Me versus French MP on the face-veil

Watch the video of the BBC World News’s <em>Doha Debates</em>, hosted by Tim Sebastian.

A fortnight or so ago, I went out to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the Doha Debates programme on BBC World News. The show is beamed into 300 million homes in 200 countries and is hosted by the veteran BBC interviewer and anchor Tim Sebastian.

The motion was: "This house believes France is right to ban the face veil." Speaking on the proposition side were Jacques Myard, a French MP from President Sarkozy's UMP, and Farzana Hassan, a Canadian author and activist; speaking on the opposition side were me and the French journalist Nabila Ramdani.

I'm pleased to announce that my side won the debate on the night, with the 350-strong audience of Qataris and expats rejecting the motion by 78 per cent to 22 per cent.

It was a pretty lively and heated debate. You can watch it all in one go in the video on the Doha Debates website.

Or you can watch it via YouTube in four parts, beginning with part 1 below:

Here are parts 2, 3 and 4. (My own opening statement kicks in at 4mins 45secs in part 2 of the four video clips and at 16mins 30secs in the full video of the debate on the Doha Debates website.)

UPDATE: I forgot to mention above that I was a last-minute replacement on the panel for Sayeeda Warsi, who pulled out at the last minute. But was she forced to withdraw by her boss, the Prime Minister?

From the Evening Standard:

Muslim cabinet minister Baroness Warsi pulled out of defending the burqa at an international TV debate because of "government pressure", it was claimed today.

The Tory party co-chairman had been due to appear in front of a global TV audience of 350 million people opposing the motion that "France is right to ban the face veil".

However, a Tory party source said that Baroness Warsi, right, had pulled out for diary commitments.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation