Category Archives: policing

Unfinished stories

No: not in this case Vice-Admiral John Poo Beresford. I’m still working up to that one.

This is more personal.

I spent an extended weekend in the cold of Prague. Hadn’t been there since 1994; and — wow! — how things have changed. Mostly for the better. Little changed —praise be! — is one of the most effective, efficient and cost-friendly public transport systems anywhere.

The first “problem” was leaving behind my teccie.

Reading logette:


After some weeks and some thousands of pages of Neal Stephenson, I needed light refreshment.

A chance encounter with a first edition (well, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) of Anthony Hope’s The Dolly Dialogues was just what was needed. Yes: that is Anthony Prisoner of Zenda Hope. And, no: this was not something I had read previously. But above all, light, tight and wickedly amusing.

Then The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch’s latest in his Rivers of London sequence. Nice one; but I’m out-Granted by Pert Young Piece who has the graphic novel, Body Workand I need to catch up with the significance of a particular car. Still, I have the experts at York’s Travelling Man working on it.

9200000051259436A passing encounter with RLS’s (no relation, different spelling) unfinished St Ives. Another one of which I was only “aware”
Finally, and the “problem”: Lindsey Davis’s The Graveyard of the Hesperides. I used to follow the Falco series assiduously, and then moved on. I haven’t been plugged into this Albia spin-off in the same way, so this is something of a return for me. The problem being this is a mystery novel. And I left it behind on page 367 (of 4o3).

Another unfinished story

This is not fiction; but it is a mystery.

We came out of Prague on the 2130 Easyjet flight into Gatwick.

Yeah. Yeah. EasyJet, punctuality, end of the day.

So the incoming flight didn’t arrive on time. The crew did a heroic turn-around in half-an-hour. There was a delay for some theatrical de-icing. Arrival at Gatwick just before 2300.

Then an unaccountable hold-up at the arrival pad before disembarking. We were held on board for a long 15-20 minutes. At first the captain was announcing that the reception wasn’t ready. The steps arrived at the rear; but the air-bridge at the front seemed to be the hold-up. Eventually a name was called: could Mr X (and the name escapes me) make his way to the front of the cabin and make himself known?

Now: imagine. As if. A full load of walk-on freight. Cabin bags out of overhead lockers. A couple of hundred passengers either out of seats, and getting that way.

This arcane utterance was immediately followed by another: would all male passengers have their passports and identification ready for checking by the police on the airbridge?

And we were then released.

Sure enough: immediately past the cabin door, a posse of police, including the dog handler.

Since I was to the rear of the aircraft, I was one of the last off.

Whoever was the target, he apparently hadn’t emerged. But with one eye-flick the police officer was able to pass me on my way, and addressed me by my first name.

Odd, huh?

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Filed under air travel., Ben Aaronovitch, fiction, leisure travel, Lindsey Davis, policing, reading, Robert Louis Stevenson

A further truth to be told

David Conn’s extended piece for today’s Guardian, on the Hillsborough cover-up, is journalism at its best, and the exemplar why some of us will support, buy and read that great newspaper until the end. Even at £2 a throw.

The on-line presentation is less cogent than what is in the printed version. For example, in the paper we find this:

Later that day, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visited Hillsborough. [Chief Constable Peter] Wright briefed them. Ingham has always since said of Hillsborough that he “learned on the day” it was caused by a “tanked-up mob”. Ingham, later given a knighthood, has confirmed to there Guardian this was what police told Thatcher.

Good enough? That lets Thatcher off the hook?

Well, not for this blogger.

The culture of South Yorkshire police was “institutionally” corrupt. As Conn, also in the print edition, describes:

The evidence built into a startling indictment of the South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct — a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the1980s, the police had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”. with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by an “iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes. The dominance of Wright, a decorated police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frightening, authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody dared debate.

Those of us who had to drive down the A1 during the grim days of the miners’ dispute remember Check Point Charlie at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout, south of Ranby, where the A1 veers south-east. The lay-by (now by-passed by recent road-works) was where — day and night — a detachment of the Finest were posted, lest South Yorkshire miners escaped south to wreak havoc and mayhem.

