Friday, 20 November 2009

Goodbye and good riddance Hugh Orde

Hugh Orde's comment to the BBC that chief constables will resign if the police come under democratic control is good news. The current crop of police bosses ill-serve the nation and our democracy. Whilst Orde and his ilk imagine a police service accountable to no-one but 'the law', a priestly caste divorced from the society that employs them, free to determine their own priorities whilst swallowing our taxes, this vision is a million miles from the sort of police most of us want.

Hugh, my dear; our nation is a democracy. That means that the people have control. We will not sede power to an unaccountable cabal of State police bosses. So go.

My own preference is for the return of local Watch Committees, mostly directly elected but with local magistrates co-opted, that directly employ and direct local forces for bread-and-butter policing. Cameron's plans are flawed, I think, but even they are better than the current arrangements. I want to see local communities 100% behind their police, to see the police back living in those communities, and beat officers free of the cloying Blairite micromanagement from old monsters such as Orde and his Home Office puppetmasters. This will never happen if Orde and his ACPO cabal get their way.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A liar's programme

Had Gordon Brown called an election after sneaking into the Labour leadership, and had his first Queen's speech been that delivered yesterday, we would now be facing a further eight years of Labour government. As it is, the British public has become so inured to Brown the coward and Brown the liar that those bold promises will bounce off the sceptical carapace of public opinion. It was all too late.

Mandelson's Brown's Queen's speech was the last desperate fling of a doomed government. It was Brown's Ardennes Offensive, with all his remaining Panzers and all his remaining fuel flung into one last-ditch offensive to break Cameron's advance. The counter attack came almost immediately, with Sir Christopher Kelly launching a devastating and unexpected attack on Brown's exposed flank that left Labour stumbling for more lies and excuses. In today's news it has already been supplanted by a blown-down tree in Cumbia.

For hundreds of MPs this will have been their last State Opening; this Rotten Parliament already consigned to the obloquy of history. Next Autumn, next State Opening, offers the chance for a new age for Parliament - if Cameron finds qualities in himself that have not so far been apparent.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Correct diagnosis, wrong prescription

In a leader this morning the Times reminds us that every time we meet a police officer our confidence in the police falls;

When Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police in 1829 he defined nine principles of operation, of which the most important was “the police are the public and the public are the police”.

The police have not always lived up to this precept. Only 3 per cent of crimes now end in a conviction. We spend more on the police in this country than any developed nation and yet detection rates are not improving. The chances of being a victim of crime are at the lowest level for two decades but three quarters of the British public believe that crime is going up. The police force is the only service in which public confidence declines on contact with serving officers, from 57 to 41 per cent. Something is amiss in policing.

Hugh Orde's presciption, featured elsewhere in the same edition, is for fewer and larger forces under central command and control, a new 'general staff' replacing the unaccountable and shadowy ACPO.

It takes some chutzpah for one of the men responsible for creating a police force remote from the people it serves and which has lost their confidence to recommend more of the same as the solution. And it's risible nonsense in every way.

Yes to a Royal Commission - but Orde will find the way forward is smaller forces under local control carrying out 90% of policing, with specialist squads at national or regional level, reporting to the Home Secretary or London Mayor, leading on terrorism and organised crime. The needs of these niche law and order challenges cannot drive the organisation of the vast bulk of day to day policing - which must be local. The police are the public, and the public are the police.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Miss Truss, Peter Oborne and the Jews

Two not unconnected stories from yesterday illustrate the stark choices now facing both Labour and Conservative parties.

Firstly, the candidate taken in adultery. Miss Truss broke one of the ten commandments that underlie our bedrock of social morality. Local associations are quite within their rights to expect both morality and probity from their candidates; if Miss Truss were a practising adulteress, I could not fault them with rejecting her. As it is, it seems, she went and sinned no more; the stones of the Turnip Taliban under those circumstances fell to the ground un-thrown and she continues as her local PPC. Good. We can count this both a victory for common sense, Christian morality rather than Squirearchical Sharia and the primacy of local associations.

Secondly, Peter Oborne's measured and restrained 'Dispatches' on C4 last night on the Conservative Friends of Israel and the influence of the shekel in determining Conservative thinking. I won't repeat the evidence he presented, but I think it's fair to say he established that the Jewish lobby has an unrepresentative influence on Conservative policy.

