Slap it up these two bozos

Look, I know there are multiple agendas here. I know the Mail and the Sun aren’t going to miss an opportunity to stick the boot into the BBC. As for the Beeb bosses, nervous after last year’s pratfalls, they’ve been harrumphing up a storm. But two things are blindingly obvious about Manuelgate. Firstly, there was a systemic failure. This goes from execs in thrall to the cult of youth who demand “edgy” material, to the 25-year-old producer who doesn’t think that the audience out there might not all have 25-year-old tastes.

On the other hand, that producer is not going to be in a position to say to a star on a colossal salary, “Fuck off, Russell, that’s not going out.” So it comes down to the performers, and I have to say I’m only surprised this never happened sooner. Certain broadcasters, and these two in particular, have been getting away with murder for ages now. They both have track records as long as your arm.

Although I have serious reservations about both Ross and Brand, I don’t particularly bear them any ill will. Ross, as a young man, was one of the most naturally talented broadcasters of his generation. But I don’t like his chat show, for the same reason I don’t like Norton’s show, in that it’s all about him, and the guests really just figure as straight men. Parky used to let Billy Connolly tell the jokes; Ross’s guests get to sit and laugh at the host’s hilarious banter. The other thing about Ross is that, in recent years, he’s quite cynically used cuss-words and toilet humour to cover up just how Wogan-soft his interviewing is. What’s more, it’s slightly worrying that a man pushing fifty can get quite that frisson from using naughty words on the airwaves. Don’t say you haven’t seen the glint in his eyes when he’s about to say “fuck”.

As for Brand, the guy has natural charisma and can be quite witty when he puts his mind to it. What puts me off a little, apart from his media ubiquity, is the sheer level of narcissism in his act. Fair enough, he gets away with it a lot of the time – that’s all part of his charm – but there’s a very Ross-like element, going beyond the usual narcissism of the performer, where other people exist only as props for his comedy. This has, on more than one occasion, meant going into detail – including names – about past notches on his bedpost, in some cases with women who knew Brand many years ago, who are not public figures, and who may not be thrilled at his propelling them into the public arena. You know the way our culture abominates those kiss-and-tell bimbos who shag a footballer and then sell their story to the News of the Screws? I think Brand is actually worse, in that he’s the one in the position of power.

So, what of the prank? I must confess, if there was any cleverness or satire there, it was hidden so deeply as to be invisible. What we seemed to be dealing with – using a young woman’s sexual history to wind up an elderly man – was the verbal equivalent of happy slapping. Let’s take the universalist approach – if I did that, I would very quickly find myself talking to the police. Ross and Brand, at their best, may be talented performers, but I don’t see that they’re so special that they can get away with that on a publicly-funded service. I’m aware, too, that a lot of comedy has a cruel streak – that’s why millions watch videos of people falling over on You’ve Been Framed - but occasionally it is possible to step over the line into simple bullying. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad people, just that they ran away with themselves. Ivor Dembina’s comment, that Brand had been lauded so much he thought he could get away with anything, sounds right to me.

And I think it’s right that they are penalised. It’s right that Ross’s suspension hits him where it hurts – in the pocket – rather than an Ofcom fine that would be borne by the license payer. (It surely isn’t irrelevant that so much of the criticism has taken note of Ross’s inflated salary.) Ross, of course, works more or less exclusively for the BBC, which is why he appears so chastened, and why his enthusiastic consumption of humble pie contrasts so much with Brand’s whiny apology. Brand, on the other hand, will probably prosper from this. Sure, he’s lost his Radio 2 show, but he’s got so many contracts with so many media outlets that he’ll not really find himself at a loose end, and after a while this will all add to the bad-boy legend of Russell Brand.

(Parenthetically, and talking of middle-aged men acting out their psychodramas, I was struck in the SU thread with so many lefties’ reflexive urge to rush to the defence of Brand and Ross, and the equally reflexive lack of empathy for the young woman. It was noticeable that the few women who commented seemed to be having a completely different conversation.)

