Gordon Brown

So – it’s to be a coronation! Guess the clunking fist from the future Prime Minister and the spineless consent from the ranks of Labour MPs (the same spineless ones that voted through the war) will deny members their say, the party a proper debate and Gordon a mandate.

It would have been so much better if David Miliband or Charles Clarke or anyone had had the balls to fight Gordon. Even John McDonnell would have been better than nothing and no one. It feels wrong and will do so unless and until there is a General Election. And Gordon (middle name cautious) is unlikely to go for it immediately. Unless he really is new Gordon!

Gordon’s first (and only) hustings saw him present himself as ‘new’ Gordon, for a ‘new’ Britain, with ‘new’ ideas and ‘new’ challenges, etc. etc. ‘Scuse me for thinking he was the bloke what was there all along, hiding head below parapet whilst signing the cheques. Iraq, tuition fees, cutting benefits for the disabled, tube privatisation, and on and on. He was there, at the centre of power, all the time. Not so new Gordon!

What can we expect under Gordon? More announcement, re-announcements and then announcement for a third time of the same pots of money – and a dark, brooding, master pulling the central strings from behind closed doors. I hope I’m wrong, but …

The end for Blair?

This is a nightmare ending for Blair and catastrophic for the Labour party. Having watched breaking news on and off all night (wakeful – don’t know why – usually log-like) the pundits have concluded that having named the day – Tony won’t last the course. Poor sod. Name the day! Name the day! Tony names the day (via the Sun) – and then the day isn’t good enough.

I would feel sorry – but much has been brought upon himself. If their was ever a Faustian pact ‘twixt him and Brown, once in he clearly didn’t want to go at the end of two terms. Clever (but not really) to announce he wouldn’t stand again at the next election as it warded off the inevitable speculation briefly about his tenure. Followed so swiftly after the election by when, when, when.

Tony’s marginal MPs fear their ending at the next election – and yet even in my short time in politics it has dawned that what the public like least is internal wars about the who. Concentrate on the greater good rather than the Labour good.

Having been one of those who signed my name on the letter that helped trigger Charles Kennedy’s demise, I also know that sometimes you have to do what you believe is in the best interest of the party – even to the very person who you have supported and championed. But as with Charles’s ending – which at least was swift in the event and for reasons of health (both his and the party) – it takes time to heal and move on. With hindsight now – and looking at what is happening in Labour – our own troubles seem to have been tackled and got over remarkably quickly. It was just a matter of weeks really, whilst Labour has been hobbled for month after month after month of speculation, plotting, intrigue and infighting.

Labour could have had an ‘orderly transition’ if Blair and Brown had worked it out and worked for the benefit of the party and the country. But given the enmity and the nature of the two men and the political context in which they hate each other – and the now rising realisation that Brown may not be the saviour he is cracked up to be (as I have been banging on about publicly for around two years now) – I can’t see that there is going to be any sort of happy transition.

Charles Clarke and Stephen Pound (both of whom I kind of like to be honest), I see, are both seizing the moment – and to remind the players in this ghastly ritualistic sacrifice that the people might be more impressed if the challenges that face the country were the priority of the government rather than this unseemly mess.

But you can’t have an effective government without an effective leader – and that’s the conundrum that the Westminster bubble will all enjoy over the coming weeks and months.

The London bombings

Memories of the bombings flood in from every news station and newspaper. I am taken back to a year ago where I remember so clearly my journey into Westminster. It was the first time I took the car up to Parliament – because I had to take a load of stuff in. The radio began to give news of ‘power surges’ at stations. But I knew after a few minutes that there was a likely terrorist attack in process. And as I drove past Kentish Town station people were being evacuated – and as the news of the bus bomb came over the airwaves I saw buses begin to be emptied of their passengers as the drivers obviously received messages to evacuate the buses. In Parliament there were huddles of MPs and staff around TV screens – and towards lunchtime Charles Clarke came to the chamber to make a statement on the attacks. There was a very, very sombre air that day. And I remember coming out in the late afternoon to go home – giving a lift to two others. Emerging into bright sunshine from the cold and grey of the Commons atmosphere – with thousands and thousands of people walking to get home.

A year on London has proved how strong she is and how our communities – all of us – have held hands to make sure that terrorism didn’t triumph. Truly it is together we stand and divided we fall. And the evil that the extremist Islamic terrorists visited upon us will be vanquished if we stay strong.

I go to surgery in Wood Green and then to pay tribute to those who died, their families and the injured and to the work of the emergency services at a short ceremony in Wood Green opposite the Civic Centre. It is a hard day emotionally – lord knows what it must be like for those more closely involved.

