A Future Fairer to All?

Labour launched its campaign slogan today – a Future Fairer to all.

For those who watched Question Time this week and saw the raw anger of local people in the Middlesbrough audience against the loss of 1600 jobs on Teesside as the Corus steel plant is mothballed, might be forgiven for comparing the slogan with reality. Thousands of other jobs may follow as a consequence.

The anger and hurt in the audience was palpable – and the question was – how is fair of Labour to plunge zillions into the banks to save them – whilst this key industry on Teesside is let go to the wall?

It shows the reality versus the spin. For if there is any way out of the recession it is jobs and it is not only unfair – but it is an insanity to not try and preserve local jobs in an area that is suffering when the costs of dealing with the aftermath – unemployment, depression, retraining, redevelopment etc will cost far more in the long term and in terms of peoples’ lives.

One woman in the audience made the hugely powerful point – that even if those who are young enough to be retrained and find a future – for those over 50 its basically curtains.

Labour may hope that people won’t notice reality – won’t look at the statistics that shows that the gap between rich and poor is still widening, that social mobility is worse now and that if you are born poor now you are more likely to end up poor than you were thirty years ago.

I think people are not so easily fooled and will tell Labour exactly what to do with their new shiny slogan and where to put it.

Question Time this Thursday

Am doing Question Time this Thursday. What do you think the questions will be?

I remember doing Question Time the Thursday after I was elected in 2005 – a terrifying thing to do to a new MP with virtually no television experience. But actually – it went well. I was sitting next to Boris – still an MP at that point in time. There was a question about whether young people should be banned from wearing hoodies in Bluewater shopping centre. I remember noting down the words ‘dress code’ and saying that any establishment was welcome to have a dress code – but in terms of hoodies – it should be about behaviour not a piece of clothing. After I spoke – Boris said ‘dress code’ definitely – and agreed with me – or words to that affect. He was very funny and whilst I don’t agree with him that much – and am still cross with him for even standing for Mayor of London (let alone winning) I’ve always had a soft spot because of his kindness that evening.

A couple of days later, I think – although memory may not be completely accurate – I met or was phoned by Shami Chakrabarti – who said she had watched Question Time and that answer signalled to her I was ‘one of us’. Much flattered – and the start of a good working relationship – which as I became spokesperson for Crime and Policing shortly afterwards was a very good thing.

Of course – it might still not happen – as last time I was lined up I was bumped off the program in favour of that Nick Clegg!

Ian Blair should go

I worked with Iain Blair for five years when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He was Deputy Commissioner to John Stevens when I arrived. It was clear throughout the years he was deputy – that he was more than focused on succeeding to the top job when Sir John retired. And that’s what happened.

It is awful really to have watched him make errors of judgement – virtually since day one. He clearly set out to do things differently and to be the best-ever top cop – and it has all gone so horribly wrong.

And his errors have been the big ones and the public ones. He also politicised the police unforgivably when it suited, and made some very inadvisable media decisions – such as participating in Question Time.

There is no hiding place for him now and I don’t truly understand why he is hanging on rather than going gracefully. I guess he feels that it’s not fair to be judged on the extraordinary but tragic incident shooting of one person rather than the rest of his record where crime has fallen overall in London.

But – firstly – with us all paying for extra police and those extra police and PCSOs now on duty – it would be rank failure if there weren’t crime figures he could point at. And – secondly – the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes happened under him. The findings are damning in terms of the number of mistakes that were made. An innocent man died.

Blair has to go – because he carries the responsibility for overall whether the Met is up to scratch or not. And those damning findings of a catalogue of mistakes tell us the answer – it wasn’t.

In the end – getting the organisation right, the procedures and processes in order, helps the policeman (or woman) on the front line when they face that split-second decision as to whether to pull the trigger or not – because with the right systems they can make their decision confident that it is the right one. If the system behind you isn’t up to scratch, you can’t.

That’s why Iain Blair has to go – so that in future our lives will be protected, including by a proper and effective deployment where necessary of armed police.

More police, less crime

The Muswell Hill and Highgate Area Assembly tonight produced a panoply of police from various streams – transport, parks and neighbourhood. And the good news is that crime is reducing. Of course – the retort is ‘I should bloody well hope so’. Well done to all – but it’s not rocket science. The Safer Neighbourhood Teams together with Transport for London’s TOCU (officers and support officers on our buses etc) are doing their job. If we had all these extra police and crime wasn’t dropping – we would want to know the reason why!

Watched Question Time without falling asleep for once. They all thought that Margaret Beckett should get a sense of humour over Rory Bremner’s stunt. But I’m with Margaret on this one. If I had been duped by Rory – I would be pissed off in the extreme – particularly with myself!

Doing Question Time

Off to Leeds for Question Time on Thursday, catching the 4.35pm train from Kings X. Spot Harriet Harman and assistant in queue for train and introduce myself briefly – then revert to place in queue.

On the journey have to read all the papers and need to make some notes on key issues that might come up. They give you no idea whatsoever as to the questions.

Arrive in Leeds and all five guests are gathered together and put in a people mover to the TV studios. Banter between Borris (Johnson) and Andrew (Rawnsley); boys’ stuff – who knows more about the leadership contests etc.

Up to the Green Room where banter has disappeared and everyone is shifting nervously about. Some students who have won a competition to produce a Question Time later in the year are wheeled in to meet us – but I honestly too nervous to really talk properly with them.

And suddenly – we’re off. Down to the studio where David Dimbleby is talking to the audience and we are introduced one by one. One warm up question is put (that isn’t broadcast). It is on George Galloway and the oil vouchers. I am surprised that it is used for the warm up – but given the answers, perhaps the possibility of libel meant it was better not used for real!

The Question Time music comes up – and first up is the election results. It seems an age before David comes to me – and I manage to get out a voting reform plea. Second question on ‘hoodies’. Now I know all about hoodies as my teenage daughter a) wears them b) informs me that kids in hoods are nothing compared with the ‘Rude Boys’ (different dress code).

I write down ‘dress code’ and Boris (who I am sitting next to) peers at what I have written – probably a skill learned in school exams when he didn’t know the answer! I give my view – which essentially boils down to any establishment having the right to have a dress code but that the real issue is about how people behave not how they dress. And if their behaviour is a problem – then it needs addressing properly with due attention from teachers, parents, social services etc.

Harriet, for reasons I don’t understand, launches into New Labour speak on ‘yobs’ – but went over the top. I think she was overly defensive – but it can’t be easy being a Labour Minister and – as she had said to me earlier – last time she was on she had made a dreadful faux pas (which I had watched and thought funny) by accidentally referring to ‘Prime Minister Brown’. Funny for us watching – but probably not funny if it’s you saying it.

And so the program went on. When someone suggested Boris as the new Tory leader – Boris did his charming, ruffled, bumbling persona stuff – and he is sooooooo funny and the audience do just love him. I was glad he was there as it relaxed me and just made me laugh too.

And then it was over. I lived!

Afterwards in the Green Room there was a buffet supper and as the program is taped as live about an hour and a half before – it is played on the TV screens as it goes out, but I don’t watch it.

Chatting afterwards – it is clear that I have not stuffed up! That was my horror and my dread – to cock-up Question Time as the new LibDem MP on the first one after the election would have been mortifying.

A car takes myself and the Tory writer Jo-Anne Nadler back to London. Lots of text messages which were really great to get – and lots of phone calls. Home by 2.30am and straight to bed.