Anyway, one thing I found a little depressing was, by way of contrast to the complaints, the deluge of texts and emails to Radio 1 saying it was all a lot of fuss about nothing, and anyway that the prank was hilarious. This generational gap seems to be borne out by the reactions of most under-30s in vox pops. I hate to sound like Peter Hitchens and start banging on about moral degeneracy, but I do think this illustrates something of a coarsening of the culture.

You don’t have to go back to the 1950s to find evidence of this. Let’s consider that the late Kenny Everett, whose act Russell Brand has liberally nicked from was sacked from the BBC not once but twice for lesser infractions. Let’s recall that, after his notorious fisting joke, Julian Clary was effectively banned from live TV for ten years. Nowadays you can switch on the telly a few minutes after the watershed and hear Jordan and Peter Andre merrily trading quips about, saints preserve us, anal bleaching.

Talking of how things have changed, I seem to remember, after George Best appeared pissed on Wogan, promises that it would never happen again. And yet, the headlines last week were full of Kerry Katona’s slurring on This Morning. Whether or not she was pissed, she was clearly in no state to go on air – but neither was Bestie all those years ago. But it gets better. Kerry, God love her, is in the unfortunate position of being a celebrity without a marketable talent, whose main activity seems to be doing interviews about her awful childhood, her history of substance abuse, or other highlights in her soap-opera life. So what got lost beneath the slurring was that Kerry’s appearance was aimed at promoting her latest media venture. Which was? Yes, her televised breast reduction. I thought Cosmetic Surgery Live was bad enough, but doing a Kerry Katona version sounds like a Chris Morris skit. I suppose it’s a measure of Chris’s genius that the actual broadcast media are coming to resemble his imagination.

Really, sometimes you despair for civilisation. How long before someone, perhaps at C4, really does launch a happy slapping show? You know, that coveted 18-25 audience would love it…

The missing episode of Minder

Wherein Arthur travels to Albania, and so impresses the natives with his wheeler-dealer wiles, and his promise of a varmint in every pot, that they proclaim him dictator. Guest starring Brian Glover as the late Nikita Khrushchev and Robbie Coltrane as Franz-Josef Strauss, with a special appearance by Norman Wisdom as himself.

The Easy Rider minister

Do you know, here was me lamenting Sammy Wilson’s low ministerial profile. And no sooner is that done, but Sammy comes streaking back into the headlines:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson last night branded the law which saw him fined for riding his motorbike without tax or MoT as “absurd”.

The Minister, who has responsibility for road safety in Northern Ireland, was caught by a camera detection unit on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast — a short distance from the Stormont Parliament Buildings.

And so the multi-tasking Sammy – minister, Westminster MP, Stormont MLA, Belfast councillor – finds himself forty quid out of pocket.

Meanwhile, we find a superannuated politician, Patricia Lewsley of the SDLP, sticking her oar into the Movilla teachers’ strike.

The background to this is fairly straightforward. There is an allegation that a pupil at Movilla High School in Newtownards assaulted a teacher. Other teachers refused to teach the pupil concerned. On having their pay docked, they went on strike. Efforts have been ongoing to resolve the situation.

These efforts have not been helped by Patricia, who is no longer a Stormont MLA but does enjoy a comfortable position as Children’s Commissioner, and who has branded the strike an abuse of children’s rights.

I’m rather sceptical about the whole concept of children’s rights – we raised children fairly well for centuries without them – and have never quite seen the need for a Children’s Commissioner to advocate on their behalf. Nor has Patricia particularly made the case. What next, I ask myself? We have a Children’s Commissioner, we have four (4) Victims’ Commissioners – can it be long before a Hoods’ Commissioner is appointed?

The begging bowl

Well, I wrote a little while back about the DUP’s economic policy in the light of the global financial crisis, and this opens up a line of thought. How’s an entrepreneurial party like the DUP (with its estate agent leader) going to function in an economy which is taken up by the public sector to the tune of 63%?