Charles Clarke

I am due to go on GMTV for a 6.40am slot on the elections. The car is meant to pick me up at 6.00 and if there is any change to schedule they will let me know. Best laid plans of mice and men etc mean that the driver knocks on my door at 5.45am and has been waiting an hour. Instead of calling me on my mobile – they have paged me to let me know car was outside. But I wasn’t wearing my pager – as was waiting for call. Arrive at GMTV at 6.11am to discover not on at 6.40 but on at 6.15. So – a frantic start to day.

The interview centred around Labour’s apparent desire to self-destruct the very week of the local elections. Should Clarke go? Yes – is the answer. Clarke has been in dereliction of his duty to keep the public safe. He cannot go on or how else can anyone below him believe that they need to carry out their duties properly. If he survives – then no one can ever be sacked for any failure. Particularly as he had been warned.

However, it is now clear that Clarke has offered to resign – but Blair has refused. It would appear to me that the Prime Minister’s desperate need for political support in the cabinet – and thus his efforts to hold onto Clarke – are clouding his judgement about right and wrong and he is putting his own survival above and beyond the well-being of governance and the public’s safety. (You can sign the Lib Dem petition calling for Clarke to go at www.libdems.org.uk/charles-clarke.html)

A further development, in terms of a foreign national – now known to have been the prime suspect in the death of a woman PC – was a released prisoner. Ironically this particular criminal was considered for deportation and it was decided that he could not be sent back to Somalia as that country is considered too dangerous to send anyone back to. This presents a new dilemma in terms of what do we as a decent country do with ex-criminals who should be deported to countries – but these are countries where they may be in danger. Seems to me we need an urgent review – and a mechanism for keeping tabs on such individuals. I don’t think just because we cannot deport them we should just then accept they should then be forgotten and no longer registered and checked.

However, the central issue remains, the Government has failed in its primary duty to keep us safe – and it gives the lie to all the talk and headlines about being tough on crime. From top to bottom of the justice system we see that nothing appears to be carried through properly. Once the headline is out of the way and the Government feels it is appearing tough and gaining kudos from being seen to be active by bringing in new tough laws – they abdicate their responsibility for ensuring that they are properly implemented and enforced.

More on Joyce Vincent

Surgery all morning at Wood Green Library. Got more information now about the death of Joyce Vincent – the woman found in a Wood Green flat having been dead for two to three years. She had been housed by the Metropolitan Housing Association. In the end it was their bailiffs who went in because of the need to repossess the flat due to rent arrears. Her rent had been party paid by benefits and, I believe, started off in credit. Anyway – seemed to me that three years was a very long time to wait to chase up money owing and neighbours reported that usually – if they owed money – Metropolitan was on to them quite quickly. Well – I had an example walk through my surgery door where Metropolitan were going for eviction after three months of a new tenant. I am trying to stop it because – as is so often the case – the problem was with their benefits not being paid properly. But the point is – if they were so quick off the mark in this instance, what happened to make them wait three years in Joyce Vincent’s case? A question for the Chief Exec next week at our meeting I think.

Rush on to a meeting of Highgate Woods Committee (run by Corporation of London and local residents who are community minded). I just really wanted to show my support for the work of these dedicated souls who watch over our precious woods and care on our behalf. Highgate Woods are beautiful – they have that special atmosphere that you only get in woodlands (Queens Wood has it too). Sometimes I think we don’t really know how lucky we are – or all use it to best advantage. In fact the Corporation are to do a survey around people who live near the woods. I think it will be very interesting to learn what use people who live right there make of the woods – and if they don’t, why they don’t. Up to now surveys have been of users. Just as with buses – my old argument with Transport for London bus surveys was that they were always preaching to the converted in their surveys. What you really want is a survey that goes to everyone who lives within 5 minutes of a bus route to discover why they are not using their local services.

Anyway – I told the committee that I had actually mentioned Highgate Woods in my maiden speech – albeit only to mention that that is where I used to play kiss chase with other kids from Highgate Primary!

Just a footnote on the rolling news re Charles Clarke and the released murderers, rapists and so on. Several have now turned up and turned out to have been reconvicted for new offences. I’m sorry but this is hardly a surprise when there is a recidivist rate of 60% within two years. This was inevitable. And as to the view that Clarke is the best person to sort this out and therefore he should stay in post – this is a ridiculous hypothesis. Firstly – he didn’t tackle it effectively – even though he knew. Secondly it would seem that there is a view that there is no one better who could take his place anyway – a sad reflection if the case.

