Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Boris Johnson: Record vs Rhetoric

This blog has appeared today on ProgressOnline.

A few weeks ago Labour announced its team for the London Assembly elections in 2012. Fourteen constituency candidates and eleven Assembly list members will join Ken Livingstone to make up London Labour’s team for the elections in May next year.

Labour should be proud of the diversity of our Party’s candidates. Our field of 25 includes 14 women, 10 BME candidates, 3 LGBT candidates and one disabled candidate (the full list can be found here). It shows a genuine aspiration for representation that goes beyond what the Tories in London could even dream of offering. Their current eleven London Assembly members are made up of ten men, one woman and one ethnic minority.

On the same day as announcing its list of candidates in July, London Labour launched its Save our Sergeants campaign, calling on Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson to reverse his decision to force 600 local beat team sergeants in London to reapply for their jobs. It was revealed in mid July that hundreds of sergeants are being forced to reapply for their jobs as a result of Boris’s cuts to safer neighbourhood (SN) police teams. A recent Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) report (30/6/11) referred to ‘not recruiting to fill vacant posts and further reducing numbers.’ In February 2011, Boris Johnson announced he was cutting 300 sergeants from London’s 630 safer neighbourhood teams and in June 2011 Metropolitan Police Authority figures revealed that the number of police officers in London is being cut by 1,800 between 2011 to 2013/4.

This is despite the impact that the SN initiative has had in terms of London’s safety. The same MPA report quotes Public Attitude Survey data showing a 10-point increase in ‘confidence in local policing’, an 18-point increase in people ‘feeling informed’ and a 9-point drop in ‘worry about ASB’ between 2006 and 2010.

It is easy for the investment that has happened in policing to be taken for granted. But recent events have brought into sharp relief why policing continues to be a political battle. On the one hand, Boris Johnson is saying that it is not the time for police cuts – deliberately creating distance between himself and Downing Street (vital for his election so he is seen as independent ‘Boris’, not one of Cameron’s Conservatives). But this is at the very same time, as Ken Livingstone has pointed out, that he has agreed to budget cuts that will see precisely that – a cut in London’s policing. London police numbers peaked at 33,404 in July 2009 – and according to a report by the police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary published last month, will fall to 31,460 by March 2015, as a result of budget cuts over four years.

Labour presided over a hard-won increase in police numbers as well as change in style of policing which has demonstrably contributed to safer communities and a far better relationship between the police and community. To understand policing is to understand a lot about prevention of public disorder and crime through community engagement, as much as it is about responding swiftly and effectively to criminality. The riots came to an end after the effective response of the police (after a disastrous start) and the corresponding partnership between the police and community is what is sustaining peace.

The last week’s affairs have shocked not just the UK but the world. But what is also shocking has also been the response of our leading politicians. We are now entering a vital debate about the social conditions and individual motivations that led to the riots and what we must now do to respond. This is going to take partnership between politicians and the police – not political point scoring that we have seen this week from Cameron and May. And with Boris having agreed one thing with the MPA, and saying another to the media, Londoners have to ask with greater scrutiny what Boris really stands for, and what he actually plans to deliver. Trust comes from your record, not your rhetoric in politics, and currently for Johnson there is a big gap between the two.