Boris Johnson and the Met

Boris has never missed an opportunity to dismiss legitimate criticisms of the police and to defend t

Two years ago, Boris Johnson's Policing Deputy declared that he and Boris had their "hands on the tiller" of the Metropolitan Police.

No longer would The Met be obsessed with managing media relations, he told the Guardian. No longer would they be obsessed with fighting headlines rather than fighting crime.

And yet on the very next day, another one of Boris's Deputy Mayors was charged with five counts of fraud.

Unable to keep his own deputy mayor's hands off the City Hall credit card, it is not surprising that Boris has also failed to get his hands around the far trickier problems at Scotland Yard.

Since then the Met has continued to blunder on from crisis to crisis, and since then Boris has actually loosened his shaky hold on the force.

Despite his election promise to exert greater power over the Met, Boris soon resigned his Chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and handed it over to a man whose main crime-fighting concern so far has been to tell Londoners which breeds of dog they should own.

From the controversial policing of recent protests, to the abysmal investigation into phone hacking, Boris has never missed an opportunity to dismiss legitimate criticisms of the police, and to defend those that now look indefensible.

In the London Assembly and in his £250k Telegraph column, Boris described the phone hacking story as "a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party," a "song and dance about nothing" and persuaded his readers that celebrities actually wanted their phones to be hacked.

Claims about phone hacking had, he told us, been "substantially investigated" and he was therefore "completely satisfied" that the Met had done a good job.

It is not clear whether Boris's dismissals were simply the "extraordinary and unwise" actions of a partisan politicians or whether they were informed by darker memories of his own time as a journalist.

But what is now clear is that the Met actually did the worst of all possible jobs investigating criminal activities at the News of the World. And even now as the second police commissioner in three years steps down, Boris is still pretending that any problems are merely superficial and the fault of at most a handful of corrupt officers.

Now with Sir Paul Stephenson gone there is an opportunity for somebody to finally get a steady hand on the shaky tiller of the Metropolitan Police.

But whoever the Home Office finds to do the job, Boris Johnson is somebody whose tiller-holding advice they can clearly manage to do without.

 

Adam Bienkov is a journalist and blogger covering London Politics. He writes a regular column and blog for Snipe London Magazine.

Adam Bienkov is a blogger and journalist covering London politics and the Mayoralty. He blogs mostly at AdamBienkov.com

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.