Politics Show and Westminster Hour

Double media bursts today. The Politics Show at lunchtime are looking at the issue of airbrushed and digitally altered images and the effect they have on our sense of well-being. The Liberal Democrats have led the political field on this one – and we are calling for honesty and transparency on advertising. Altered images need to show clearly that they are just that – altered. The Royal Society of Psychiatrists has joined us in the call – for a label on these images that says whether they have been altered – and not in such tiny type as to be unreadable! The LibDem ‘Real Women’ campaign is now being backed by academics across the world as concern rises about the impact on women, men and particularly the young whose sense of well-being is diminished by the constant bombardment of perfected images which are unobtainable and unrealistic.

Then the Westminster Hour late tonight! What will the topics be? My guess is bullies and polls!

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.

Gun and gang culture

A gunDid the Politics Show on gun crime in London today. It is the big story at the moment, courtesy of a spate of killings and the shocking ages involved – but gang culture and guns have been running for years.

So – yes it’s right to look at lowering the age at which the mandatory sentence for being in possession of an illegal gun can be prosecuted from the current 21 to 17 or 18. But don’t just put them in prison – where youngsters can simply learn in crime’s best university how to be on the wrong side of everything for the rest of their lives. Use that period also to invest in trying to give them real rehabilitation and pathways to a better life.

The one bit of the proposals from Blair that I thought was spot on was the need to introduce protection for witnesses that come forward to give evidence against members of a gang. But neither legislation nor police powers will change the real malaise. These gang members need such a range of support – from somewhere to go, alternative adults to care about them if their parents or parent don’t, life chances and real commitment for long periods from others. There was a guy on the Politics Show from Boyhood to Manhood, who work in South London. We need to ensure that more of that work is going on to support and sustain the individuals and the communities. It’s no good just appointing blame. This has to be about bringing support to lone parents and creating means for fathers to be with their children even if the partnership is long gone – or indeed never was. And this gang and gun culture (and I had a bit of bother saying that on TV – it came out gung!) is specific to this particular criminal culture. It is not endemic across all communities. But we all have to help resolve and resource this long term – not just now the spotlight is on it. One idea I would like to see tried more widely here is an American one – where they started something called something like ‘dads and doughnuts’. These are evenings organised by schools to bring in fathers with their children – not the mothers. Particularly useful where the parents has split up and aren’t getting on as this way – rather than only the mother attending parents’ evenings and the like – the fathers are more involved and engaged with the school and the progress of their child there.

Combined with the UNICEF report that puts our children at the bottom of the rich nation heap – it has been an eye-opening week. We are doing badly. I don’t think you can conflate the two – the gun and drug criminal culture is way beyond the norm. However, we do have a ‘behaviour crisis’ in terms of the more general findings of the UNICEF report – and I hope it is a wake-up call.

I have some sympathy with the Government in as much as so much of the damage was done under the Tories – and the Labour Government has at least made tackling child poverty one of its priorities. The child tax credits, for example, were not a bad idea – just badly executed.

However, it is clear from the report that we, all of us adults, had better have a look at ourselves and our behaviour – because we are letting our children down.

John Prescott at PMQs

Early morning out filming for Sunday’s Politics Show. They will have David Davis in the studio – and the bit they wanted me for was to ruminate on any potential threat from the Tories now they hug hoodies. Not sure that Davis is all love and sunshine; however – you’ll have to wait for the program if you’re interested.

I then watched John Prescott in horror. I don’t know him really, as our political paths haven’t really crossed and he has only stepped into take the PM’s role at Prime Minister’s Questions a couple of times since I became an MP – but it seemed cruel sport.

I don’t rate PMQs as an exemplar way to conduct politics anyway. It is a blood sport and as such is quite compelling but actually pretty nasty stuff. However, just as with hunting, when the prey doesn’t even have a chance it is sheer cruelty. Whilst T Blair can take care of himself – Prescott clearly can’t. I don’t suppose they will let him go before the Blair Switch project is complete – but it would be kinder to leave him with a last vestige of pride.

DNA and discrimination

Off to do the Sunday Politics Show for the third week in a row. Added to our number this week is Tony Travers. We hash over vagaries of London’s voting patterns. After the show, Tim Donovan, Tony and I chat about the disintegration of the Labour party as it appears to descend into civil war with Brown’s henchmen turning up the heat – hoping to force Blair into going, or at least stating when he will be going.

