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Friday, 3 August 2007

Ian Blair - the politician's copper, not London's.

The position of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is in effect not only England's most senior copper, but the copper Londoners recognise as representing our great international city's commitment to the rule of law on the streets. Even though responsibility for the Met was transferred from the Home Office to the GLA seven years ago, the Commissioner is still appointed directly by the Home Secretary. London gets the Commissioner the Home Secretary of the day thinks we deserve. Blair was Blunkett's choice.

The IPCC's report on the Met leadership's actions during the killing of Mr. de Menezes makes grim reading. Sir Ian sat happily in his office, poring over 'excel' charts of diversity training targets, the number of parking tickets translated into Vietnamese, approving new equalities mission statements and doodling new management structures or such like activities. Word had got out that his men had wrongly shot a Brazilian tourist; within hours every copper in London, on or off duty, knew the score. Every copper except Sir Ian. Insulated in his fluffy cloud of NuLabour public management performance targets, he was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.

Yesterday he gave the most crassly risible press conference at which he beamed with pride at having been the most ignorant copper in London at that time, no doubt taking great satisfaction as he did so that his statement was printed on recycled paper.

Ian Blair is to the Met what John Birt was to the BBC; a NuLabour cultural apparatchik, parachuted in to supplant traditional professional values with the nonsense babble of management consultants and the dross of a meaningless and irrelevant performance target culture. He is in every sense a NuLabour political appointee. He is Gordon Brown's chief copper, not London's. Today there can be few Met coppers who have much confidence in a man who sees himself as their chief executive rather than their leader.

Surely the time has come to remove this most important appointment from the sticky and partisan hands of the Home Secretary and put the job of picking a new Commissioner back where it started - with London's magistrates, recorders and judges. Henry and Sir John Fielding, the magistrates who gave us the Bow Street Runners some 260 years ago, would surely approve.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Ingmar who?

Ingmar Bergman was a Swedish film maker who made films of such depressing boredom that he is being hailed as an artistic genius. Bergman, who admitted he couldn't actually watch any of his own films because they depressed him so much, has this in common with me - I, too, have never knowingly watched a Bergman film.

Given that the Swedes are amongst the world's most likely suicides, one wonders if this oeuvre was a career choice or simply sprang from a mind filled with Scandinavian gloom. In my youth, Swedish 'porn' was supposed to be the zenith of this art. I saw some once. The actors looked very bored and rather depressed. It was extremely un-erotic. Maybe it was one of Bergman's early efforts.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Ignore the opinion poll, Mr Cameron - this one's a matter of principle

The most recent yougov poll for the Telegraph gives results, in response to the question '..detain terrorist suspects for as long as police need to carry out their enquiries as long as adequate judicial safeguards are in place', of 74% in favour and only 17% opposed. I think that as with many poll questions, respondents were answering a different question to that asked. I think respondents were answering the question 'given that radical Muslims are the greatest domestic threat today, are you in favour of the police locking as many of them up as possible?'.

Common sense tells us that there is considerable public anger against a situation that allows mainly Pakistani second or third generation immigrants, who have enjoyed all the benefits of a liberal welfare democracy, turning to a primitive and superstitious radicalism alien to our relaxed social philosophy. Having the police rough them up a bit, chuck them in vans and bang them up in bleak cells is a gut reaction.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has found that there is 'no evidence' that extending the detention period beyond 28 days would have any beneficial effect whatsoever. Not one suspect who has been arrested and subsequently released would have been charged had a longer detention period prevailed. So far, 28 days has proved perfectly adequate.

Our real failure is over the admission of email and phone intercept evidence in court. Everyone knows the security services, police and GCHQ are doing it. Such evidence would, contrary to increased detention, actually help to secure charges and convictions. Our failure is nothing more than our traditional Whitehall constipated obsession with 'secrecy', which in the past has covered everything from the number of tea-bags purchased annually by the Ministry of Agriculture to the brand of toilet paper used by the Welsh Office.

Any extension of the 28 day limit is a further creep towards detention without trial. The Scots can do what they like, but this move has no place in our English nation and must be opposed with vigour. It's a matter of principle.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

A wicked simile

Seeing the pics of scouts from around the world in yesterday's paper, and reading the criminal court reports, can I have been alone in imagining the simile 'as happy as an actor at a Jamboree ...' ?
Food Security - the coming agenda

My mother, having survived the second war, was a great food-storer. Our pantry was a room something like 6' x 8' racked with shelves and bins groaning under the weight not just of tins and packets but rows of jars of home-made pickles, jams and preserves. Potatoes came in huge brown sacks, and the hens dutifully laid enough eggs to keep the egg-trays filled. In the autumn the crisp strong scent of stacks of apples (also filling the sheds) always heralded the nearness of Christmas. I suppose we could have lived for several months on the contents of that pantry.

Few homes these days have more than minimal food stocks. The supermarkets give the impression of cornucopia only by continuous shelf-filling; in reality, they carry little reserve stock and a day without deliveries would see many of their shelves bare.

There's no reason to panic, of course, but a number of factors are coming together that will make food security in the UK of greater importance.

We are still reliant on imports for between 40% - 50% of our food; the UK has not been self-sufficient in food production since the eighteenth century. We are therefore reliant on there being food available on the international markets, on a currency strong enough to purchase food, and on a secure system of global transportation by sea.

Food security is inextricably linked to energy security. We are only just starting to realise, now that North Sea oil is finishing, how vulnerable we are to world energy markets. The French, with a self-sufficiency of nuclear power, face fewer challenges.

After decades in which world food production has outstripped population growth and the price of food in the UK has fallen substantially in real terms, the pendulum is starting to swing back. A significant switch of the world's agricultural land from food crops to biofuel crops has already caused a crisis in Mexico over the price of tortilla flour.

And of course the increase we are seeing in extreme climate events across the world. Together with the vulnerability of national flocks to an increased risk of bird flu, and the national herds to foot and mouth and the like.

China's increasing prosperity has meant a massive increase in animal protein consumption; animals need feed, grain - and demand for wheat and maize is keen. Many of you will recall how Reagan used wheat as a weapon to win the Cold War; I doubt that Russia's new form of 'democracy' has improved her agricultural productivity very greatly, but gas-wealth allows her to buy on the international markets.

Those haunting images of mass-starvation in Africa that we saw in the '60s and '70s may not be too far away again. Our own food prices will see some significant increases by Christmas.

I shall be starting to increase my personal food stocks. Lidl and Aldi. Nothing dramatic. But all the signs are pointing to a bit of circumspection.


The proposed European constitution (yes, constitution, not treaty) published last week only in French is 96% unchanged from the original version.

Brown says this not the old constitution and that therefore Labour's manifesto pledge to hold a referendum doesn't apply.

This is a lie. A barefaced, shameless lie.

As momentum grows in the country across the Political spectrum for a referendum, Brown's mendacity will leave him increasingly isolated.