(You can sign the petition calling for him to go at www.libdems.org.uk/charles-clarke.html)

What I will say for Charles is that he has not tried to shift the blame to his Ministers. ‘Cos basically it’s the two Macs. McNulty and McTaggart in the Commons and Baroness Scotland in the Lords who between them have the responsibility for prisons and immigration. Clarke is right to take it on his shoulders – for that at least, I give him credit.

Charles Clarke

Labour hits the skids. Timing immaculate. Already doing badly in the polls, slated on the doorstep by their own supporters – Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and John Prescott decide to put the nail in the coffin of the local elections. How far they will fall – no idea.

But to the specifics. After PMQs, Charles Clarke comes to the Dispatch Box to make a Statement on the Deportation of Foreign Nationals. It was a pretty subdued performance really. I mean, what’s a man to say? He tried resigning – and Blair refused – tasking him with making everything all right. Poor sod. So he apologised and said he wanted to stay to sort out the mess. But I don’t think he should stay. Actually, I quite like Charles Clarke the person. He is intelligent and engaging. But – on his watch – this level of incompetence is so staggering (given the many warnings about it) that he has to go. If he were not to go – it would be like saying it doesn’t matter what happens in your department – even when as serious as this. And that continual degrading of standards is not acceptable. There are things that go wrong in any department, any office – and it is a matter of staff not doing something properly and no, I would not expect a Minister to go for run of the mill errors. But the warnings he received, the lack of action following them and the seriousness of the omissions make this a resigning matter.

It would seem, however, that Blair will only ‘let him go’ if public pressure mounts – so if you want to add to public pressure for Clarke to go – visit www.libdems.org.uk.

There are a number of areas that worry me about the substance of the matter in hand as well. I am less bothered about the ‘foreign’ bit. Yes – of course where a judge has said the criminal should be considered for deportation, then this consideration – and if decided so, deportation – should happen and in good time. And no doubt if one of those roaming our countryside murders or rapes – it will be a huge issue.

However, the bigger questions for me are the incompetence when this issue was flagged up; regardless of nationality – murderers are meant to be followed up on release and sex offenders are meant to be on a register – in other words, for both of these categories we should know where they are. How many released murderers or rapists are wandering around without the authorities keeping appropriate tabs on them? Is this endemic? And what is so complex about a foreign national coming for release. All the prison and the Home Office have to do is talk to each other. It’s not rocket science.

And on top and above, in some ways, all of this – is the exposure it gives to what I regard as one of the worst sides of this Labour Government – its proclivity for producing endless legislation when usually there is perfectly good legislation in place already – just not enforced. That is what this country needs – people doing their job properly using the laws that exist to enable them to do so. That’s why Charles Clarke has to go. If we accept him failing so badly in his job then we cannot expect everyone down the line to do their job properly. New legislation and new action-man headlines don’t change a thing!

Joyce Vincent

A woman was found dead in a flat in Wood Green. She had died more than two years earlier. The television was still on. Her shopping was at her side. Apart from the Brit media on this – interestingly – the Australian and Italian media are very het up about it. I had a word with an Italian TV station and asked them why this had become such a huge story in Italy. It’s because it is unimaginable in Italy that you wouldn’t a) know your neighbour and b) not be inquisitive about a flat that had no comings or goings. The Italian nation is agog at our apparent lack of community mindedness.

And where was everybody? It’s tragic that there were no friends or family there. There should have been a number of authorities involved in Joyce Vincent’s life. Someone should have been asking why the part of her rent not paid by housing benefit wasn’t paid. Where were social services? How did this poor lady fall through the safety net? This case shows the need for a human checking process.

Apparently Ms Vincent was a victim of domestic violence and, who knows, maybe she didn’t want people to know where she was and had discouraged contact from her family. She also lived in an area with quite high population turnover.

Nevertheless this is a reminder to all of us all that we should look out for our neighbours – but, as the interviews with her neighbours show, this is much easier said then done. At what point do you start worrying if you don’t see your neighbour? What do you do when you have started worrying? And so on.

Meanwhile, the answer to my Parliamentary Question on the ethnic breakdown of those people who have been arrested but not charged or cautioned – i.e. were innocent – has come back showing that 24% are from ethnic minorities. The black and Asian population of the UK as a whole is less than 8%. (The figures are based on the make-up of the DNA samples in the national DNA database as these arrests are the basic source of DNA in the database).

So what on earth is going on? My guess (although I will obviously await for the outcome of the investigation into these figures that I am calling for) is that disproportionality is alive and well; that is, where there is discretion in the use of police powers, they are disproportionately used against those from ethnic minorities.

