Wednesday, 17 October 2012

One Nation Labour

Chris Mullin - the former MP and Labour government minister - hit the nail on the head with the following article in The Times yesterday. 

I think this is what Ed Miliband meant when he was banging on about 'One Nation Labour' - at the recent party conference in Manchester.

Speak up and speak the truth - but in a non-partisan way - and stop trying to turn every issue under the sun into a party political football.

So we'll see if Ed lives up to his own advice - and if the Labour front bench all follow his lead as well.

Because Chris Mullin is talking common sense and is refusing to explait the issue for party advantage - whereas the police trade union (Police Federation) should be ashamed of its overbearing, bullying behaviour.

And since the Police Federation is not even affiliated to the Labour Party - Ed can afford to give it a bit of a kicking without upsetting anyone.

"Don’t let police bullies oust Andrew Mitchell"

by Chris Mullin

The federation intimidates all those who attempt reform. I know as I was one of them

Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. It is more than three weeks since Andrew Mitchell, the Tory Chief Whip, was involved in an unfortunate contretemps with police officers manning the entrance to Downing Street and yet still the row rumbles on. Hardly a day passes without some new demand for Mr Mitchell’s head.

I trust that David Cameron will not give way. No sensible prime minister should surrender to the mob and the “mob” in this case is being orchestrated by the Police Federation, as big a bunch of head-bangers as one is ever likely to come across within the realms of sanity.

The facts of the matter are simple. After the refusal of the officers guarding the entrance to Downing Street to open the main gate for Mr Mitchell and his bike, he unwisely let fly with a string of expletives. We all say things in the heat of the moment that we quickly come to regret and this incident was no exception. Mr Mitchell , who quickly recognised the error of his ways, duly apologised to the officers concerned and his apology was accepted. That should have been the end of the matter.

At which point, enter the Police Federation. Before we know it, the officers concerned have been contacted and persuaded to part with the contents of their notebooks which are duly splashed across the front page of The Sun and later The Daily Telegraph.

Now the West Midlands branch of the federation is at it (Mr Mitchell is a West Midlands MP). On Friday, along with representatives for two other forces, officers of the West Midlands branch of the federation started calling for Mr Mitchell’s head. There is an irony here. The West Midlands Police are the force that fitted up six innocent people for the Birmingham pub bombings — a matter about which many of the federation’s members remain in denial to this day. It is also the force that gave us the notorious West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, which was disbanded after many of its members were involved in serious criminality.

And where was the West Midlands Police Federation while all this was going on? Denouncing those who dared to raise the subject. All a long time ago, of course. No doubt the West Midlands force has long ago cleaned up its act, but in the circumstances perhaps an air of humility would be appropriate.

I, too, have been briefly on the receiving end of a feeding frenzy inspired by the Police Federation. Some years ago, when chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, I made the unremarkable observation that police disciplinary and complaints procedures were being subverted by a minority of dishonest officers who had exploited every loophole in the rulebook. The wrath of the federation immediately descended on my head. It was on to the Home Secretary and the Shadow Home Secretary, questioning my suitability for office and demanding they denounce me (which they both declined to do). It then rang round each of my fellow members of the committee demanding they dissociate themselves from my comments. Eventually it backed off.

The federation is a bully. It has a long track record of intimidating ministers, journalists and anyone else who gets in its way. It also has a track record of defending the indefensible. Some time ago a lawyer of my acquaintance remarked to me that most of the trade unions on behalf of which he acted would refuse to defend a member who was clearly in the wrong, but the Police Federation would defend anything.

“Such as?” I inquired.

“Murder,” he replied.

All credit to the officers concerned in the Mitchell affair who are apparently still saying they don’t want to take the matter further, despite the intense pressure on them to do so, no doubt. At present the federation is trying to engineer a confrontation along the lines that Mr Mitchell has accused the officers concerned of lying. He has done nothing of the sort. He merely says they misheard him.

As for her Majesty’s Opposition, they are entitled to a little fun at the expense of Mr Mitchell and the Government, but I hope they won’t take it too far. There is nothing to be gained. Over many years a succession of home secretaries of all parties (it was Theresa May’s turn this year) have been greeted either with stony silence or slow hand-clapping at federation conferences.

No amount of sucking up will make any difference. The Police Federation is a mighty vested interest that has seen off just about all attempts to reform the least reformed part of the public service. They need to be taken on, not appeased.

Chris Mullin is a former Labour minister. A Walk-on Part, the third volume of his diaries, has recently been published in paperback