CoulterJim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker produced a damning report (November 1984): A State of Siege, Politics and Policing of the Coalfields:  Miners Strike 1984. It was, but of course, just another loony lefty whinge — but it still stands up to scrutiny. The facts therein speak for themselves. The opinions have been proven by dint of experience;

It is important to understand the politics behind the policing because through the politics we can see what the Conservative government are pursuing is not the ‘rule of law’ but the ‘law of rule’; brute force and violence.

Rather than policing being an incidental spin off from the dispute it is at the very heart of it. [page 5]

Don’t believe me. Try ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker:

Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.

As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.

She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.

I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer.

She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.

That was never more clear than during the miner’s strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.

She decided that “her” police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss…

We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, “of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice”.

miners-strike-orgreaveThe “morgue” (the libraries of newspaper clippings, from before the days of the internet and electronic documentation) of any proper media operation will thrown up evidence that it was Thatcher’s wish and intention to create an “officer corps” to run “her” police service.

The ethos of the Thatcher era was an unremitting war against the “enemy within“.

At Hillsborough the enemy were the “animals” (yes: you will find that term used, and quoted in the subsequent Commons debate) who had to be caged. Five years earlier it had been the miners and their families whose liberties were revoked, whose homes invaded, who were strip-searched and violated.

When Thatcher and Ingham dropped in on the South Yorkshire Chief Constable, after Hillsborough, it wasn’t just a convivial visit. Whatever impression Wright foisted on Thatcher, she was more than a willing dupe.

The guilt doesn’t stop, conveniently, with Wright and his subordinates.

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Filed under Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, culture, History, Law, leftist politics., policing, politics, reading, rightist politics, Tories., underclass

On with the monstering

That Dan Hodges piece (see previous) is about as subcutaneously irritating as it can get. But that is only part of the great flannelling which is how this Rotherham story has become.

  • At no time in all this does anyone recognise where the whole story, as currently represented, comes from. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, 1997-2013 was commissioned by and for … Rotherham Council. And presumably paid for by them, too.
  • Ever since 2001 Rotherham Council has funded the Risky Business youth project, which:

worked with young people between 11 and 25 years, providing sexual health advice, and help in relation to alcohol and drugs, self-harm, eating disorders, parenting and budgeting. By the late ‘90s, it was beginning to identify vulnerable girls on the streets of the town. Its relationship with any young person was voluntary on both sides. It was part of the Council’s Youth Services, though it derived its funding from various sources in its early years. One of its main functions was the provision of training to voluntary and statutory agencies working in the field, to magistrates, the Police, schools and foster carers.

Risky Business is one of the few good-news stories here.

  • The failings were at management level, as Professor Jay calls it:

the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham. This came from those working in residential care and from youth workers who knew the young people well.

Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers.

  • Surely, the main failing was with the South Yorkshire Police. Again from Professor Jay:

At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This had led to suggestions of cover- up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.

This becomes even more glaringly obvious when we reach paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 of the Jay Report:

4.1 Children’s social care introduced CSE as a category for referral in 2001. However, many exploited children were wrongly categorised as being ‘out of control’. Prior to January 2013, the Police did not have a separate category for CSE. Neither agency had compiled reliable data that the Inquiry could use to estimate the scale of the problem over time. There was good information about cases open to the CSE team or co-worked by them, but information about other children being supported by children’s social care was not easily obtained. [My emphasis]

Jay chart

4.2 In the chart above we summarise what we were able to find out about caseloads and contacts received by children’s social care. The data must be treated with caution. The figures were not collected or presented in a systematic way from year to year. Nevertheless, the chart gives a broad indication of the scale of the problem as reflected in children’s social care records.

 I am aware from my own past connection with local authority business that the casework-load for social workers is excessive. Even now, Rotherham’s specialist child sexual exploitation team has 51 active cases, and sixteen looked after children who were identified by children’s social care as being at serious risk of sexual exploitation or having been sexually exploited.

So, let’s consider spending constraints. In fact, Professor Jay does that for us, too:

The combined effect of changes to local authority funding in England has been a dramatic reduction in resources available to Rotherham and neighbouring Councils. By 2016, Rotherham will have lost 33% of its spending power in real terms compared to 2010/11.

For the current financial year (i.e. after Rotherham’s problem had been identified, and lambasted by the Commons Select Committee) that‘s:

a £23 million programme of cuts – as well as a tax increase – in Rotherham Council’s budget for the [present] year.