One of the consequences of the ruthless centralisation of party power that started under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and has since seen over a million members leave the Conservative party, is that the rump local associations remaining are quite often not only unrepresentative of local Conservative consensus, but the lack of challenge and scrutiny at local level allows corruption and nepotism to flourish. In the Truss case, the usual four-members-and-a-labrador local quorum was overturned by the exhausted body of the local association rising from its sick-bed to vote.

The change of both Labour and Conservative parties from mass-membership organisations to centralised national commercial 'brands' has brought with it the danger of the parties being hijacked by small groups of significant donors. Money is drawn to power, and power to money. Better perhaps that Israel buys British political power rather than Russian oligarchs or Chinese generals, but without a mass membership our national parties have no alternative but to open themselves to such influence.

Local associations allege, with some justification, that Eric Pickles and CCHQ have too much power, even with open primaries. CCHQ privately excuses its interference, with some justification, on the grounds that local associations are neanderthal and can't be trusted.

The stark choice facing both Labour and Conservative leaders is that the only cure to this corrosive corruption of our democratic institutions is mass popular involvement at local level; State power must be wrested from Whitehall and devolved to local level, with power will come public involvement and a million local party subscriptions, with money will come the pre-eminent role of local associations in formulating policy and pushing it upwards, crowding-out the corruption of bought influence, whether Israeli or otherwise. You know it's true.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The rocket's red glare

A horrifying story in the Mail that will now doubtless lead to a knee-jerk reaction from the MCA and the government but which may actually be the fault of the MCA in the first place.

The red distress rocket commonly sold reaches a height of about 350m before ejecting a bright flare that descends slowly on a parachute for about 40 seconds. It's saved countless lives at sea, and forms part of the standard kit of coastal sailors on about a quarter of a million vessels.

The problem is, they have a 'use by' date beyond which the manufacturers won't guarantee their performance. So every five or six years, many of us buy a new set. And they're not cheap - a red rocket is about £20. Disposing of the old ones is the greatest headache; as it's illegal to fire them on land, you'd be ill-advised trying to work them into a bonfire-night firework display. You can't dump them in the wheely-bin. In the old days, both the RNLI and the Coastguard would accept them, and the army and navy bomb disposal folk would regularly collect them from marina offices. No more. Guidance from the HSE prohibits the transport of 'time expired' flares in anything but specialist armoured military vehicles. Now only the Coastguard will accept small quantities, handed in by appointment at Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre. The consequence is that thousands are being improperly disposed of.

Now we're paying road fuel duty on our boat diesel, you might imagine a flare disposal service in return wouldn't be too much to ask. But don't hold your breath.

Eyetie talks bollocks - EU listens

Italy's foreign minister is something of a prat. Calling for a new European army, he says;

It was a "necessary objective to have a European army", Mr Frattini said. "Take Afghanistan: at present President Obama asks Poland, or Italy, or Great Britain for more troops. If there were a European army, he would have a 'toolbox' to draw from. He might need 30 aeroplanes: he would be able to ask if the European army was in a position to provide them."

Mr Frattini said that at present "every country duplicates its forces, each of us puts armoured cars, men, tanks, planes, into Afghanistan. If there were a European army, Italy could send planes, France could send tanks, Britain could send armoured cars, and in this way we would optimise the use of our resources. Perhaps we won't get there immediately, but that is the idea of a European army".

Thus proving why the dear Italians are better at making pasta than war.

An army is an administrative unit, coming at the top of a scale that goes battalion, brigade, division, corps. An army is a mixed formation, with infantry, mechanised infantry, armour, artillery, engineers and air and logistic support. British military doctrine used to call for the UK in peacetime to maintain strength for two armies; now we have about one. So does Italy.

Frattini seems to confuse military organisation with white-goods manufacturing. "Italy can make fridges, Germany can make washing machines and the UK can make boilers" makes a sort of sense when the minimum economic scale of a white-goods maker is the markets of about 1.5 nations, but he's away with the fairies if he imagines the same sort of logic applies to armies.

The deeply worrying aspect is that this fool is Italy's Foreign Minister, and there will this morning be scores of other important and influential fools in Brussels who will listen to him.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

When was the last time anyone 'laid an information'?

