Blimey – he’s gone! It’s always a bit of a shock when someone leaves like that – even when you have thought they should go. Ian Blair has been clinging on for dear life virtually since he started. It is to his great credit that despite the errors of judgement he made – and his mistakes have been very big and very public – that he has actually achieved progress in some areas – like neighbourhood policing and diversifying the make-up of our police.
His flaws? Too clever by half for one. I think (and I was a member of the Met Police Authority for five years alongside Ian Blair) that he had progressive intentions hampered by a belief that he could handle the media – sort of Blair (Tony) and Alistair Campbell rolled into one. But he wasn’t good at it. Or perhaps it is just not the way the Met Police Commissioner needs to play his hand. Appearing on Question Time just after the shooting was an appalling error of judgement.
It is so interesting when I look back. If I juxtapose two vignettes of Ian Blair – perhaps this might give you a taste of the man himself. When the Macpherson report was published on the events around the murder of Stephen Lawrence – it was recommended that the police start to use stop forms. This meant that if a police officer stopped anyone – they were required to give that person a copy of the ‘stop’ form which would state why they were stopped and also describe the person ethnically etc. It took quite a time to fill out and, whilst absolutely right in intent, took out time from patrol. Now hopefully, they are moving to an abbreviated form done electronically – which will keep the good points but cut the delays and bureaucracy.
As for Ian Blair’s role. Well – at an event on stop and search that was put on by the Met, with actors playing situations, groups from all over London came to discuss the issues around stop and search, knife crime and relations with communities. I remember, crystal clear, Ian Blair when he gave his speech saying that he thought the form was obstructive, unnecessary and would stop police doing their job. It was clear to me that he thought this a waste of time and nothing to do with good policing.
Jump forward about five years and Ian Blair has become Commissioner. Addressing senior officers from across London and Borough Commanders in his first major speech to his men and women – he made clear that diversity was a huge issue and that how stop and search was handled was paramount in community relations and that the stop form was an absolute necessity.
Had he changed? No – not in his core belief but you see – I think the key to Ian was that he saw what was needed, and if that wasn’t where he had positioned himself, he shifted to wherever necessary to conquer and move forward with the agenda.
He was far too political – but then it is political position. I thought he stepped way out of line when he backed ID cards during the election period. Also when commanders were encouraged to encourage their MPs to vote the ‘right’ way on extending detention without charge. This is not OK – but Ian was a player and would not hold back from political activity to push forward the government / his desire.
He lived pretty dangerously and as he said in his resignation statement – it wasn’t the pressures, the mistakes or the stories that got to him in the end. It was clear that Boris had basically said he wouldn’t work with him. Whatever I think of Ian Blair – that was the absolute wrong reason for him to go. There were myriad reasons for him to leave his high office – from Stockwell to race divisions in the Met – but being forced out by Boris was the wrong reason.