The authority has already had to slash £70 million from its spending plans over the last four years, and needs to find another £23m of savings by next April.

A council tax increase of 1.9 per cent – the first rise in the town for four years – has been proposed, but ‘frontline services’ will be affected in the latest round of cuts.

Those cuts to ‘frontline services’ include:

children and young people’s services will lose £3m.

Rotherham, lest we forget, ranks 310th of the 324 English authorities in the Experian Resilience Index.

Any monstering there should properly start with Eric Pickles at the Department of Communities and Local Government.

There is one other operation that requires a severe monstering: the South Yorkshire Police.

Read this, and weep:

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded that officers in its public protection unit spent “a great deal deal of time trying to disprove” victims’ allegations.

HMIC’s chief inspector, Tom Winsor, ordered South Yorkshire police to end immediately the culture of “investigate-to-record”, where officers do not record incidents as possible crimes until they have been investigated.

Of the violent offences, including rape, that had been written off as “no crime” by the force, just under a fifth were wrongly classified and should have been pursued, inspectors found.HMIC examined 66 recorded crimes of rape, violence and robbery that South Yorkshire police had recorded as no-crime but found that 11 of these – equal to 17% – were incorrectly classified.

The report said: “This culture of dealing with reports of crime shows a disregard for victims and is unacceptable; it hides the true extent of the picture of crime from the force and is particularly concerning when the offences investigated by this unit are often of the most serious nature and victims are often the most vulnerable.” […]

The HMIC also raised concerns about South Yorkshire police’s recording of crimes including child abuse.

Winsor said that inspectors had examined 53 reports to South Yorkshire’s specialist departments. Out of those, 34 crimes should have been recorded – but only 18 were, the report said. Of these 18 crimes, eight fell outside the 72-hour limit allowed to record incidents.

The report found: “This level of under-recorded crime is a significant cause of concern and is a matter of material and urgent importance, particularly as some of these relate to violence and sexual assault against vulnerable children.”

South Yorkshire police currently have 173 “live” investigations into suspected child sexual exploitation, 32 of which are in Rotherham, a spokeswoman for the force said on Thursday. [again, my emphasis]

So there are 141 “live” CSE investigations going on in the other three administrative areas of the South Yorkshire Police Authority. Obviously Rotherham may not be quite the worst cess-pit of depravity.

South Yorkshire Police previously distinguished themselves in the 1984 Miner’s Strike and at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

In 1984:

After Orgreave, South Yorkshire police claimed they had been attacked by striking miners, and prosecuted 95 people for riot and unlawful assembly, offences that carried potential life sentences. All were acquitted, after defence lawyers argued that police evidence was false, fabricated and that an officer’s signature on a statement was forged.

[Michael] Mansfield [QC], who defended three of the accused miners, describes the prosecutions as “the biggest frame-up ever”. Mansfield argues that South Yorkshire police, under [Chief Constable Peter] Wright, had been “institutionally corrupt” and was still unreformed when the Liverpool supporters came to Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

In 1989:

Lord Justice Taylor, in his official report into Hillsborough, published in 1990, judged that mismanagement by South Yorkshire police was the prime cause of the disaster, yet the force relentlessly sought to lay the blame on the Liverpool supporters. A unit of senior officers, reporting to Wright, oversaw that case, ordering junior officers to rewrite their statements, to delete criticisms of the police’s own operation and emphasise allegations that supporters were drunk and misbehaving.

In those days, of course, the South Yorkshire Police had a firm friend in 10 Downing Street. The private briefing that Margaret Thatcher was given (to be told only what she and the police wanted her to hear) the day after Hillsborough, and the equally-misleading report of Merseyside Chief Constable Sir Kenneth Oxford only came into the public domain in 2012.

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Filed under broken society, crime, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Law, policing, sleaze., social class, Yorkshire

Plodding along

The canonisation of Andrew Mitchell (forever of Plebgate fame) continues apace. In the eyes of ConHome and Teresa May, as reported by the Daily Telegraph, he has already achieved beatification.

For those who need to get up to speed on “Plebgate”, wikipedia has a useful summary.

