In my ToryDiary of earlier today about Andrew Mitchell case, and the failure of Operation Alice to report a year after it was set up, a long list of articles is enclosed supporting the MP.
Some of them are very fine, all of them make good points, and we're going to make it Mitchell Is Innocent Day on ConservativeHome.
One will be posted on the site each hour until close of play. In order to avoid having two threads on the same subject, we will close the one below shortly.
It is a year today since Operation Alice, the investigation by the Met into the Andrew Mitchell affair, was launched: 30 police officers were apparently put on the case. Yet it has failed to produce a report: 12 months is apparently insufficient time to probe an incident lasting some 45 seconds. Here are some more figures relating to the case. Six people are reported to have been arrested, four of them police officers, four of them from the Diplomatic Protection Unit. Four members of the unit are undergoing disciplinary proceedings. Three members of the Police Federation are being investigated by a separate inquiry for alleged misconduct over comments they made to the media.
Now let's turn from figures to facts - and the meticulous investigative journalism of Michael Crick. A witness who e-mailed his MP backing up the claims about Mitchell in the police log said later when questioned by Crick that he "wasn't a witness to anything". He had also failed to tell the MP that he is a serving police officer. As Crick also reports, "according to the leaked police logs there were "several members of the public present - around the gate - they heard the altercation and were 'visibly shocked'. What this CCTV shows is that there are no crowds of people watching and listening".
Viewers of the footage will decide for themselves whether - as Mitchell wheels his bicycle towards the pedestrian entrance to Downing Street without visibly engaging with an accompanying policeman - he actually said the words attributed to him: "best learn your f*****g place. You don't run this f*****g Government. You are f*****g plebs". I agree with Crick that the tape "doesn't really seem to support this version". But whether one shares this view or not, the facts of the case are clear. There is no evidence that Mitchell said the words attributed to him other than the police log. That log has been proved to be not fully accurate. And an account backing it up has proved to be false.
By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?
Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:
With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'. Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.
Blues 3 - 2 Yellows
The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.
Blues 0 - 0 Yellows
It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.
Blues 5 - 1 Yellows
Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.
Blues 2 - 1 Yellows
The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.
Blues 1 - 1 Yellows
Energy and Environment
Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition.
Blues 1 - Yellows 5
Tax and Spend
Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.
On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.
Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.
Blues 2 - Yellows 2
Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
Business and Banks
Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.
Blues 2 - Yellows 3
To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.
Blues 1 - Yellows 2
Scores so far
Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.
The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.
By Mark Wallace
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The David Miranda story has proved rather confusing - and not just because the constant use of "Miranda" to refer to the case conjures up images of Miranda Hart prat-falling her way through airport security.
As with any Glenn Greenwald scoop, the picture is not as simple as it was first presented.
Rather than being stopped simply for being the partner of a journalist, it has now emerged that Mr Miranda was travelling as part of a Guardian investigation, assisting Greenwald's research and allegedly carrying some of the leaked Snowden information about his person. Nor was he refused access to a lawyer - he rejected the one offered to him.
To stop a journalist's family is crude intimidation of the grubbiest kind, but David Miranda was much more than simply a family member, he was acting as a journalist himself.
Of course, intimidating journalists is almost as grubby as intimidating their families - but the distinction is enough to suggest Greenwald's version of events was partial at best.
By Mark Wallace
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However they do it, it is a role that must be fulfilled. The alternative is a society which is cowed by criminals, which is inevitably mired in economic and social degradation.
For the police to acquiesce to crime is an abdication of their duty. That aquiescence starts at very low levels - when you think about it, posters telling people to hide their valuables due to the risk of pickpockets is a clear message that police are giving up, and resorting to victim-blaming rather than crime-fighting.
We saw this most vividly in the London riots. Faced with a situation which they found intimidating and had not prepared for, the Met's commanders effectively backed off when the riots began.
I know frontline officers who wanted to be out protecting life and property from violent thugs, but were ordered to hang back. The result was devastating - criminals were allowed the run of large parts of Greater London, others joined them as soon as the police's weakness became clear and in some areas civilians were forced to organise their own defence.
Things were only put right when the police, with assistance from forces across the country, went toe to toe with the rioters and reasserted control. Lesson learned - or so it seemed.
That this experience was so recent makes it all the more outrageous that police in Balcombe decided to show weakness in the face of anti-shale gas protestors at the weekend.
They announced that they could not protect the perfectly legal industrial site, and thereby allowed thugs to intimidate law-abiding citizens.