DUP economic policy, for rather a long time, has been defined by two things. Firstly, the staunch defence of farming subsidies, as exemplified by Papa Doc’s long sojourn in Strasbourg. Secondly, the policy pioneered by Robbo on Castlereagh council, which was to keep rates low by providing as few public services as you could get away with. Of course, it also helped to have a few money-spinning assets around like the Dundonald Ice Bowl or the modestly named Robinson Centre, which is perhaps why other DUP-run councils like, say, Ards haven’t been quite so successful in following the Castlereagh model.

Then the public sector’s disproportionate share of the labour force, which dates back to the British “bread and leisure centres” policy during the Troubles. One side of this was the building of a succession of leisure centres, on the theory that giving the kids something to do would stop them rioting. Au contraire, they pumped iron by day and rioted by night. The other component was a massive expansion of public sector employment for the unskilled, with the clerical side in particular providing massive social employment for the hitherto underemployed sector of Catholic women.

There has been quite a bit of discourse for a while now, from academics, from some politicians and from media pundits, about the need to slim down public sector employment. There’s anecdotal support for that from the expansion of the retail and services sector. At the start of the peace process Belfast had no Tescos, now you can’t move for them. Nor had you Asda or Sainsbury’s or Starbucks or Costa Coffee. There was, I think, one McDonald’s. Lidl hadn’t yet begun its takeover of the working-class wallet. The opening of the Virgin Megastore was a huge event. Tanning and waxing salons were unheard of – the spit-and-sawdust barber still ruled the roost. And that’s before you get into the upper end of the market as exemplified by the new Victoria Square development.

The trouble is, as I keep saying, your retail sector depends very much on the public sector pay packet. And actually, there has been a downward pressure on headcount in the public sector proper – the civil service, the NHS, schools and other state bodies – but that’s been achieved via natural wastage and pensioning off the chronically sick rather than slash-and-burn tactics. As you would expect, bearing in mind that Robbo has to marry his Thatcherite instincts with the fact that public sector workers have votes, and there are an awful lot of public sector jobs in East Belfast. So a soft landing is called for.

The real expansion has been in the grantocracy, but it seems to be impervious to market forces due to the demands of the peace process. Any weeding out there would involve a lot of Provos and loyalists losing comfortable if not exactly lucrative positions heading up funded community schemes. The peace process requires that these guys be kept very much on the payroll. (There’s even a little spin-off for the left, as the Socialist ‘Workers’ Party is now deeply ensconced in the community sector, although one presumes the two governments didn’t plan for that.) Moreover, if it was up to the local parties the community sector would be expanded even more, and you can just imagine the howls of outrage from Stormont if there were any serious proposal to take a hatchet to it.

Then you come to the other aspect, which is Stormont’s unwillingness to pay its way. On the water charges issue, Conor Murphy has argued that the Brits left the water service in a shocking state – which is true – and therefore they should pony up for any modernisation of the infrastructure. On the civil service equal pay claim, Nigel Dodds argues the Brits allowed the unequal pay structures to develop – which is true – and therefore they should foot the bill. So, every time something needs paid for, the Executive goes cap in hand to Westminster to ask for the money.

This is where I feel a bit sorry for Alex Salmond. Alex, a banking economist by profession, has spent much of the crisis complaining that if Gordon Brown, a history lecturer by profession, had bothered to listen to him, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. This sounds plausible to me, more plausible at least than the Daily Mail hailing Gordon as an economic genius. But when Alex asked for a billion-pound stimulus package for the Scottish economy, New Labour told the Scotchies to fuck off.

This probably had a lot to do with party politics, but on the other hand, the small size of our economy might work in our favour. Nigel Dodds can go to El Gordo, put on the poor mouth, and ask for fifty mill here or a hundred mill there. Since this is small change for the imperial government, it probably seems a small price to pay to keep us quiet and keep the peace process on track.

I suppose it’s a bit like Gibraltar, where Westminster basically pays the inhabitants to stay contentedly British. And you know, it might even work. But that’s entrepreneurialism out the window.