Here are just a few accepted “factoids” (as Malcolm understands them):

  • Mitchell’s nickname, acquired as a prefect at Rugby because of his use of the cane on weaker, junior students, was and is “Thrasher”. This is hardly an affectionate term; and Mitchell is (reputedly) not surrounded in Westminster by hordes of adoring admirers.
  • Mitchell is known for his foul language. A piece by Rob Wilson (Tory MP) for TotalPolitics includes:

His close relationship with [David] Davis didn’t stop Mitchell turning the air blue with expletives in a tense encounter on the House of Commons terrace, when Davis’ resignation caused a by-election. All Mitchell will say is that “the language exchanged would not be suitable for a family show. David knows I think it was a tremendous error of judgement.”

  •  Mitchell admits he swore when he was required to use the side-gate of Downing Street. Mitchell has apologised to the officer, which seems further confirmation of this member of the constabulary’s integrity.
  • The police officer, who was on the receiving end of the oath and the (alleged) “plebs” comment, is not one of those arrested or charged.

And one speculation:

There is an unexplained grey area around John Randall, the MP for Uxbridge:

  • He was Mitchell’s deputy in the Whips Office at the time of Plebgate.
  • It was Randall who received the email which “confirmed” Mitchell’s intemperance, even before the whole mess went public.
  • Relations between Mitchell and Randall seem to have been strained, to say the least. Randall, we are told, was himself intent on resignation, if Mitchell did not quit or was not pushed from the Chief Whip position.
  • Randall has now left the Whips’ Office in Cameron’s latest reshuffle.
  • Randall has a record of honourable behaviour and resignation. He was one of the few Tories who opposed Blair’s 2003 rush to war in Iraq (Mitchell was all Jingoist).

It is to be hoped, should Mitchell’s canonising  process continue, Randall breaks silence to act as advocatus diaboli.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, policing, Tories.

Methinks he doth protest too much 2

Now for some passing wind on that, quite extraordinary, Paul Dacre out-pouring.

Despite the very Daily Mail mock-querulous title, Why is the left so obsessed by the Daily Mail, which comes suspiciously close to John Rentoul’s classic QTWTAIN meme, it is really an object-lesson in self-obsession. Reading it had Malcolm in a mental spin. Was he:

  • getting some after-wash from Neville Chamberlain’s Declaration of War speech?

Look at the text of that — one of the most “national” of occasions imaginable  — and notice how frequently Chamberlain reverts to a subjective first-person pronoun:

You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win 
peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything 
different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.

  • Or was Dacre having a senior sub-Henry V moment?

If so, it’s a matter of common observation that Henry’s two great speeches (before Harfleur and before Agincourt) both come at moments when the King’s impetuosity, bad judgement and blind stupidity have landed him, his authority, and followers in a crisis from which it needs the opposition’s even worse judgement and crasser stupidity to extricate him. If that needs teasing out:

  • Henry had expected a quick success at Harfleur, a symbolic and cheap victory, from which he could draw instant credit, and gain a base in Normandy. From there he could engineer a twin-pronged attack from this northern base and from his support in Aquitaine. What he hadn’t calculated was the town would hold out for a taxing six-week siege, which took Henry’s late-summer campaign into foul autumnal weather. What saved Henry and the English at Harfleur, as the text of the play makes abundantly clear, was French inadequacy and unpreparedness:

Our expectation hath this day an end:
The Dauphin, whom of succors we entreated,
Returns us that his powers are yet not ready
To raise so great a siege. Therefore, great king,
We yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy.
Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours;
For we no longer are defensible.

  • Similarly at Agincourt it was a battle for the French to lose against a weak, sick, impoverished enemy. And lose it they did, by not knowing their own ground, through overconfidence:

Then let the trumpets sound
The tucket sonance and the note to mount;
For our approach shall so much dare the field
That England shall couch down in fear and yield.

  and greed for ransom:

It is now two o’clock: but, let me see, by ten
We shall have each a hundred Englishmen.

Now review Dacre’s self-defence, or rather — to save time and the efforts of all these little electrons — just the odd sample:

Let it be said loud and clear that the Mail, unlike News International, did NOT hack people’s phones or pay the police for stories. I have sworn that on oath.

No, our crime is more heinous than that.

It is that the Mail constantly dares to stand up to the liberal-left consensus that dominates so many areas of British life and instead represents the views of the ordinary people who are our readers and who don’t have a voice in today’s political landscape and are too often ignored by today’s ruling elite.