What these figures demonstrate quite clearly to me is that disproportionate numbers of black and ethnic minority members are being wrongly arrested. They are innocent. This is wrong. This is discrimination. Whilst a lot of work has gone on to improve training for police in stop and search etc – it is clearly not working.

And Charles Clarke is adding more and more discretionary powers to the police to administer summary justice – let alone the carrying of ID cards in due course. All of which will make these problems even worse.

All power to Charles Clarke

First day in committee leading on the Police and Justice Bill – or the ‘I’m Charles Clark – I’m in charge Bill’ as much of it takes powers away from local bodies and puts it straight in the Home Sec’s hands. The first part of the Bill is about the merging of two central functions agencies into one new one – the National Police Improvement Agency. We don’t have too much trouble with that – however the next section (Schedule 2) is a real humdinger.

The first part of this is where the Home Secretary takes powers to decide how many members there are, what qualifications or disqualifications they have, what work is done and who chairs and vice chairs local Police Authorities. Centralisation or what? And they have gotten rid of magistrate members. I suspect magistrates know too much and give the Home Sec too much trouble. Ms Blears, Minister for Police etc, swears blind that this is all for our own good – saying the Government has a responsibility to make sure that everything is done properly and if things go wrong to go straight in and sort it out – without the hassle of any democratic processes or checks and balances in the way.

In the evening I go to Haringey City Growth Business Awards. It is a really delightful evening. I have been sent my little bit of script, a bit of blurb, for presenting on of the award. So I go up – and after I have said ‘and the winner is’ as I open the envelope (I can’t help myself admitting that I’ve always wanted to do that bit!) – I read out that the winner is Tracey Proudlock of Proudlock Associates. Tracey is a fabulous local woman – in a wheelchair – who really gets on with it. I am really glad she won the category.

Promotion

In the early evening, I get a message on my phone from Ming to say that he would like me to stay in the Home Affairs team as I had requested and would like me to be No2 (that’s one up from before!) – Deputy Shadow Home Secretary. Plus I get to keep the policing portfolio – so am delighted.

The business of the day is the ID cards debate on the Lords amendments. Starting for parliamentary procedure I don’t understand at 10pm which is when we usually finish on a Monday. The argument now is over the Government’s ridiculous assertion that the requirement to have a passport (with which you have to have an identity card) is voluntary. I should take Charles Clarke to a border and make him cross it without a passport. I’d love to see him arguing with the border guard that it is ‘voluntary’ as to whether you have a passport or not. Labour have gone completely mad. It was Nick Clegg’s debut proper speech as our Shadow Home Secretary – and he did really well. Nevertheless – the Government won by around 33 votes. The argument now goes back to the Lords where I hope they sling it out again. Of course – what will finally put a nail in the coffin will be the cost and how unpopular that it nearing an election. Bastards!

I also have to write an article on Education for the Ham & High Education Supplement – despite getting home very late – it’s not over ’til it’s over!

And my emails tell me that I have been nominated for the New Statesman New Media Awards for my website.

Good night!

Care in the community and crime in the community

Surgery all morning. The last case was quite challenging. Obviously no details – but in overview – a woman came because her son, 13 years old and black, had been stopped by the police and asked to account for what he was doing. He and some friends were described as hiding in the grounds of public building playing hide and seek. Nothing came of it and the police had written to the mother following her complaints to say that they accepted her son’s explanation. End of story. Except – that although there is no police record or criminality etc – the boy’s details will remain on the database as having been stopped and asked to account.

As we went through what had happened, the woman became extremely agitated and before long completely hysterical, sobbing and shouting and weeping and wailing. What was at cause of this was a mixture of indignation that her boy had been stopped at all and that the police shouldn’t be allowed to stop a 13 year old and ask for details (she said they intimidated her son to get them), that the details filled in on the Stop and Search form were inaccurate and that he would be down in police records and this would count against him throughout his life as black boys have the odds stacked against them.

It is one of those situations where I just use enough authority to try and bring calm. I know theoretically people used to say you are meant to slap someone who is hysterical around the face and the shock is supposed to bring them back to their senses. However, I hardly think that a viable or acceptable solution in this day and age! I can just see the headlines. What was the most difficult was that she couldn’t hear anything I was saying. And in fact I thought she had a good point.

It sort of relates to my work on DNA where I am fighting to bring some rationality and fairness to what gets retained by the police when someone is innocent. Likewise, her boy was innocent. She has the letter from the police saying so. But because the police stopped him, his details will remain forever on the database and this may well somehow count against him at a later date and in another context.