Not exactly the Sweeney…

Here’s a lovely little vignette from yesterday’s Andytown News, subsequently picked up on Talk Back. It isn’t very significant in the scheme of things, but it does add a little colour.

The gist of the story is that Broadway woman Deirdre Morrison got a phone call at seven in the morning on Wednesday. It turned out to be the police. Apparently they had got a report that there was a dead body lying in the street, and they wanted Deirdre to go and take a look at it. She initially thought the caller was taking the hand, but it turned out that it was in fact Woodbourne barracks and their request was quite serious. Luckily, when she went out and took a look, it turned out it was just some woman passed out drunk.

“The cop seemed relieved when I said it was just someone drunk. A couple of minutes later an ambulance and police patrol arrived,” she added.

“But it was really cheeky of them to ask me to do their job. Imagine if it had been a dead body, I would have been traumatised. This has just proved to me that the cops are incompetent and lazy.”

Actually, when I first heard this I too thought it might have been a joke. But no, the cops have admitted it happened. Which is all too plausible, in fact. Here’s the conclusion of Ciarán Barnes’ article:

The Broadway dead body debacle is not the first time the PSNI has found itself caught up in a self-inflicted farce. During the summer officers refused to chase vandals over a fence because of “health and safety issues”, while in January they refused to respond to an emergency call in case they were attacked with snowballs.

One might add the peeler who was quoted last week as blaming the credit crunch for an upsurge of armed robberies in Derry. The question is, what does this tell us about the new middle-class intake of PSNI officers?

And, just to raise the tone a little, it’s Flynt contra Palin

The US Republicans are getting very angry these days, aren’t they? Those McCain rallies are starting to get a bit boisterous whenever the uppity Negro – you know who I mean – gets mentioned. Well, if they were lacking something to get really angry about, they’ve got a good cause now. Yes, it’s your friend and mine, that old sexist reprobate Larry Flynt, who’s releasing a Sarah Palin-themed porno under the Hustler imprint.

We should, of course, have seen this coming a mile off. Larry loves his political satire, as Rev Falwell painfully found out. He’s quite serious about political advocacy, especially around civil liberties issues (check out his book Sex, Lies and Politics for an idea of what makes him tick politically). He hates the religious right, and he really, really hates the moralising hypocrites who are so much in evidence on the religious right. So Palin getting the scabrous Flynt treatment is only natural. Not to mention the Republican base’s outrage at Palin being sneered at by metropolitan elitists, which has some truth behind it – as a born-and-bred hillbilly, Larry is allowed to sneer at her cornpone folksiness all he likes.

So, hitting the video stores soon will be milftastic industry veteran Lisa Ann playing America’s hottest governor. I can’t honestly say I’m familiar with her body of work, although the cognoscenti reckon she’s a reliably filthy performer, as one would hope. You may cast your eye over the image above and say that she doesn’t really bear that striking a resemblance to Governor Palin, but at least she’s in the right age bracket, and you know, the right hairdo and a pair of power specs might work wonders. I’m also intrigued by the casting of socialist porn star Nina Hartley in the role of Hillary Clinton.

But, much as I love Nina, this opus probably isn’t going to make my must-watch list. Although the concept is sound, I confidently expect the execution to be horrible. For one thing, Who’s Nailin’ Paylin is a shockingly lazy title. Larry should be ashamed of himself, especially with a gimme like Drill Baby Drill conveniently to hand. So we probably aren’t talking the height of sophistication here. Anyway, it can’t possibly be as funny as the classic Linda Lovelace for President.

Unless, of course, Larry throws in some unspeakable act involving a moose…

But I suppose this is what you get when you’ve a succession of facile male media pundits who can’t seem to find anything worth saying about Palin except to remark on her sex appeal, or to put it more bluntly her fuckability. This might go some way to explaining why Palin’s polling numbers are a good deal higher among men than women. (I’d also not be surprised if she had developed a lesbian cult following. She has that tomboy-femme thing that lots of gay girls find irresistible.) But really, you’re electing one of the highest offices in the country, and the eye-candy quotient of the running mate becomes one of the major talking points?

