When Boris appeared before Assembly Members on Wednesday and announced his intention to go-ahead and buy three water cannon for the Met, he claimed that the force would ask his permission before using them.
He’s made this claim before but it’s been publicly contradicted both by the Met and Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh who say their use will be an operational decision and so exempted from any Mayoral veto.
The most the Met have committed to is consulting with the Mayor or, in his absence, Deputy Mayor Greenhalgh before making a decision on whether to deploy to cannon.
Asked by Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon whether he’d tell the public should the Met use the cannon when he’d asked them not to, Boris fudged before eventually suggesting such a situation was unlikely.
Yet it’s this scenario which partly fuels the opposition some Conservative Assembly Members – four of whom last month voted with opposition parties to call for the Mayor to defer any purchase until next year – have to water cannon.
There’s a concern that by overstating the level of control he has over their deployment, Boris could find himself in the firing line if the Met go overboard and misuse the weapons.
Malthouse was one of the four Tory AMs who backed last month’s motion calling for the final decision to be delayed, and the popular view is if he were still Deputy Mayor for policing the Met’s request for water cannon would never have reached Boris’s desk and they’d have to continue coping with the tools already available to them.
But what’s causing real concern is less that it arrived in Boris’s in-tray, but that it arrived with no obvious sign of challenge.
There’s a belief that the Mayor has been poorly served by Greenhalgh and MOPAC which, absent of Malthouse, are seen as too ready to agree to the Met’s requests.
A number of AMs, even some who’ve declined to vote against the Mayor, believe that how and when the weapons will be used should have been fully debated and agreed long-before Boris was asked to sign-off on the public consultation and eventual purchase.
And there’s disquiet about MOPAC’s reliance on a public poll in which 52% of respondents think they know, at best, “a little” about water cannon and just 41% of those asked correctly answered that the Met doesn’t already have them.
According to City Hall’s own press release 36% believe the Met already has water cannon.
When you ask someone who thinks you already own something, and can’t recall reports of you misusing it, whether you should buy some more they’ll wonder what the fuss is and why you’re asking. And that’s likely to skew the results of any poll.
Contradictory views on who has the final say and a poll of people who largely know nothing about the issue at hand has to be the worst possible base from which to make a decision.
Yet Boris is about to radically increase the Met’s ability to coerce people into compliance from exactly that starting point and is doing so with the support of just half his own AMs.
In fairness, the iffy decisions aren’t limited to MOPAC and the Mayor.
At the end of Wednesday’s meeting the Labour Assembly group tabled a hurriedly put together motion condemning his decision to go-ahead and seek permission to buy the cannon.
The four Tory dissenters backed last month’s motion calling for a delay because it was carefully worded and consensual, but they were never likely to back a motion condemning their own Mayor.
So it was no surprise when, by coincidence, the three naysayers present at the meeting all had bladder emergencies just before the vote took place.
The new motion strikes me as a serious tactical error – it isn’t binding on the Mayor, doesn’t change or delay his decision and didn’t get reported by any of the media.
All it does is detract from the fact that there’s shared concern about the vehicles’ purchase and, much worse, can be easily dismissed as ‘opponents opposing’.
There seems almost no chance of Theresa May turning down Boris’s request so three German water cannon with a three year shelf life look almost certain to join the Met’s arsenal.
But, as I’ve said before, there’s no guarantee the next Mayor will provide funding for their replacements and its certain we’ll be hearing all the same arguments in 2 years time when a decision on whether to do so has to be made.