Brian Paddick, one of four contenders hoping to become the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, sets out the need to ensure all Londoner’s have a stake in society.
Did the Tory and Labour rivals to be London’s Mayor in 2012 rise to the occasion when London faced one of its most serious crises in recent years? When clear leadership was needed, they both seemed somewhat confused.
When the current Mayor, Boris Johnson, finally returned from holiday, three days after the first riots, his first photo opportunity was with a green bristled broom pretending to sweep up with other residents. He was heckled for returning to the UK too late as he tried to be seen as ‘one of the people’ when what Londoners really wanted was someone to show leadership.
The Mayor’s only contribution to the debate was to call for a halt to government cuts in police budgets, forgetting perhaps that he had planned to cut the Metropolitan Police budget over the next three years himself.
Kit Malthouse, the Deputy Mayor and Chair of the Police Authority tried to say that the official figures, which showed a drop in police officer numbers, were “changeable” and that he was “looking at ways of getting the funds” to maintain the current strength. Hypocritically, Johnston is in effect asking the government to increase police budgets to make-up for the cuts he has imposed on the Metropolitan Police.
When the former Mayor Ken Livingstone proclaimed on the disturbances his immediate response to the crisis was to engage in blatant politicking and opportunistic attacks on government cuts. He appeared stuck in the past and not just a little confused, blaming and praising Margaret Thatcher at the same time.
“As when Margaret Thatcher imposed (government cuts)…this creates the threat of people losing control” he declared, although he offered no solutions other than, you guessed it, increase police numbers. He later told the BBC “They should look back to the lesson of Mrs Thatcher. When she went through the great recession in the early 1980’s, she knew what was coming, she recruited more police.”
Personally, the only policy lessons I want to learn from Margaret Thatcher are what not to do and whatever damage she caused, clearly 13 years of Labour governments have been unable to rectify it.
What we saw over the past few weeks was a minority of rioters who were disaffected and angry, who felt they had nothing to lose. The majority were criminal opportunists. Some of the latter group enjoyed hurting people and destroying property, while others just wanted to steal things they wanted but could not afford. They did it for so long and over so many parts of London because they believed they could get away with it. The initial response to both groups should have been the same.
If I had been Mayor I would have been on the first flight back to London when the disturbances happened on the Saturday night in Tottenham and I would have been standing alongside the Commissioner of the Met the following morning backing strong police action against the rioters.
As soon as I saw news coverage of looters rushing past police officers unimpeded, I would have called for the Met’s tactics to change to those later adopted successfully in Manchester, where rioters were arrested in the act. I would have called a press conference of leaders from across London’s communities, giving the united message that this was hurting individuals, communities and local businesses and that those rioting were engaging in senseless acts of self-destruction.
Why would I have done this? Because I have policed a riot before, because I have been trained to deal with riots before, because I have worked with communities that have rioted before and I have worked with community leaders to bring calm before.
Until order was restored, that was the leadership Londoners wanted, the leadership both Johnson and Livingstone failed to provide, the leadership I would have provided. In contrast, I was that day briefing the Deputy Prime Minister, when he was the most senior member of government in London, on the policing and community issues arising from these riots.
Of course there are underlying issues that need to be address now that order has been restored. Johnson’s cuts to the police budget threaten Safer Neighbourhood Teams at a time when community policing is even more important. We have to find savings from areas like senior police officers’ perks, to maintain frontline policing.
We have to promote restorative justice programmes that make offenders realise the consequence of their actions for others. We need to reform our education system so that it engages all young people from every background. We need to provide an alternative to gangs where young people can feel wanted, supported, encouraged and mentored.
And we must give everyone enough of a stake in society that they want to be part of it, not rebel against it, giving them a decent place to live and the opportunity to find work, for example.
That’s why I want to be Mayor of London, so I can make a real difference.