And don’t even get me started on Justin Webb…

Sarah Palin, meet Alvin and the Chipmunks

A change of pace from our occasional musical interludes, as the late David Seville gets into the debate about the upcoming US election…

The Procrastination Committee still hasn’t met and yet, strangely, the world continues to rotate on its axis

Who can it be now?

Who can it beeee now?

Sorry, at this point in time Men At Work makes as much sense as anything else. But that’s another week past and the Executive still hasn’t met. Indeed, this is greatly exercising our political and pundit classes, who keep informing us that the whole landscape of the North would be transformed if only the Executive could meet.

Thank the stars, then, for Newt, who’s on good form this week. Here he is on the tough decisions that our representatives have to take:

For an illustration of our parish-pump decision-makers at work look no further than Belfast’s education and library board, where all 14 elected members have stomped out yet again rather than implement a £7.4 million budget “shortfall”. In fact, the board’s budget has risen by £1 million this year despite declining pupil numbers, giving a 3 per cent increase per child. But the board failed to control spending even within this higher allowance and its all-party political wing has now washed its hands of all responsibility.

Instead, Ulster Unionist chairman Jim Rodgers has passed the buck to Sinn Fein education minister Caitriona Ruane.

When she announced the Belfast board’s new budget in February, Ms Ruane issued a lengthy press release praising her own generosity. But when the board blamed her for its “shortfall” last week Ms Ruane passed the buck on to former finance minister Peter Robinson.

No doubt Mr Robinson would have passed it on again if anyone had bothered to ask.

Indeed, for another good example let’s take the civil service equal pay settlement. Peter Robinson, in one of his last acts as finance minister, pledged that the Executive would stump up the cash. Then Nigel Dodds, on assuming the finance ministry, said he didn’t have the money, and while he wanted to pay up, a settlement would be contingent on whether he could get the Brits to pay for it.

According to another cliche, all politics is local. This is especially true in the handkerchief-sized community cargo cult of Northern Ireland, with its fixed budgets and four tiers of elected government, all somehow simultaneously in opposition. This intimacy is not just local but personal, as candidates work their way up the electoral pole one constituent at a time. The people we elect, those door-knocking, form-filling, rubbish-removing local heroes, simply do not operate at a level where the greater good outweighs any lesser evil.

Yeah, quite true, but clientelism is only the half of it. What’s perhaps most relevant is the point that the four big parties are all in government and also in opposition. Robbo had said he wouldn’t let ministers go on solo runs, but that’s all they seem to do, when they’re visible at all.

One problem is, of course, that we’re overgoverned. Consider that the Stormont assembly (a legislature that doesn’t seem to legislate) has 108 representatives. The Scottish Parliament, for a population more than three times the size, has 129 while the Welsh National Assembly gets by with a bare sixty. Remember that the old pre-1972 Stormont, which had pretensions of being a parliament rather than a mere assembly, only had 52 MPs.

Filter that through into the Executive. Under direct rule, the secretary of state could get by with just three or four junior ministers. Under devolution we have two effective co-prime ministers, ten departmental ministers plus two junior ministers in the OFMDFM. And then, every department must have its assembly committee, with chair and vice-chair, plus all the party spokespeople on the various issues. Actually, this setup reminds me a little of the old Yugoslav federal presidency, and taken together with compulsory power-sharing, explains why everybody can be both the government and the opposition at the same time.

It’s not accidental, by the way, that the majority of ministers are almost invisible except when their department is in the news. When the Westlink floods, Conor Murphy will give an interview. When there’s some story about the Housing Executive, you might catch sight of Margaret Ritchie. At environment, Sammy Wilson got off to a good start by pooh-poohing global warming and volunteering to take all the nuclear waste the Brits could send us, but he’s faded from view. At culture, Gregory Campbell is making the same mordant contributions to Talk Back that he did when he wasn’t a minister. There are other ministers with even lower profiles, believe it or not. I can’t for the moment recall their names.