The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers with their dreams (mostly unfulfilled) of a decent education and health service they can trust, their belief in the family, patriotism, self-reliance, and their over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best.

From which we draw the following:

The Mail doesn’t pay for stories

The precise wording is from “the police”, but the broader implication is left hanging.

That anyway-up patently doesn’t approach a half-truth.

The Information Commissioner’s report  to Parliament, What Price Privacy Now? [December 2006] revealed 58 Daily Mail journalists making 952 “transactions” to be investigated under “Operation Motorman” — oh, and another four journos making a further 30 approaches on behalf of the Mail’s Weekend Magazine. Those were commercial transactions, buying personal information obtained illegally, and much indirectly from corrupt police sources. That put the Mail at the top of the list of media outlets paying Clifford and his ilk for Section 55.

So much for Mr Dacre’s sacred “oath”.

The Mail boasts it is the stalwart defender of the public against this liberal-left consensus that dominates so many areas of British life.

boot-guide-slides-15_152909132742.jpg_halfpage_sligeshowHuh? Notice, too, how this “enemy within” is conflated with today’s ruling elite.

Oh, c’mon Dacre! What are these numerous “areas of British life”, all under the loony-lefty Alexander McQueen shearling-and-leather ankle boot (number 27 of the 88 approved by Vogue last “Fall” — and very fetching, too, as left above)?

When we read Dacre’s piece, he seems to identify just three main nodules of this “liberal-left consensus”: the BBC, the Guardian and the Labour Party. One is under attack from all quarters on the right, one is financially “embarrassed” and the last has been out-of-office these last forty months. So none hardly “dominates”.

Ordinary people who are our readers … don’t have a voice in today’s political landscape and are too often ignored by today’s ruling elite.

A voice in the landscape, Mr Dacre? Surely jarringly close to a mixed metaphor! Perhaps it’s almost “crying in the wilderness”.

Anyway, the one thing of which we can be certain is that this lumpen-bourgeoisie [no! Malcolm didn’t invent, just borrowed] is not short of bellowing mouthpieces. The Daily Mail and General Trust has revenues in excess of £2 billion a year, and we can add in the weight of the Murdoch media, the Torygraph, the Express, and all the others. That’s no small shout.

Far from being ignored by today’s ruling elite, your average Tory politician pants for a chance to be petted by Mr Dacre (as, to his lasting shame, did Gordon Brown).

The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers …

Again, huh? Who are the “metropolitan classes”? Is it London versus the rest? Is the Great Wen one seething mass of lefty Mail-hating? We fully appreciate that the Northcliffe formula is based on the “daily hate“, but are all those Mail-readers across Greater London self-despising hypocrites?

Over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best

Much “suspicion” is ta direct consequence of all those Mail “daily hates”, through whether it is “over-riding” [riding over what?] is a dubious proposition. On the whole, your average Mail reader seems quite prepared to meet the services of the state face-to-face, and ask for more — consider how Dacre makes a regular thing of rubbish collection, [No, that wasn’t an unconscious irony.]

And we clearly recognise in his self promotion throughout this article one person at least “who knows best”.


Congratulations, yet again, to the Guardian. Every half-formed prejudice one might hold against Dacre and his scandal-sheet has been proven to the utterance by this article.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, British Left, broken society, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, History, human waste, policing, politics, prejudice, Quotations, reading, Times, Tories.

The end of Swiveleyesation as we know it?

Another magnificent coinage by the great Steve Bell:

Steve Bell 21.05.2013

Yesterday Malcolm was attempting to find some kind of historical context — or, failing that, the comedy of errors — which has led to the present Great Tory Bad-Hair Day.

Today Benedict Brogan writes his Morning Briefing for the Telegraph blogs, and sweepingly assumes it’s all water down the sink. Happy Days are Hair Again. The skies above are clear again. So we’ll sing a song of cheer again:

Well, almost:

Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

200px-Candide1759The rest of Brogan’s musings stretch for, but don’t quite reach a Panglossian optimum:

Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

[For the record, Voltaire in 1759 is parodying Leibnitz of 1698: not many people know that.]

Legacy issues

Such was the vein into which history-mining Malcolm was driving his shaft with yesterday’s piece. Let us then consider what rich ore Brogan has found:

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Really? Really! It’s all those gays? Hardly!