I try and persuade Tim to do a show on DNA. I have been championing a number of issues around DNA for some years – and the Independent on Sunday runs a story using a quote from me and the answer I got to a Parliamentary Question on what percentage of innocent DNA comes from black and ethnic minorities. It’s about 24% nationwide – but the figure that no one is picking up on yet – is that in London this kicks up to 57% of innocent DNA is coming from non-whites. It’s huge – way, way above their actual representation in the population as a whole.

BNP and crime

Campaigning all day on Sunday – except for a journey to a working men’s club in Harlesden to take part in the London part of the Sunday Politics Show on BBC. The club was divided into a big bar and a small bar in which the filming took place. I was there early and so just chatted with Simon Woolley from Operation Black vote and the crew. Tim Donovan was the interviewer and the other guests were Grant Shapps (Tory) and Dawn Butler (Labour) and down the line and only speaking to Tim – Nick Griffin of the BNP.

The two discussions were to be Margaret Hodge’s pronouncement that 8 out of 10 white working class people in her constituency were considering voting BNP and, secondly, the Safer Neighbourhood Scheme.

So – a short film of canvassing in Hodge’s patch and an interview with Griffin. He came over as a racist and a bigot – so at least there was no pretending that that there was anything to do with housing shortages. For the BNP it doesn’t matter what the issue is – they will use whatever is the most obvious local scapegoat to pedal their bile. The word ‘swamped’ peppered Griffin’s language.

However, the arrogance and complacency of Labour in this area left them an opportunity. Political vacuums will always be filled. No wonder the film clip showed a local BNP member taking flowers around to Hodge’s house to say thanks for putting them on the agenda. The publicity we have all been forced into (including this) as a consequence is ridiculous as their ascendance is minuscule. But because of the filth they pedal – we all must always be vigilant against even this tiny blip on our horizon.

My criticism of Labour for their use of the BNP to try and scare Labour voters into voting Labour is that if there really are 8 in 10 white working class (Labour) voters considering voting BNP (which I doubt) – then where the bloody hell was Margaret for the last four years? Did she not know that there was this undercurrent of frustration and unhappiness amongst her constituents? So why the surprise? It is hard not to be cynical and believe that part of her tirade was scare-mongering. And quite frankly – this cynical use of the race card in reverse is as bad as the Tories use of it at the General Election last year. This is dangerous stuff.

The second issue on Safer Neighbourhoods was kicked off with Dawn Butler bringing out the lie that Labour have been peddling that the Lib Dems and Tories voted against the Mayor’s policing budget at the GLA. Tim Donovan did my work for me. He turned on her and pointed out that this was completely untrue. And Tim would know – as he covers the GLA and was there covering the budget debates. As he pointed out – the Lib Dems and Tories both voted on a separate vote for the police budget. And actually – we also put in an extra £20million to increase British Transport Police numbers in London to 272. Voted down by Labour. Anyway – it was good to see that lie rebutted – and not by a politician, by the interviewer himself.

Then she kept trying to say that crime had risen in Islington. The truth is – by the Home Office’s own statistics – that Lib Dem-run Islington has seen a drop in robbery of over 25% between 2002 and 2005, whilst Labour-run Brent (where Dawn is MP) has seen an increase of over 16% and violent crime in Labour-run Brent increased by almost 40% between 2002 and 2005

What drives me mad is the unquestioning repetition of Labour’s false mantras. They trot out absolute rubbish – and believe that repetition of the message will damage their opponents – regardless of the truth. Maybe it works – I don’t know – but no wonder the public don’t believe politicians any more if the truth doesn’t matter.

After campaigning rest of day – get home to find article in the Sunday Times on the meeting that I will be attending with a small group of other MPs from the cross-party group on Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSBP), a condition where people supposedly fabricate illnesses in their children to gain attention. It wants a review of Government guidelines issued to social workers, police and teachers.

The reason for this is that it would seem that many parents are being wrongly suspected of this or variations on this – and the agony of being involved or connected with child protection issues when you are innocent is incredibly stressful and upsetting.

When the group first approached me – because of a local case of this type – my main concern was that in trying to get the balance right over when Social Services should intervene, it might lead to a raising of the threshold for intervention and thereby miss serious child abuse. Coming from Haringey, where the Victoria Climbie tragedy involved the failure of various people to intervene at the appropriate moment, I am naturally concerned that we don’t make it harder for appropriate intervention to occur.

However, the group persuaded me that actually Social Services were failing at both levels – both too many false accusations but also too many occasion when intervention wasn’t occurring. So that is what this is all about.

