Will Cameron suspend Tory councillor in race row?

Gerry Forsbrey declared: "I don’t want to be the nigger in the woodpile".

Every so often, one is reminded how the Tory brand became so toxic. Last week, a Conservative councillor was suspended after telling a bisexual independent councillor, "with a bit of luck, you'll get AIDS." Then there was the Tory who suggested that those with "self-inflicted" illnesses (such as obesity) should be forced to move out of Surrey to free up NHS resources.

Now we learn of the case of Gerry Forsbrey, a Tory councillor for Spelthorne who declared during a council planning committee debate: "I don’t want to be the nigger in the woodpile."

Forsbrey, a member of the council since 1998 and the cabinet member responsible for planning and housing, is yet to be suspended from the party. So far only the Evening Standard has covered the story but it deserves wider coverage.

I'm hoping to get a comment from the Conservative press office and from Forsbrey's MP Kwasi Kwarteng tomorrow morning.

Update: Forsbrey has now apologised for the comment.

In a letter to fellow councillors, he wrote: "I have spoken to the Council’s Monitoring Officer last night about the Planning Committee on 30 May 2012.

"I recognise that it is an old fashioned phrase and that people may well take offence at the language.

"With hindsight, I should not have made my point with those words. I had no desire to offend anybody and would offer you my unreserved apology for any offence caused."

Given that Cameron previously refused to suspend a peer who used the same phrase, it looks like Forsbrey's position is safe.

David Cameron at last year's Conservative conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform