Equality is important Alan Johnson!

There was an Opposition day debate yesterday on ‘crime and policing’ – an opportunity for Labour to lay out their angst about the Coalition plans for policing.

But that is not the focus of the first part of this post.

During the opening speech from Alan Johnson, former Labour Home Secretary, he said this:

”The Home Secretary (Theresa May) has been careful to have only one LibDem in her team, and she is a very good Minister (me), but the Government have not allowed her anywhere near the important stuff in the Home Office.’

 (I was on the bench with Theresa May and the other Home Office ministers for the debate).

So – Alan Johnson is saying that ‘equalities’ is not important. Now Alan Johnson is a decent man and I have no doubt if you asked him he would say he was completely committed to equality etc. So the point of this post is not to have a go at Mr Johnson but to demonstrate how deeply embedded  is the attitude that ‘equalities’ is somehow not important.

It is very very important. And I am sure – or at least I hope – that Alan Johnson believes that too – but what a very long way we still have to go to a point in time when a throw away remark does not reveal such a disappointing reality. Prejudice is still alive and well and living all over the place .

On the substance of the debate – Labour (unsurprisingly) attacked the coalition plans for policing reform and we defended them: directly elected individual police commissioners elected locally to hold local police to account; the ending of the retention of the DNA of innocent people on the DNA database; the re-organisation of the policing landscape with the ending of SOCA (Serious Organised Crime), the proposal to bring i regulations to control the use of CCTV cameras properly and the setting up of a new National Crime Agency.

 There was also a great deal of argee bargee as to how the comprehensive spending review (the cuts) would (or would not) hit front line policing. Obviously Labour said they would and we said that front-line policing would be as protected as possible and that as currently only 11% of police were actually on visible duties – we would be cutting the bureaucracy enabling more time on the street.

The actuality of the spending review will be announced on 20 October – we will undoubtedly be in a better informed position to have the debate then.

Shame on you Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson became redder and redder as his anger mounted and righteous indignation welled over in his TV defence of his sacking of Professor Nutt (you couldn’t get a better name for a science professor if you tried). I thought he might explode.

I think his anger is really directed at himself. He has made a mistake – and seems to believe that if he huffs and puffs and goes out on the offensive – he will back up his position that advisers should not open their mouths in public if they disagree with the government – even if it is just to state a scientific fact about the harm levels of various substances.

Is our Home Secretary so insecure in his decision (remembering that Minsters decide) that he can’t go out there and robustly argue the policy case? He is quite right – he doesn’t have to take the advice (advisers advise). He has clearly decided not to. All he has to do is go out there and explain his reason. If it is because whatever the hierarchy of harm of cannabis in relation to alcohol he (the Government) believes that they need to send out tough messages regardless – that is their policy – and they should have the cojones to defend it.

Sacking the messenger who speaks the truth demonstrates how weak this government is. They are still clinging to the idea that you can deny argument and debate. It shows exactly how Parliament works – or more accurately doesn’t – when power is simply wielded to hide, squash, remove any opposition.

This is symptomatic of an even greater harm out there that stalks every state institution and authority currently – where regardless of professional or clinical opinion – management overrules it. The result is that the decisions that are made are less and less to do with what is right – but much more to do with authority and expedience. And the world grows more hostile, colder and dysfunctional in the wake of this abandonment of proper inclusive process.

Going back to the Government’s drug policy – it isn’t working – and unless and until they have the courage to accept inconvenient truths – it aint going to get any better.

Ofsted: Haringey didn't tell us the truth

I read front page in the Guardian yesterday that Christine Gilbert, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has come out publicly to say that Ofsted were lied to by officers in Haringey in terms of the information they provided when they inspected Haringey. Result – Ofsted gave Haringey three stars just weeks after Baby P’s death.

Well – I’m glad she said it. I’ve no doubt Haringey did present inaccurate information and was trying to pull the wool over Ofsted’s eyes – given they wanted three stars because the government hoops they have to jump through mean resources, money and political advantage all come from three stars.

However, as neatly as Ofsted wishes to put all the blame on Haringey, I would just like to point out the feebleness of that as an excuse for an inspection regime. Ed Balls has now moved to say basically these interim inspections are useless and Ofsted must do face-to-face inspections annually. But what on earth confidence can we have in any inspection regime given this failure? Surely the questions and examinations have to go deeper.

And last but not least in this dishonourable performance management system is the Government itself who set it up. Ed Balls is only too willing to look at the narrow focus of the social work and systems end – but not really so far said anything about the Government’s part in this devastating failure. It is the Labour Government who set up a performance management system with targets, tick boxes and gold stars on inspection. What bigger perverse incentive can you have in a rotten borough then to be allowed to present false information to achieve a false status? Come on Ed – look at your own part in all of this.

And today, news has broken that Ed Balls and Alan Johnson are launching a task force to change the practice, spread best practise and look at training of social workers. Yes – some of things are suggested may well be good so no problem with that or the task force – but the focus is still narrow. We need a proper public inquiry to look at all the issues that are much wider than just what happens in the departments themselves. As before – even the Government system of performance management is called into question.

Plans for the NHS

Well, well, well! So Health Secretary Alan Johnson has outlined plans which aim to make the NHS more user-friendly for patients in his speech to the Labour conference. He said patients should be treated close to home and GP surgeries should open “at times and in locations that suit the patient, not the practice”.

I will be quoting this incessantly at Haringey PCT if they try and move our GP practises into the polyclinics! That’s the point I keep making. We need to be treated close to home.

As for this shenanigans with Brown and the election – a real man, a real Prime Minister – would put the country first! I rest my case!

Doughnuts are getting popular

It is growing like topsy – this Dads and Doughnuts (although the Americans spell it donuts) idea. Yesterday Alan Johnson followed my lead, and today the Prime Minister is following my tack! Just glad I put it out there live on the Politics Show last Saturday week and at the Lib Dem conference last Thursday.

And the point of it all is that, in contrast to Cameron’s populist but puerile attempt to glue people together with tax breaks, we need to be getting real support to single and separated parents. Helping mothers and engaging fathers is really vital. You can’t do it through legislation, but how schools involve both parents is a very interesting line to go down – and I am going down it.

Flattered by Labour

I see from the papers that Alan Johnson (Labour Secretary of State for Education) is now talking too about the need to involve fathers more in their children’s welfare with ideas such as “dads and doughnuts” … all of which rather echoes my speech last Thursday which I talked about precisely this good idea from the US. Flattery, imitation etc. applies I think!