What to make of Ken Livingstone’s appearance before the Metropolitan Police Authority yesterday?
London’s former Mayor claims successor Boris Johnson is cutting the number of police officers by 455, an ideal issue for him to campaign on given the importance Boris made of the need to tackle crime in the capital during 2008’s Mayoral elections.
However, critics say the cuts have their origins in Project Herald, a plan first drawn up during Livingstone’s Mayoralty and that he has to accept responsibility for them.
Not true says Livingstone (and a briefing document subsequently sent to journalists) who insists the changes he oversaw were designed to reduce the numbers of police officers carrying out desk jobs and replace them with cheaper civilian workers with the officers being re-deployed to frontline duties.
The argument basically boils down to a claim that while Ken deleted posts to get officers back on the streets, Boris is reducing the numbers of actual officers.
It’s clear there’s a real point of disagreement between the two sides but Livingstone’s wider campaign against ‘Tory police cuts’ certainly wasn’t harmed by comments Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson made later in the meeting.
Though keen distance himself from accusations of ‘shroud waving’, London’s top cop was clear that the service will “shrink” thanks to expected cuts in central government grants which the Met is currently assuming to be at around the 25% mark.
It’s important to note that Sir Paul was speaking after Livingstone’s petition against cuts was presented and on a wholly different topic but, whatever the truth behind the claimed loss of 455 posts, Labour’s Mayoral hopeful can now point to the prospect of deeper cuts and cite a very non-partisian source.
Is it possible that Livingstone, while knowing his petition rested on a fairly narrow point of difference most people wouldn’t follow, had a sense that the prospect of deeper cuts might come up at the meeting?
I wouldn’t bet against it.
In recent days Livingstone’s faced a second line of attack over his appearance – namely that he misappropriated a slot intended “for people (or their families) who have been the victims of miscarriages of justice or have been hurt by police mistakes” for a political stunt.
I put that charge to him before the meeting, pointing out that he was someone who can summon a press pack with a single email and asked whether he was misusing a slot meant for ordinary Londoners. His response was: “I am an ordinary Londoner”.
Tory AMs on the Authority, including James Cleverly, were fairly vocal in their criticisms of what they saw as a stunt but the MPA Chief Executive was clear the appearance was in order and complied with the Authority’s standing orders.
On Wednesday I discussed Livingstone’s forthcoming appearance with some of the longer-serving Assembly Members, including a couple of the Tory group. Those discussions revealed a sneaky, if grudging, admiration for Livingstone’s ability to “play the system” and one non-Labour AM even suggested that his appearance had a second intended target: Labour rival Oona King.
The message coming out of Labour’s hustings is that Livingstone can’t help but demonstrate (some say show off) how he knows all the right names, schemes and statistics to cite as he battles King to become Labour’s candidate.
Would any of us be shocked if his confident and accomplished appearance was intended to relay a second message, namely: ‘Others might get their photo taken outside City Hall, but I’m the one who knows how make things work inside the building’?
Though Team Ken would no doubt deny they had any such intention, they wont be too upset if Labour party members nevertheless manage to get that impression.