Conservative Diary

Law and order

14 Jun 2013 15:34:48

Chief Constables are squealing about democratic oversight? Good

By Mark Wallace
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PoliceOne sure sign of a successful reform is when the vested interests it is intended to take on start to squeal about it. So it is good news that Chief Constables are getting their knickers in a twist about Police and Crime Commissioners using their powers.

Their protests come after the Chief Constable of Gwent was ousted from her job by independent PCC Ian Johnston. Sir Hugh Orde of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the deeply suspect (and very wealthy) union for senior coppers, has demanded a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss proposals to rein in PCCs.

They don't need reining in - in fact, Gwent is a good example of a PCC doing his job. As a representative of the people, Ian Johnston is meant to do what he thinks is in the best interests of effective policing. He has done so, and will be judged on the results at the next election. If the Chief Constable was to be protected from such action, PCCs would be hamstrung - which is exactly what senior police officers want.

A few years ago, I spoke at an ACPO conference. I told the assembled top brass that the MPs' expenses scandal was just the beginning - that transparency and accountability would come to policing just as they were starting to come to other parts of the public sector. They should prepare to embrace such a process, I suggested, or else fall foul of it.

It's fair to say my message didn't go down well (not helped by the fact that day's Sun front page featured me criticising an absurd ACPO report on training police officers on how to ride bicycles). In fact, I felt about as popular as Darth Vader at an Ewok's birthday party, but I hadn't come to make friends.

Some senior police officers took on board the fact that democratic oversight was coming - either at that conference or since. As Sir Hugh Orde's intervention makes clear, many others still haven't woken up to the new situation. The louder he squeals, the more committed to preserving accountability the Home Secretary should become.

28 May 2013 07:42:19

Grayling "plans to privatise the courts" (or make money and find savings from them, at any rate)

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-28 at 05.09.17Our columnist Jesse Norman asked yesterday whether the market principle should have limits (he believes that it should), and if so where these should apply.  Is it right to use shaven heads as cranial billboards, he asked, drawing on the work of Michael Sandel?  Should better-off non-violent prisoners be able to buy themselves bigger and better prison cells?  Should students be paid to do well in exams, or HIV-carrying mothers to have long-term contraception?  He will presumably have dropped his marmalade spoon with a clatter at breakfast this morning when he saw the Times's splash headline: "Courts to be privatised in radical justice shake-up".

The essence of the paper's story is that Chris Grayling is considering two privatisation options: "hiving off court buildings to a private company, which would run and maintain them, or a more radical proposal in which the 20,000 courts staff would also transfer to the private sector".  The Department denies planning "the wholesale privatisation of the courts service" in the Guardian, but the Justice Secretary clearly wants radical change. Funding for the courts would apparently "be generated by bigger fees from wealthy litigants and private sector investment, with hedge funds encouraged to invest by an attractive rate of return."

Continue reading "Grayling "plans to privatise the courts" (or make money and find savings from them, at any rate)" »

23 May 2013 18:30:29

Post-Woolwich, what should we be watching out for?

By Mark Wallace
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WoolwichThe full details of yesterday's horrific murder in Woolwich, and the terrorists who carried it out, are yet to be revealed. With both suspects alive and in custody, albeit undergoing treatment for gunshot wounds, there is a reasonable prospect that we will learn a lot more in the coming weeks about their motivations, possible links to other individuals or groups and so on.

It's therefore too early to give a definitive answer as to how the various arms of government should respond. Broad areas that require our attention are emerging, though.

Continue reading "Post-Woolwich, what should we be watching out for?" »

12 May 2013 14:49:48

Theresa May is right to take on police corruption

By Mark Wallace
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PoliceIn Britain we have a proud policing tradition which has seen our forces of law and order stay more free of corruption than most others in the world. That makes it all the more shocking when an instance of corruption does come to light - and all the more important that we preserve our policing heritage by clamping down hard on problems when they arise.

So Theresa May is absolutely right to have set up an independent review of the murder of private detective Daniel Morgan. Since Mr Morgan's death in 1987, suspicions have lingered that he may have been killed because he had uncovered evidence of corruption within the Metropolitan Police. In 2011, Scotland Yard confirmed that corrupt officers had obstructed the original investigation into the killing.

The coalition government has a good record of confronting the wrongs of the past - from Hillsborough to Bloody Sunday. Mrs May is continuing that policy by lifting the lid on what seems likely to be a very uncomfortable story for the Met.

