Friday, November 09, 2007

The arrogance of Sir Ian Blair

I learned fairly early on my journalistic career that getting senior police officers to take responsibility for their actions is no easy task. In the early 1980s, the then Chief Constable of Derbyshire, Alf Parrish, was allowed to retire on a full police pension despite having spent £32,000 of ratepayers' money building an electronic partition in his office which slid back to reveal a space for private cocktail parties.

In another episode, about which I would love to be able to say more, a deputy chief constable's administrative error resulted in police officers being paid so much overtime it practically bankrupted the force concerned. Once again, despite attempts by the local police authority to bring him to account, the man concerned was allowed to retire on a full pension, and his misdemeanours were never actually made public.

So it doesn't greatly surprise me that Sir Ian Blair clearly views the de Menezes case less as a question about whether anyone should be seen to take responsibility for the tragic death of an innocent man and the systemic failures in the Metropolitan Police which led to it, and more about the much more important issue of principle of whether he should be allowed to keep his job.

It's frankly beyond belief that he hasn't quit already, but he is clearly not on the same planet as most of the rest of us. It's almost as if he sees the case as just part of a much bigger battle between the forces of conservatism and the forces of liberalism, a battle in which he sees himself as being on the side of the angels.

If so, it explains why all of the support for Sir Ian remaining in his job is coming from the political left. While the right and centre are at one in their calls for him to go, the Labour establishment, from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, is adamant he should not.

I am as convinced as I can be that this is less down to the merits of the case and more down to tribal loyalties. Sir Ian is seen as "Labour's man," and more generally as a force for "modernisation" and "reform" in a force that, not so long ago, was found to be institutionally racist. Therefore he must not be allowed to be forced out by those nasty reactionary elements.

To base one's view on the internal political ramifications for the Met, however, or even on the ramifications for policing in London, is to lose sight of a much more important issue of principle - the fact that restoring trust in public life requires that those at the top start taking responsiblity for their actions.

Sir Ian Blair's removal - and in my view it's a matter of when, not if - may well result in him being replaced by a more conservative figure - a "copper's copper" as they are known in the shorthand. But if that helps restore a culture of accountability to our public life, it will ultimately be a larger victory for the liberal-left.

An edited version of this post appears on Liberal Conspiracy.

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Barnacle Bill said...

As you say Paul to restore our faith in public institutions those with the responsibility must be seen to live up to the standards expected of them.
If these standards mean that they must be accountable for the actions of those under them, so be it.
Also some humility would not go amiss.

Anonymous said...

I have been banging on for a considerable time now about the, what is now, collapse of accountability or trust in our political, social and economic institutions. This is a growing crisis facing our so-called democracy (and the similar systems in other 'advanced' countries).

Failure to accept their direct responsibility by the top in men in Northern Rock, the responsible officers in the De Menzes case, the politicians in WMD, the professionals in the contamination of Hepatitis patients with HIV infected blood transfusions, the unlawful killing of British Army private Gentles in Iraq etc. etc. etc.

Now the USA is setting another trend with incredibly high 'severence settlements' of millions of dollars for the top executives who have brought their banks near to collapse with their preditory and exploitative practicies on substandard lending. Meantime, impoverished borrower-victims of these executives are literally out-in-the-street. No doubt this will be repeated in the UK in the usual somewhat diluted form.

In many cases, such as the BBC dishonest productions, only aggressive media hounding led, belatedly, to senior resignation. But now we are being told by the likes of Ken Livingston that Blair 'must not resign' just because of a media campaign. Well, quite Mr Livingstone, but without the media frenzy, when do those in authority ever resign if they are found culpable?

There is a genuinely systemic crisis over accountablity and trust, because it extends across all sectors and institutions. Part of my warning is that this is all ready-made for 'a man of power and honesty' to emerge from outwith the democratic structure appealing to a widespread constituency of populist alienation and disgust... sounds familiar eh?

Anonymous said...

Not only is the Old Pals' Act still in full force but, as an earlier poster noted, poltical tribal loyalties are very evidently working for Ian Blair.

One of the very disturbing features is the para-militarey nature of police forces these days. Citizen oversight is being pushed to one side by the growing "them vs us" attitudes of the police. They want new toys, new rules to protect them from what they see as outside interference, and they are exercising unprecedented political power behind the scenes at local and regional level. When a Mayor openly protects a disgraced Chief Constable, then we are in some degree of trouble. English policing has always been based on a clear separation between police power and the judiciary, and police power and the political process. Once police forces are unionised; once they load their ranks with degreed social workers imbued in leftist university departments with fashionable nonsense; once they begin to see the general public as obstacles to their tasks, then we have the makings of a dangerous civic imbalance.

I fear this is what is happening not just in the UK but in Canada as well.