Brogan concludes by passing us and the tar-baby onto Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Ganesh asserts it’s 2010 and All That:

… the election that should detain David Cameron is the last one. The prime minister’s estrangement from his party has many causes – the inexhaustibly vexed question of Europe, the same-sex marriage bill he takes to Parliament this week – but the rancour really set in with his failure to win in 2010. This original sin led to coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a political miscegenation that turns Tory stomachs, and broke the unspoken covenant that allows a leader to be as autocratic as he likes as long he delivers. Last week, a prime ministerial ally was reported to have disparaged the party’s grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons”. “Arrogant losers” tends to be the rejoinder.

Ganesh then reprises the course of the 2010 Tory election campaign, concluding:

For all the campaign’s haplessness, the Tories ended it with roughly the same poll lead over Labour as they began it. Mr Cameron was still preferred by voters to his party. The campaign was a non-event, as they usually are. The real reason for the Tories’ failure had more to do with the economic insecurity that nagged at voters when shown blueprints for austerity by a party they already mistrusted. That the economy was slithering out of recession at the same time hardened their risk aversion. Fiscal clarity made for bad short-term politics, and yet the blame has somehow gone to other, softer aspects of the Tory offering.

The Conservatives did not fail because they were seen as high-minded metropolitans, but because they were too redolent of the same old Tories. They had changed too little, not too much. The people who should have been vindicated by 2010 were the modernisers. But their chronic passivity, their lordly distaste for a fight, has allowed a misremembered version of that election to become the definitive history. This is undermining Mr Cameron and shaping a future in which only the ideologically orthodox can lead the Tories.

That is indeed the “high-quality journalism” that the FT prudently reminds low-life, thieving types (like Malcolm, shamelessly ripping of those extracts) needs paying for. [Again, for the record, Malcolm happily pays for the print edition, especially at weekends, if only to pre-empt what he knows the Sundays will regurgitate as original thought.]

Two small details (1):

Those televised debates (and Cameron’s foolish participation in televised debates that he flunked) really screwed up the opinion polls. In a different context (to which we may come in a moment), Malcolm was reviewing just how the 2010 polling went. The answer is not very well:

2010 polling

Got that? The main impact of the televised debates was to flatter the LibDem vote by anything between 3% and 6% (which amounts to gross “data artifact“), while under-rating Tory support just slightly, and Labour’s quite significantly. One might feel that Cameron & co. have been blinded by those errors ever since.

Two small details (2):

On their perception of the election result, and of the “reliability” of the LibDems, the Cameron & co. “modernisers” entered their Mephistophelean pact with Clegg & co. — two capitalist combines monopolising the market for their short-term profit. Let’s have another 18th-century great intellect’s view on that:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (see page 111 in this e-text)

An alternative history

Wind back to Friday, 7th May, 2010, with the last of the 649 results coming in (the 650th, a safe Tory seat — Thirsk and Malton, was delayed by the death of a candidate). This is what we saw:

  • Tories: 305 (and bound to be 306);
  • Labour: 258, plus Caroline Lucas, the Green for Brighton Pavilion, and Sylvia Herman, likely to attend infrequently but then vote with Labour (so call it around 260);
  • Lib Dems: 57, plus Naomi Long for Alliance in East Belfast (so 58 at a pinch);
  • DUP: 8;
  • SNP: 6;
  • SDLP, Plaid Cymru: 3 apiece.

The Speaker is neutral, though votes for the government in a tie, and Sinn Féin are non-attenders (so, n=650-6). A cynical calculation is the cash-strapped sand bruised Labour and LibDem contingents aren’t too keen on a quick re-run; but, more to the point, there are at least a score of odds-and-sods turkeys there who can’t afford to vote for Christmas (sayn n=650-26). The most basic “working majority” would be, in practice, well short of the nominal 326 (the calculation above suggests 312 at most)— and Dave’s Tories are within a spit of just that.

So, in the short term, Dave’s Tories could talk the talk, cobble a “confidence and supply” arrangement with even the DUP (306+8=314), and walk the walk through until a second election in the autumn. By which moment Tory coffers, uniquely among the main operators, would be topped up by the grateful and expectant clique of bond-traders and hedge-funders.