Continue reading "Theresa May is right to take on police corruption" »

5 Mar 2013 07:16:31

The next Conservative leadership election is under way

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 17.58.32
By Paul Goodman

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There's a triple significance to the post-Eastleigh interventions of the three main Conservative members of the National Union of Ministers - Philip Hammond, Theresa May, and Chris Grayling.

It may look at first glance as though Hammond's plea for savings from welfare to be found to protect his budget, and May and Grayling's interventions over the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act last weekend, have little connection, if any - but they've more in common than meets the eye.

  • All three show up Downing Street's lack of authority and grip.  It wasn't clear at the weekend whether David Cameron had licensed Hammond to defend his budget.  It now seems that it didn't: today, an anonymous "close ally of the Prime Minister" is quoted as saying: “You cannot be a fiscal conservative and then say that does not apply in your own department.”  And it still isn't clear whether or not Number 10 was aware of, or was perhaps even the source of, this weekend's report that Theresa May favours leaving the ECHR.  (It was presumably aware of Chris Grayling's on-the-record support for tearing up the Human Rights Act).  Indeed, news of her backing for the measure doesn't seem to have come from her, though it hasn't been denied by the Home Office and hasn't drawn a view from Downing Street.  This is the nub of the matter.  Prime Ministers will sometimes encourage Ministers to float ideas, and then let it be known that they approve of them.  But there has been no real follow-up to Grayling's words or May's view from Number 10 - no rowing-in behind abolishing the Act or leaving the ECHR, no sense of political purpose, commitment or direction. Instead, Ken Clarke has taken his colleagues to task. This sense of Ministers stating their own views and going their own way, with Downing Street apparently powerless to prevent them, opened up Number 10 to Mark Field's blood-drawing counter-attack.
  • The May and Grayling follow-up, together with Number 10's own reaction to Eastleigh, shows that it hasn't a settled strategy for dealing with UKIP.  Tearing up the Human Rights Act...leaving the ECHR...restricting the access of immigrants to legal aid and benefits...proposals for less Europe and more border control are leaking from Ministers and Downing Street into the media.  It is unfair to accuse Downing Street of "lurching to the right" after Eastleigh.  (Why do we hear so little from the BBC and others of Ed Miliband "lurching to the left"?)  David Cameron's Sunday Telegraph article was careful to balance "bringing down immigration" with "proper investment in the NHS".  But Downing Street is undoubtedly preoccupied with how to deal with UKIP in the aftermath of Eastleigh and the run-up to this spring's local elections.  Promises of tougher border control and tighter benefit conditions won't be enough - and nor will hints about quitting the ECHR.  UKIP is a boot which angry voters, who believe that Britain is changing for the worse, are using to kick the system.  Those disillusioned voters now include a significant slice of the Conservatives' natural electoral base, who believe that Cameron is a creature of the political class who cares nothing for their values.  May's record of reducing net immigration  won't win them all back.  Nor will Number 10's "Santa Claus" line of attack - at least until voters stop using UKIP as a protest vehicle, and start questioning how it would reconcile tax cuts for "everyone" with more police, prison places, NHS services, student grants, bigger pensions and higher defence spending.  Hammond's intervention on the last shrewdly recognises another UKIP pressure point.

Continue reading "The next Conservative leadership election is under way" »

2 Mar 2013 23:16:02

Grayling and May in pincer movement on the ECHR

By Paul Goodman
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Chris Grayling says in tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph that if David Cameron is returned with a majority in 2015, his Conservative Government will scrap Labour's Human Rights Act.  He has told the paper:

“I cannot conceive of a situation where we could put forward a serious reform without scrapping Labour’s Human Rights Act and starting again.

“We cannot go on with a situation where people who are a threat to our national security, or who come to Britain and commit serious crimes, are able to cite their human rights when they are clearly wholly unconcerned for the human rights of others.

“We need a dramatically curtailed role for the European Court of Human Rights in the UK."

Screen shot 2013-03-02 at 22.20.49 The Mail on Sunday carries an even more dramatic story.  Its splash claims that Britain is to pull out of the ECHR altogether.  It reports that Theresa May is to announce the move soon.  The story continues:

"Mrs May wants to withdraw from the convention before the next election in 2015, but Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a keen pro-European, has made it clear he will veto the initiative.

As a result, it is set to be a manifesto promise to be put into action if David Cameron wins an overall majority.

Together with the Prime Minister's vow to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, it will give the Tory manifesto a strong anti-European theme to combat the increasing appeal of UKIP."

