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.