In their failure, they have simply encouraged yet more disorder and law-breaking at this and other sites - now the protestors have had a sniff of victory. Instead of preventing crime, they have made it more likely. Today's Telegraph covers the discomforted experience of Balcombe residents in the face of an army of professional green fanatics - Sussex police have simply made that problem worse and more widespread.
The Police and Crime Commissioner system should give a route for such institutional failings to be set right. So far the Sussex PCC has defended her officers' decisions, soft-soaping the fact that they essentially allowed law-abiding citizens to be successfully intimidated by a mob. That should change, and change soon, before her problem spreads across the country.
By Peter Hoskin
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Wouldya just look at that graph above? It shows the vertiginous increase in our prison population since 1990. Back then, there were about 44,975 crims locked away in English and Welsh prisons. Last year, it was 86,634. And that means a lot of extra spending. As I pointed out in an article for the Times (£) on Wednesday, a year-long stay in prison costs, on average, almost as much as a year’s education at Eton.
One response to this fiscal expansion would be to make prisons more cost-effective – Policy Exchange has some decent ideas in this regard. But this also has its limits. So long as the prison population keeps on rising, there will always be new costs for taxpayers to bear. It could even come to that stupendously expensive point where we need to build new, additional prisons.
By Harry Phibbs
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Two years ago rioting broke out in London and then in other parts of the country. It started in Tottenham and at the time the Labour MP David Lammy was commended for his non-partisan approach. He strongly condemned the rioters and said there were no excuses - while Ken Livingstone blamed spending cuts.
So it is all the more disappointing that Mr Lammy is now seeking to score points, complaining about the Government's response. He says the issue has been "buried" and that declining to implement most of the 63 proposals from the Communities and Victims Panel is an "insult" to the victims.
To talk of the response being "buried" is odd as it has been announced in a press release. That highlighted one specific response - regarding new guidance for firefighters. But in the third paragraph, the Government's general response was highlighted.
The new guidance to firefighters is important. There were delays dealing with arson during the 2011 riots due to firemen being ordered not to respond if there was any risk of attack from rioters. Of course the response of the police (initially) was also unduly risk averse and that has also been addressed. The new guidance for the fire brigade also embraces a more proportionate, common sense approach.
The old guidance said:
"Officers in charge should not hesitate to withdraw personnel or appliances if endangered by rioters" (Home Office, Chief Officer Letter 7/93, para 2.5)
"Reinforcing appliances are unlikely to be available in the numbers normally expected at a single major fire it could be also be undesirable to have too many appliances at an incident." (ibid, para 6.3).
The new guidance offers a more sophisticated risk-based approach, stressing the importance of training, and careful liaison with the police at the scene. It also encourages the use of social media to
inform and update the public:
“Prior to committing personnel into any hazard area, the Incident Commander must take account of the actual information available regarding the incident at the time. This will assist them to make effective operational decisions in what are recognised as sometimes dangerous, fast moving and emotionally charged environments.
A thorough safety brief prior to deployment of all personnel who are required to be within the hazard zone must be carried out.
Communication of new or changed risks must continue throughout the incident.
Fire and Rescue Authorities may also consider it appropriate, depending on the severity of the public order, to inform fire and rescue personnel who have the potential to either attend an incident (within or near) or have to travel through (or near) a hazardous area.
Utilising an Inter Agency Liaison Officer and other sources of intelligence as appropriate can assist the Incident Commander by advising on multi-agency tactics, designated safe routes, prioritisation of incidents etc." (page 10, new guidance).
Does Mr Lammy agree with these changes? Given the arson that took place in his constituency he surely can't seriously regard the issue as unimportant.
Not that this is the only matter the Government has addressed. Often the areas of rioting reflected problems with gangs. Here there has also been some progress. The Metropolitan Police created the new Trident Gang Crime Command in February 2012 with the aims of:
Since April, the Metropolitan Police report that more than 2,000 known gang members have been arrested, many of whom have been charged with serious offences. Stabbings and shootings in London continue to fall, with overall serious youth violence down by over 28 per cent, equating to 1,557 fewer victims; knife injuries involving those under the age of 25 also reduced by over 28 per cent, equating to 436 fewer victims; and shootings down by over 18 per cent, equating to 77 fewer victims. In addition, over 340 firearms have been seized by the Metropolitan Police last year alone. During 2012, Trident Gang Crime Command-led investigations have seen offenders sentenced to a total of 1,334 years, including 16 life sentences.