A second election, please note, that could have been contrived by losing a vote of confidence on some populist issue (immigration?). A second election, too, in which the Tory economic record would be buffed up by the tail-end of Alistair Darling’s economics (it was only in the autumn of 2010, thanks to Osborne’s austerity, that the UK economy went into flat-lining).

In short, had Cameron done the right thing, the Tory thing, he would now likely be sitting on a secure Tory majority, and figuring his way to calling the next election at his choosing, on his terms, and not on those of the LibDem dictated Fixed-term Parliaments Act. He would also have enjoyed the benefits of a greater patronage for Tory backbench nonentities, not having to service the self-esteem of LibDem nonentities.

All the Tory back-benchers, and the wannabes out in the cold have done that math. The iron has entered their souls.

One last thing

We were looking there at how the polling companies had cocked it up. Enter the new-boy on the block, Survation. Ben Brogan (see above) gave that a nod in passing:
The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Look closer, and we find The Guardian, doesn’t give Survation more than the time of day.

Andrew Sparrow counters with the YouGov/Sun numbers:

Last night Survation released a poll showing the Tories just two points ahead of Ukip.

Here are the figures.
Labour: 39% (down 1 from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 31% (up 2)
Ukip: 14% (no change)
Lib Dems: 10% (up 1)
Labour lead: 8 points (down 3)
Government approval: -34 (up 5)

Finally, let’s hear it from Anthony Wells (whose shock-factor is also set to minimum):

Survation have put out a new poll, the topline voting intention figures are CON 24%(-5), LAB 35%(-1), LD 11%(-1), UKIP 22%(+6). The 22% for UKIP is the first poll to show them breaking the twenty percent mark.
In many ways the high UKIP score here shouldn’t come as a surprise, for methodological reasons Survation tend to show the highest levels of UKIP support so if ICM have them at 18% and ComRes at 19% I would have expected Survation to have them in the low twenties. Striking it may be, but the increase in UKIP support is actually in line with what weve seen elsewhere, just using a method that is kinder to UKIP.
More interesting is the drop in Tory support, down five points on Survation’s poll in April. The poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday so at least partially after the “swivel eyed loon” story broke (it came out in Saturday’s papers, so broke about 10pm on Friday night). All the usual caveats I apply to any poll showing sharp or unusual results apply. Sure, it might indicate a shift in support, but just as likely its a blip – wait to see if it is reflected in any other polling. As Twyman’s Law of market research says “anything surprising or interesting is probably wrong”.

As Wells implies, there, swallowing Survation might not produce the glorious summer the Kippers expect. More likely, “up like the rocket, and down like the stick”: UKIP is hardly the best-presented pyrotechnic in the box.

Swiveleyesation may endure yet.

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Three degrees of falsehood, and ten degrees of the Eighth Circle

Last summer, from the web-site of the University of York’s Department of Mathematics (of all unlikely places to find any lit.crit), there was an exhaustive history of who and how the cliché originated about “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The conclusion, if somewhat fuzzy, declared the begetter was Sir Charles Dilke, but deriving it from many earlier variants.

Somewhat conveniently, if only for regional pride, was:

A query in Notes and Queries (7th Ser. xii) (1891 Oct. 10), p. 288, reads as follows:

DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. – Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”?      ST. SWITHIN

According to Folklore 41 (3) (1930), 301 and 63 (1) (1952), 4–5, “St. Swithin” was a pseudonym used by Mrs Eliza Gutch (1840–1931), of Holgate Lodge, York.

They’re still at it!

The most blackened liar is the politician who twists a statistic to support a point. Here, from the letters page of this week’s Ham&High in front of Malcolm, we have a prime specimen:

Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, writes:

Crime has fallen, but we want to boost public confidence and make London safer. [etc., etc.]

A Google search suggests Greenhalgh issues, and re-issues press releases on this line, regurgitates similar statements on public occasions, quite indefatigably. There’ll probably be another one along in the morning. That’s why the grateful citizens of London pay him something around £100,000 a year, plus expenses and pension rights.

Let him who is without sin …

Meanwhile, Greenhalgh is himself not above suspicion, and Dave Hill has him in his sights:

As the police watchdog considers whether to investigate Boris Johnson’s policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh over alleged illegal conduct by public officers of Hammersmith and Fulham council when he was its leader, it is instructive to consider the passion with which Greenhalgh supported the ambitious redevelopment scheme at the heart of the affair – the Earls Court project.