Securicor and crime

Early email from colleague to let me know that I appear sixth on Adam Boulton of Sky TV’s list of the ten most fanciable MPs. Flattered – I log onto the website and see who the others are in the list. It is a mixed gender list. How Adam reached his conclusions is a mystery. The comment by my photo brings me down to earth pretty swiftly! I just assume Adam has made a mathematical error! (I wished). Better to be talked about than not talked about – I guess!

I go to Millbank to film a package for a two minute intro to the Politics Show to air on Sunday as a pre-cursor to an interview they are doing with Chris Huhne re LibDem leadership. Dirt has been (attempted to be) dished recently with Michael Crick trying to find fault with Chris’s expenses when he was an MEP (report on Newsnight). It’s interesting that the diggers can come up with so little. The man must be a saint. I heard information too that Labour were looking at his expenses during the leadership election to see whether they could pin anything on him. I guess you know you’re doing a good job when your enemies are so desperate to do you down. You go boy! I knew I was getting there in Hornsey & Wood Green by the number of personal attacks on me by opponents.

I meet with Securicor Group 4 at 11.30am. There’s an interesting conundrum. Their proposition, which they are putting to the Minister (Hazel Blears), myself and the Tory police spokesperson. is to reclassify attacks on Securicor vans. The current situation is that if is when you attack a Securicor van carrying cash it is rated as a business crime – and therefore the attention and response of the police is not as high as for a public crime. Their argument is that they perform a public service – carrying cash to ATMs etc so that we, the public, can get our cash out whenever and virtually wherever we want. They are not allowed to be armed (quite rightly). However, covering the pavement between the highly fortified vehicle and the bank is a hazardous task.

In fact, 72% of all attacks on ‘cash in transit’ in Europe occur in Britain. Other countries have a range of defences, from armed guards to police coverage – and useful planning like the back of vehicles being able to dock directly into the building being delivered to. Coverage of more delivery points by CCTV would be good too.

So they presented their case to Hazel Blears – who I understand is sympathetic. I am sympathetic to a point – but would want partnership working as I don’t think police can be diverted to protect every delivery (for what is still a profit-making – and good luck to them – company). It’s an interesting question as to what the right balance is between them making reasonable efforts to look after themselves and them getting extra help from the police. Think about your own home. We think it’s reasonable for people to take some steps to protect their own property (locking doors, having decent locks etc) but also for the police to respond quickly when needed.

So – certainly worth thinking about reclassifying their status in terms of police response – but first need to know what relationship is to other businesses who might feel they too have this requirement, like banks. Very interested in more CCTV coverage of delivery points – as this might act as powerful deterrent. Though that depends on the CCTV working – unlike most of the CCTV coverage in my own high streets of Muswell Hill and Crouch End. I gather resources (or lack of them) mean that only 1 in 5 of the cameras is in operation. Absolutely bloody useless if they are not in operation and not monitored. That’s the challenge there. Anyway – food for thought.

Parliament is winding down today – as we go into recess tomorrow for a week – and I am having a week’s holiday. I know – shock horror!

What a whip means

Tablets working – I can breathe. Go up to Westminster to have lunch with Politics Show chap. Just about survive, cancel rest of appointments and go home and work at home for rest of day and evening. Luckily the debate in Parliament was a two line whip, was reduced to one and in the end there was no vote at all.

(The number of “lines” on a whip indicates how important it is that you are present for a vote. There are so many votes in Parliament it is impossible to be present for every single one and still do all the other things needed and expected of an MP. A “three line whip” means it is essential to be there; two and one are of decreasing importance.)

Politics Show

I appeared on the Politics Show on BBC1 today. My daughter came with me to see it filmed at City Hall – only so that I could take her on to Tate Modern to see the ‘Weather’ exhibit.

The subjects for the show were ‘Super Boroughs’ and speed humps.

Mayor Livingstone has said that he would like to get rid of the London Boroughs and replace them with five Super Boroughs. There were three Assembly Members there to argue the toss. My comment was that we should be wary when the Mayor wants Super Boroughs and that we have to ask ourselves – super for who?

You can be sure if the Mayor wants them it is because he is not getting on with the 32 boroughs we have already got.

Moreover, experience has showed me that the more you pull power into a centralised system – and the further away that is from where services are delivered on the street – the worse those services get.

On road humps – this has come up because I have put an investigation on the agenda for the Transport Committee at the Assembly, which I chair. I have long been interested in their efficacy – and no work has really been done on this across London.

I have called for evidence from many organisations across London and from individuals with tales to tell.

My hope is that we will find ways of retaining the benefits of reduced speed while removing the drawbacks of noise, pollution and the 500 deaths per year the ambulance service say result from having to slow down because of humps. So watch this space.