On schools the Government has given teachers authority to maintain discipline. The Government's response adds:
We are also establishing an increasing number of sponsored Academies as we think the strong support and external challenge of an Academy sponsor is the best way to improve schools that are consistently underperforming. Wherever possible we want to find solutions that everyone can agree on but, where underperformance is not being tackled effectively, the Secretary of State has powers to intervene to help ensure standards are raised.
I wonder how many of those rioting in 2011 were pupils, or former pupils, of failing schools.
In Tottenham, children are getting a better chance in life due to new management where schools need it. For example, the Harris Primary Academy, Philip Lane, is offering children a better education than was provided when it was Downhills School under the remit of Haringey Council. Yet Mr Lammy opposed the change.
The Troubled Families initiative is another important way of fixing our "broken society."
The most alarming aspect of the riots was the way the criminals thought they could act with impunity. Councils, in their capacity as landlords, can help ensure there are consequences. The Government's response says:
Many rioters chose to move out of the locality in which they lived in order to do damage in neighbouring areas. We are therefore taking action to enable landlords to impose housing sanctions on tenants and members of their household where they choose to wreck other people’s local communities as well as their own. Following consultation, we have included provisions in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to enable landlords to seek to evict tenants where they or members of their households are convicted of riot related offences, committed anywhere in the UK.
Haringey Council opposes evicting rioters. But I am sure the overwhelming majority of their law abiding tenants and those on the waiting list for a council tenancy would welcome evictions. What does Mr Lammy think?
The trouble with the cross party panel's report is that many of their recommendations, while well intentioned, are vague. More support for this, better liaison for that, a review for the other. I don't blame Simon Marcus or the other panel members. It is the nature of a committee that you end up with bland, lowest common denominator stuff in order to reach agreement. It would probably have been more interesting if, having reviewed the evidence, each panel member had given his or her individual recommendations.
There can never be a guarantee that a riot won't start and that it won't be copied. However, the Government's response on how best to deal with the symptoms and causes is sensible and robust. Mr Lammy should stop sniping and recover the more constructive spirit he showed two years ago.
By Mark Wallace
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It's good news in itself - protecting citizens against crime is an essential duty of any government. But this is also a key proof of concept for the Coalition. Crime has fallen while police budgets have been cut, and despite dire warnings from all sides: it turns out that more can indeed be delivered for less.
Paired with the early successes of Chris Grayling's prison reforms in reducing reoffending rates, this should be a major plank of the Conservative message at the next election - we have saved you money and misery by cutting spending and by stopping criminals.
Here are a few wider lessons we can learn from the process:
The Home Office brief has long been a task in bullet-dodging. Theresa May deserves high praise for turning it today into an opportunity to report successes, and set an example to other departments.
"Well done, Mrs May," says the Express this morning. "Well done, Mrs May," echoes the Mail. (Or perhaps it's the other way round.) "The best Home Secretary in years, declares the Sun. The Times (£) is more restrained: "Abu Qatada’s scrupulously legal expulsion shows the vitality of democratic values," it says. The Guardian's Patrick Wintour reports that "calmness, sheer determination, thoroughness and prime ministerial were among the many plaudits being sent [May's] way". The editorial praise would have been mirrored by front page headlines had not the terror suspect been flown out of Britain in the early hours of Sunday morning, too late for that day's papers, and had Andy Murray not scooped Wimbledon yesterday.
None the less, the explusion of Qatada has been a political coup for the Home Secretary. It follows falls in both gross and net immigration; a drop in the crime figures - despite the spending scaleback - and the (admittedly shaky) introduction of police commissioners. All this has been managed from a department notorious for shredding the Secretaries of State who run it. Charles Clarke resigned after the bungled release of foreign prisoners. David Blunkett was forced out after a rumpus about his nanny's visa. Jacqui Smith wished afterwards that she had had "training" for the post. John Reid branded the department over which he presided "not fit for purpose". How has Mrs May flourished, at least to date, where her predecessors failed?
By Andrew Gimson
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The Home Secretary’s statement on the deportation of Abu Qatada is a model of its kind. Theresa May conveys steely determination undiluted by any resort to vulgar rejoicing. She is “glad”, but recognises that we still need “to make sense of our human rights laws”.
Not the least of the merits of this statement is its concision. It is only half a dozen sentences long. Here it is in full:
“Abu Qatada was deported today to his home country of Jordan to face terrorism charges.
His departure marks the conclusion of efforts to remove him since 2001 and I believe this will be welcomed by the British public.
I am glad that this government’s determination to see him on a plane has been vindicated and that we have at last achieved what previous governments, Parliament and the British public have long called for. This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country.
I am also clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport. We are taking steps – including through the new Immigration Bill – to put this right.