  • Grayling's intervention is on the record and, as the Telegraph points out, "goes further than any minister since the Coalition came to power".  May's apparent commitment is not on the record, and must thus be treated with caution, but the reference to a manifesto promise suggests that there is a basis for the story, and that it may not have come from the Home Office.  Tomorrow, the lobby will be working to piece together how the stories came to be briefed, and which came first.  (Grayling, of course, leads on the issue.)

Continue reading "Grayling and May in pincer movement on the ECHR" »

19 Feb 2013 08:33:10

50 per cent of Conservatives support the legal regulation or decriminalisation of cannabis – now where’s that review?

By Peter Hoskin
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The Daily Mail has written up a new opinion poll on drugs policy, conducted by Ipsos MORI. “Just one in seven want drugs laws liberalised and majority say possession should remain criminal offence,” reads their headline – and it’s true. Looking at the full results, only 14 per cent of respondents think that “the law in the UK should be changed so that the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs is decriminalised.” (Although a further 21 per cent support limited trials of such a measure). 60 per cent think there should be no change to the law at all.

But the poll contains other findings that the Mail’s headline doesn’t capture. Turns out, 53 per cent of people support either the legal regulation of cannabis or the decriminalisation of possessing it. And that includes 50 per cent of those respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election. It also includes, as it happens, 46 per cent of Daily Mail readers.

Continue reading "50 per cent of Conservatives support the legal regulation or decriminalisation of cannabis – now where’s that review?" »

14 Feb 2013 17:19:53

Grayling's new plan for young offenders: "We cannot go on just doing more of the same"

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.                                                                            

  • Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 11.31.16The vast majority of 15-17 year olds in Young Offender Institutions have at some point been excluded from school at some point.
  • Half of those in this age group are assessed as having the literacy levels to that expected of a 7 -11 year old.


  • A youth custodial place costs £100,000 per annum (indeed, as much as £200,000 in some cases).
  • 73% of young offenders who leave custody reoffend within a year.

                                                     -                                                       @i-images

You can see where Chris Grayling's mind went when mulling over these facts, given the  combination of social failure and Treasury pressure that they represent.  So no wonder he has announced today that young offender institutions will be closed down and replaced with new secure colleges.  The Mail's take on the scheme is that -

"The Justice Secretary will invite private schools to bid to run the new centres, which have been inspired by the Government’s free schools policy.  It raises the prospect of schools such as Eton helping to put tearaways back on the straight and narrow."

Continue reading "Grayling's new plan for young offenders: "We cannot go on just doing more of the same"" »

9 Jan 2013 07:41:15

Compassionate conservatism from Grayling as he moves to cut re-offending

By Paul Goodman
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Today is Chris Grayling's day to star in Downing Street grid - as the afterwash of yesterday evening's welfare vote sloshes through this morning's papers.  (No doubt it will also feature in Prime Minister's Questions today.  The Daily Mail reports that -

"Private firms and charities are to be paid to meet offenders at the prison gate and seek to turn them away from a life of crime, the Justice Secretary will announce today.  In a major shake up of prisoner rehabilitation, Chris Grayling will set out plans to offer cash incentives if inmates are prevented from reoffending after release."

The Justice Secretary believes that since almost half of all prison-leavers are reconvicted within 12 months, Something Must Be Done.  The plan is a "major extension of ‘payment by results’ - pioneered by Mr Grayling in back-to-work programmes when he was employment minister".

Continue reading "Compassionate conservatism from Grayling as he moves to cut re-offending" »

5 Jan 2013 09:01:58

Chris Grayling is right to raise one of the key elements in the EU debate — doubt

By Peter Hoskin
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Chris GraylingThis morning’s edition of the Telegraph contains an interview with Chris Grayling, from which a number of points stand out…

1. Another attack on the ECHR. We know Chris Grayling’s views on the European Court of Human Rights, not least because he set them out in Paul Goodman’s interview with him for this site. But it’s still striking how much firmer, and less forgiving, his rhetoric is becoming. In ConHome’s interview, he said of the prospect of a Conservative government quitting the ECHR that, “I’m not ruling it in or ruling it out at this stage.” Today, according to the Telegraph write-up:

“He says that, at the very least, the reach of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) should be limited in Britain — and that after a series of controversial rulings the Tories may ultimately leave the system.

2. Which becomes an attack on the courts in general. And it’s not just the ECHR on the receiving end of Mr Grayling’s disapproval; British judges come in for it, too. As the paper puts it:

Continue reading "Chris Grayling is right to raise one of the key elements in the EU debate — doubt" »