So I will pursue this. Because if there is any risk that retained details on an innocent black boy might one day mean that he is prevented from something – a job or a place at university because somehow that information is available – then it should not be retained on record. I will be writing to the police chief to find out what happens to such records, why they keep them and whether there is a particular reason for this boy’s details to be kept. We will see.

There is a whole surveillance society being created at the moment – and we have to be sure that the balance between our civil liberties and catching criminals is not only a fair one – but an agreed one!

From surgery make my way to Highgate Primary School where I am talking to about 30 children from the school council and school newspaper about climate change and recycling – and how lovely it was to be surrounded by enthusiastic youngsters who peppered me with lots of questions and who clearly understood already the need to care about what we use and how we use it and the dangers that faced us.

More fascinating for them – was the fact that this was my old primary school! Neither the head nor the teachers had realised that this was indeed my own Alma Mater! And what memories it sparked. I was describing to Anthony – the teacher in charge of this project – and we didn’t use first names when I was there- that we had had a boys’ playground and a girls’ playground. And he laughed at the idea of gender playgrounds – but that’s how it was. And I remembered all my old teachers’ names. Also, the head was called Mrs Ruby Jobson (I think) and I remember her calling my mother in for a chat because my mother was not a fan of education and thought you should get out into the world and work as soon as possible. She herself had left school at 13 to train under a milliner – which she hated. Anyway – Mrs Johnson called her in and told her that her little girl was quite clever and advised that I sit for a scholarship. My mother reluctantly agreed. But the interesting thing is that we hadn’t done any algebra and apparently you needed to be able to do algebra to sit the exam. So the Headmistress sat me in her own office for six weeks and tutored me personally. I sat the exam. I got the scholarship. And the rest is history. So – an unexpected walk down memory lane!

Then I get a call from a reporter from Radio 4’s Today programme who wants to come and interview me post the fabulous Dunfermline by-election result – as Haringey is one of those councils that is mooted may fall to the Lib Dems. It’s a program to do with what is happening and why in Labour’s heartlands. So he comes to the Three Compasses pub (where my office is upstairs) and I am sitting downstairs having a coffee with my 3 o’clock appointment – Ian Grant – from Open Door.

Open Door is voluntary organisation part funded by state and the rest by raising funds and it has a team of councillors that work with 13 to 24 year olds with mental health problems. One of the projects they are doing, and which they want to promote more widely, is support for parents of teenagers with mental health problems as there is nothing available. The other gap is care for 18 – 21 year olds who often seem to fall between two stools. I am particularly cross about the lack of resource or interest in mental health.

Firstly, neighbour disputes are often mental health based issues and often crime in the community is because care in the community doesn’t work. The police and the prison system end up dealing with what are mental health issues – and of all the under-funding – talking therapies are the lowest in the food chain!! We did actually have an opposition debate this week in Parliament for the first time on mental health for over eight years. And Charles Clarke in his statement yesterday on offenders doing community sentences did mention in passing that the government will be bringing forth legislation in the mental health area. Anyway – the reporter put his tape recorder on and taped a bit of that meeting too.

Then I did the interview – and yes – Labour heartlands will fall (I hope) and he was particularly interested to know how and why I had managed to overturn a Labour lead of 26,000 in two elections. It’s not hard to understand. Haringey Labour ran a one party state where residents were ignored and treated as voting fodder who would vote Labour whatever. Someone like me comes along and says I will listen and care and do things about your everyday life – yes it matters – clean streets, lighting, paving stones and so on. I have always argued that if you can’t keep a street clean how can you run the country? Of course, over the years the Lib Dems have been working in Haringey – we have succeeded in pushing through improvements – on cleaner streets, recycling, school places – all of which Labour ignored until we became a threat, campaigned on these issues and put them in our leaflets. So – there is every chance that we will take the Council in May. Fingers crossed!

As I finish the interview – the CND lobby arrives. I was expecting about 5 of them – but around 12 -15 turn up. We pass an interesting half-hour and each member (virtually) of the lobby presents their case. For the avoidance of confusion – I am against the replacement of Trident with an equivalent system. For the time being, I believe we need a minimum nuclear deterrent. What does that mean? Enough to make anyone think twice about attacking us. I would wish to move to disarmament – but I think that is unrealistic at this moment in time and am not in favour of unilateral disarmament. I want a debate in Parliament on this issue – and indeed a debate in my own party too. I believe the world has changed and is changing and the way war is waged is also changing. The threats of the past are replaced by different threats now. Our defence needs to adapt
to
these changes.