And then, lest we forget, there was the City Hall groping:

Boris Johnson‘s deputy mayor for policing has apologised “unreservedly” following an allegation that he molested a female member of staff in a city hall lift.

Stephen Greenhalgh, the former Tory leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who now holds day-to-day responsibility in the mayor’s office for policing and crime, allegedly patted a female member of staff on the bottom while in a lift last month.

Last seen above Lenin’s tomb

Put Greenhalgh into an ill-cut Soviet era suit, and one instantly lines him up alongside the Bulganins,  Malenkovs and Berias for a Red Square May Day parade:

Stephen Greenhalgh and Boris Johnson

So, for the occasion, let’s adapt a Stalinite apothegm:

It’s not the crimes that count, it’s how, and by whom they are counted.

In the exact case of crime statistics, the Guardian‘s Datablog, Facts are sacred, ran the slide-rule over the official numbers a while ago. It noted all kinds of jiggery-pokery:

    • A concurrent but separate ONS publication shows that the rate of police recorded crime has fallen more quickly than the rate of reported crime found in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
    • It’s important to bear in mind that today’s release focuses on police recorded crimes. These are provided to the Home Office by police authorities and forces, not all of whom collect data with the same precision according to a 2007 audit. This is problematic because it means that a higher number in a given area may indicate an improvement in reporting by police rather than a rise in criminality.
    • … crimes recorded by police are unlikely to represent the total number of crimes that take place. To understand this better, it’s useful to also consider the CSEW which asks people face-to-face about their experiences of, attitudes about and perceptions of a range of crimes.
    • The gap between police-recorded and survey-reported crime has always been significant, but the distance between the two has widened. In 2004/05, there was an effective recording rate of 52.8%, while in the latest statistical release, this figure has dropped to 42.4%

And even this:

    • Another of the more interesting figures is that of the perception of crime. The CSEW asks people whether they think crime is getting worse where they live and nationally. So, people think crime is getting worse – but not where they live. It’s the gap between what we know is going on and what we think is going on.

That last one, where Malcolm is sitting, means that the propaganda of stooges like Greenhalgh may be working.

Put the whole shebang together, and the only reasonable conclusion is:

Crime figures aren’t worth the ink used to print them.

Conjugation: I’m usually a law-abiding citizen, you’re a bit dodgy: that bloke ought to go down for a long stretch.

Meanwhile the really big crimes — Harry-the-Horse and  the multinationals who don’t pay taxes, the fraudsters who exploit concessions for charity to rip us all off — are officially not crimes at all.

Then there’s the little stuff:

It’s illegal to ride a motorcycle or drive using hand-held phones or similar devices.

The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

It’s also illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver or rider.

Malcolm would give fair odds that at least the second of those requirements is not known to the average driver. Yet — note — all are “illegal”, which means “against the law”. And Malcolm, waiting for a few minutes at bus-stops in north London, counts five, six or more drivers quite blatantly disregarding the law, frequently in full view of that CCTV camera that collect fines if you pause for thirty seconds to allow a passenger to get out (£50 free and for nothing to the local authority).

Here’s a writ that goes unenforced on a daily basis:

Bernard Hogan-Howe [the Met’s Commissioner] indicated that he believed the current punishment of three penalty points and a £60 fine was not a strong enough deterrent for drivers.

By increasing the punishment to six points, drivers would be banned from the road if they were caught twice for the offence within three years.

Writing on the Met’s website, the commissioner said this would make drivers take the law on driving while on the phone more seriously and improve road safety.

That interprets as we don’t bother to enforce the law. We expect you, the potential offenders to understand and obey the law. But if we’re forced to apply the law, we expect it to have teeth. If only because it makes us look as though we’re doing our job. And, if the offence was significantly up-graded, we’d have more motivation, and look even better. Oh, and by the way, if you’re phoning and driving, don’t mow down that child, because — if you do — we have to check your phone records, which is a real fag.

That makes all the more remarkable the coincidence, nay the the assiduity of the Met Police, in catching (and so banning) Chris Huhne for driving the Old Kent Road while phoning. And that, by coincidence, within weeks of him avoiding a ban for speeding by having his wife take the points.

Where does this place the Office of National Statistics, Deputy Mayor Greenhalge, and others? —

Destination: Malebolge

Dante's hell

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