues to plague our communities.

Malthouse also spoke of the need to improve the quality of police stop and searches in London. His suggestion was that “police officers should be more polite and the public should approach police officers for a chat”. This is quite unbelievable given the huge level of public concern about this issue. It highlights how remote the Mayor’s Office is from the realities of black life in the capital.

The combination, of a casual disregard and disdain for effective community police consultation, informed by an ideological opposition to any race equality intuitive resulted, I believe, in London suffering the worst riots we have seen for a generation. Such politics are not without cost and tragically we have seen loss of life, including Mark Duggan, and millions of pounds worth of damage to businesses and homes as a result.

The London riots were entirely avoidable. The question Londoners have to ask themselves is, that in the context of increasing youth and adult unemployment, increasing rates of poverty, benefit cuts, closures of community and youth centres and a probable increase in crime and violence, can we afford to have a Mayor that is so remote and out of touch?

The failure to engage with diverse and alienated communities is London is, in political terms, simply criminal. The Saturday conference in Croydon represented another missed opportunity for this Mayor and the City as a whole.

The tragedy is there is no one in the Mayor’s Office, Metropolitan Police Service or Government who recognises the scale of this crisis or understands what to do about it.  The moral of this article is that institutional racism and disdain for effective inclusive democracy doesn’t come cheap.

I challenged Kit on these issues as he hurriedly left the conference.

Putting these issues to him he responded by disagreeing and suggesting that I should ask the Metropolitan Black Police Association if relations with black communities had indeed improved, if I did not know better I might have believed him.  It remains to be seen if he and his boss will be believed in May.

And then once the Q&A was over most people left in disgust..
The next Mayoral non event will be held at 9.30am on a Saturday morning and is on Saturday, 18 February 2012, Hounslow.
Venue: Hounslow Civic Centre
Address: Lampton Road, Hounslow, TW3 4DN.

Don’t look for me. I won’t be attending. There is only so much “consultative abuse” one person can take.

Lee Jasper