I suppose we must allow that Michael McGimpsey has been cutting a dash as an unlikely populist, cutting waiting lists and promising to abolish prescription charges. (I do have some doubts about where Gimpo proposes to find the money, and suspect he might turn oppositional and claim Nigel won’t let him do it.) And I take my hat off to Michelle Gildernew at agriculture, who has been quietly but assiduously building a profile as a can-do minister, helped along by some personal charm, buckets of energy (pregnancy barely slows her down), genuine knowledge of the countryside and a commendable willingness to put on anorak and wellies and go stomping around muddy fields. As a result, when you read the local papers you’ll barely have a week where some wee Paisleyite farmers aren’t quoted saying how much they love Michelle, and how she’s the best minister they’ve ever had.

But even so, would it be a terrible blow to local democracy if the Assembly and Executive were cut in half? I mean to say, the full Executive hasn’t met in months, but has the business of government stopped, and have our lives been impoverished? If the news bulletins weren’t always banging on about the Stormont crisis, would the punters have even noticed?

Rud eile: You know the way Peter Robinson has been going around accusing nationalist ministers of breaching the ministerial code of conduct, from Margaret Ritchie’s defunding of the UDA to Martin McGuinness’s role in the current impasse? I may be wrong, but I don’t remember this Executive agreeing a ministerial code of conduct. Could Robbo possibly be referring to the code dating from the Trimble Executive? You know, the one DUP ministers refused to attend?

Forty years on, housing remains a running sore

The fortieth anniversary of the October 1968 civil rights march in Derry is something that, while it’s obviously hugely significant, I must admit I haven’t been going out of my way to look at. This year there’s been a rather wearying parade of has-beens backslapping themselves about what they did forty years ago, not to mention lots of people claiming credit for the civil rights movement. This has usually taken the form of “Yo! We won! And I and my close collaborators were the guys wot won it.”

In the media, this has boiled down to a protracted bunfight between the SDLP and the Provos about who played the most significant role. Actually, the Sticks and the Communist Party probably have more convincing claims, although they don’t get the airtime. (One might also mention Socialist Democracy, the lineal residue of the old PD, except they don’t seem terribly keen on making anything of their illustrious history.) So, though I’m always happy to see the inimitable Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh on the telly, the anniversary hasn’t been preoccupying me inordinately.

But here’s something curious. Last Sunday there was a civil rights demo in Belfast city centre, in the form of the North Belfast Housing Action Committee, with a very creditable turnout of around 400. Even more creditable given that the driving force seemed to be the IRSP – at least they were the only organised force there apart from some anarchists. (I was even a little surprised the anarchists were there, as this is the sort of thing the left usually run a mile from. A little too nationalist, you see.)

And this actually flags up that in certain areas, and around certain issues – housing in North Belfast is a key example – the dilemmas of forty years ago are still incendiary. The background is this. In North Belfast, there is a huge housing list, and areas like Ardoyne are bursting at the seams. What’s more, 87% of those on the housing list are Catholic. And yet, there is lots of empty housing stock in North Belfast, but the trouble is it’s all in designated Protestant areas.

And what makes the problem even more apparent is the long-term demographic decline of Protestant North Belfast. Many of these areas are not far off being derelict. Anyone who has the opportunity to move out does so, and you’re basically left with those too old to move, those too poor to move and the paramilitaries. But Catholics can’t move into these areas, because that’s called encroachment, and it drives North Belfast Prods buck mad.

So here’s a problem that’s been simmering away for many years and has only got worse. What do you do? Well, you can avoid actively sectarianising the issue, and seeing if you can find a few progressive Prods who are willing to pitch in. But again, any solution to the housing issue will be a solution that unionism – and not only the extreme sectarian fringes – seriously won’t like. But there’s also a problem with the normal leftist nostrum of class unity – if your strategy is to wait for the Prods, North Belfast nationalists are likely to give you a dusty response. And there’s no getting past that 87% figure.