I keep meaning to email The Magistrate to ask him if anyone's ever come before him to do so, but as a sort of continuation of the previous post I'll throw this out in general.

My own legal training, some years ago, was concentrated as you might expect on civil law; contract and tort chiefly. We passed through criminal law like someone skirting a disreputable neighbourhood, our Chancery barrister tutor raising a metaphorical nosegay to anything that strayed too far from equity and trusts.

But I paid attention to a lecture on magistrates, and in particular to the right of access of all persons directly to the court, to 'lay an information', or swear before a Justice of the Peace a criminal complaint against a named person. Magistrates could also issue arrest warrants from the bench, and accept charges. Thus it was then possible for a shopkeeper to arrest a shoplifter, march them down to the magistrate's court, lay an information and for the bench to charge the accused under the Theft Act, all without involving either the police or the CPS.

Though I can find a form on the Justice Ministry's website, I can't seem to find any cogent summary of whether these powers still pertain; your comments and advice are welcomed.

Why police bosses oppose citizens in uniform

In what must be a continuation of the longest petulant whinge in history, disgraced former Met boss Ian Blair has now condemned the use by residents of private security firms to police their streets. I, on the other hand, applaud every move to residents either paying directly for the policing of their streets, or doing it themselves on a rota basis.

The vice-chairman of the Police Federation has chipped in, saying "I understand the public's fear of crime but actually it's the police who patrol public space and we should be very wary about giving those powers to private security companies."

Actually, Mr Reed, I'm happy for all those private citizens not to have the 'special powers' given to the police. The authority given by those 'special powers' to the police to stop and fine drivers under the Road Traffic Acts, fine smokers for dropping a fag-butt, search pensioners for terrorist weapons or shoot tube passengers is best confined to the smallest possible number. No, I'm happy for us - us and our security guards - just to use the power we already have under the law - that every single one of us already has - to arrest any person without warrant for any indictable offence being committed if there is no police officer immediately at hand.

So we can already arrest rapists, arsonists, murderers, muggers, robbers, thieves including shoplifters, anyone trying to vandalise a railway line, burglars, anyone with a weapon or imitation weapon, persons outraging public decency, persons damaging boats and ships, drug dealers, persons handling stolen property or obtaining property by deception and any other persons caught in the act of committing a few hundred other indictable offences. That's enough.

We'll leave the police to deal with the serious stuff - eating an apple whilst driving, calling a police horse 'gay' and the like. We can arrest the real street crims ourselves. Without any extra special powers at all.

And as we increasingly rely on our private security firms to do the real policing, directly accountable to those that pay for them, in time we'll ask why the heck we're paying for all those folk in full body armour with tazers working for the Home Secretary, and ask exactly what value they're adding. And that's what the police bosses fear more than anything.

The truth about the Slave Trade

When, a couple of years ago, I exploded in indignation at the folly and ignorance of dunderhead political figures who apologised 'to Africa' for the Slave Trade the reaction from certain quarters was as though I'd denied the holocaust.

The truth is that if the West was a willing buyer of slaves, Africa was a willing seller. Of the 11m - 15m African slaves transported across the Atlantic between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, all but a few thousands had been captured and enslaved by fellow Africans in a cultural practice that pre-dated by centuries the first sight of a European on those shores. Their pre-European market had been the Gulf and the Arab states. Right up until abolition, Europe hardly had a foot ashore in Africa; the vast continent was only colonised post-abolition, when Quinine prophylaxis, the breech-loading rifle and steam gunboats made it possible.

Yet a distorted teaching of history in our schools has left a generation with the impression that it was chaps in Pith helmets and khaki drill who rounded up the natives and packed them off to Virginian tobacco plantations. And dunderhead politicos breathe it all in and apologise 'to Africa'.

And of course apologising for the behaviour of our ancestors prior to the effects of the Second Enlightenment makes about as much sense as apologising to elephants for our ancestors having hunted their tusked woolly cousins.

And although there is now an interesting suggestion from Nigeria that Africans ought to apologise to the Afro-Americans and our Afro-Carib population for the Trade, the idea of a Nigerian village girl apologising to Shirley Bassey or Michele Obama for having brought them to their present state seems a little incongruous.