Quite a conundrum, isn’t it? And a conundrum that was all too familiar in 1968…

Rud eile: I am pleased to note that regular commenter Garibaldy is now in the blogging game, and has some pertinent thoughts.

The assassination of Commissioner Blair

Oh lordy, what about Brown’s reshuffle? One thing’s for sure, you’re not going to rejuvenate a jaded government by bringing back the likes of Margaret Beckett and Nick Brown. In Margaret’s case, although she was a longtime stalwart of the Labour front bench in opposition and even briefly acting leader, so comprehensively has she failed to impress in government that I’d almost forgotten she was foreign secretary. I suppose you could make the argument that they lend a little gravitas to a cabinet full of overpromoted lightweights, but that’s not an argument Gordon might find congenial.

Then you have the inexplicable immortality of Geoff Hoon, Britain’s answer to Martin Cullen. He’s still there! Why?

As for Mandelson… well, you can sort of see some logic in that Gordon wants to protect his right flank from the persistent sniping of the ultra-Blairites. But to bring back Mr Subprime himself, probably the most despised, and certainly the most divisive, man in the Labour Party? That smacks not a little of desperation. A word of advice, Gordon – next time, and there will be a next time, bury the bastard at a crossroads with a stake through his heart.

Meanwhile, trouble amongst the cops with the Tory putsch at Scotland Yard. And to me, this confirms even further that Wacky Jacqui is one of those overpromoted lightweights. It is true that, as she has said, the commissioner’s job is in the gift of the Home Secretary (acting in the name of the monarch) and not the mayor. It is also true that, while the commissioner is accountable to the Metropolitan Police Authority and the mayor is ex officio chair of the MPA, the commissioner is not personally accountable to the mayor. But she could, if she felt so strongly about it, have refused Ian Blair’s resignation and told Boris where to get off. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked – it’s hard to imagine the commissioner carrying on without the confidence of the mayor – but it would have been a better move than accepting the resignation with alacrity and then whining about it like a little girl with a grazed knee.

Anyway, although Boris denies this, it’s fairly clear that party politics was involved, and specifically the identification of Blair as Ken’s cop. But beyond that, there are competing visions of policing at stake. The de Menezes case notwithstanding – and Blair deserves all the odium that’s coming to him for that – there is little evidence to suggest that Blair is the Judge Dredd-style fascist that the left like to paint him as. In fact the evidence suggests that by instinct he’s a liberal reformer, which is why the hardened reactionaries in the Police Federation hate him so much.

And this is where Livingstone comes in. Ken’s big idea for the Met was, post-Stephen Lawrence, to sweep away racist policing. To do that, he had to marginalise the Gene Hunt types at the Yard and forge an alliance with those senior officers who were prepared to get with the programme, Blair in the first instance. This is what led to a situation of hardened factionalism in the Yard, which is a big part of what’s done for Blair. But it also turned out to be damaging for Ken in that, while it was hard to point to concrete examples of changes in the Met culture – you really had to take Blair’s word for it to a big extent – the logic of the Livingstone-Blair alliance also meant that Ken had to defend Blair through every example of his personal ineptitude, and fatally end up defending the indefensible over Stockwell. Blair should certainly have resigned over that, which doesn’t necessarily mean that his knifing by Boris is a good thing.

So it remains to be seen whether this makes any difference to policing. Boris, it’s true, was elected on a platform of being tough on crime, but he was remarkably short on specifics. The problem is that it’s extremely hard to police a city like London, and even harder to police it aggressively without causing riots. Ken, who was Mr Multiculture after all, understood this; Boris may be expected to be less sensitive to the concerns of minorities. It may be the case that the wave of stabbings in the black community opens the door to calls for tougher policing from minorities, but unless you recruit large numbers of black police (or go down the West Belfast route of subcontracting policing functions) then you run the risk of returning to the 1980s, when Brixton was not unlike West Belfast, with the cops in the role of occupying army.

Can the mayor square the circle? Given that this is the man who brought you Boris Island, possibly after a visit to the Spectator drinks cabinet, you wouldn’t want to bet on it.

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers