Boris, the police and the pre-dawn raid

Heavy-handed, politicised policing leaves our communities less secure.

Boris Johnson with Met police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe in September, outside Scotland Yard
Source: Getty Images

A pre-dawn raid under Operation Hawk saw a mother woken by banging and shouting this week. Officers charged into her flat with rolling cameras, bright lights and none other than the mayor Boris Johnson when she was half dressed. They were looking for suspected drugs on her eighteen-year-old son, and they had brought along the BBC to make a high-profile point about it. Safe to say they didn't find what they were after, and left the South London flat without any arrests.

This raid was just one of over 500 actions taken across London on Thursday as apart of Operation Hawk. Led by the new Scotland Yard commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, the sweeping crack down came with its own Twitter hashtag and fleet of journalists. It was a perfect opportunity for the new commissioner to make his mark and give Boris some publicity in the process. According to the Met's news feed, some progress was made. Over 200 premises were searched with 278 suspects arrested and 39 weapons seized.

But in a number of areas including Peckham and Chiswick, officers brought back little but damaged community relations. As for bringing along Boris, this was a flagrant and dangerous example of politicising the police.

The night it happened I knocked on the door of the raided flat in Peckham and found the mother still shaken. I explained I was a councillor for the area who lived down the road. She talked off the record to me about her experiences, but didn't want to be quoted. She was shocked with the existing coverage as it was. The BBC reported Boris being asked to wait outside her home because there was a "scantily-clad lady" inside.

Power has no idea how humiliating it can be.

But this is not about whether it was justifiable to break into this particular home. It's obvious that raids are sometimes necessary, and they can't always be expected to deliver results. Many of my constituents continue to complain that the police don't do enough. But to bring along a mayor and a set of camera crews on a raid is unnecessary and degrading. It reduces important police work to a press affair for the mayor, who joked about the need to "bring in the heavies" with a coy smile.

"It was disgraceful," one neighbour outside the Peckham block who has lived there for sixteen years but didn't want to be named told me, "We didn't know what they were doing. Boris has never come here before and now his black land rover was parked up with its tinted windows and they were having a press conference outside here."

"I'm not surprised people were frightened. I've never had trouble in this area but coverage like that gives it a bad name. I don't know what they were doing to be honest. I only found out about it by looking at Youtube when I got to work."

I spoke to a number of other neighbours who said the same thing, most of whom were still understandably frightened and didn't want to speak out. A lady living below the suspected flat opened the door a crack and said the raid woke up her small kids. She said she had never had problems with upstairs before, but raids like that begin to breed suspicion amongst neighbours.

Hogan-Howe said the aim was to "put the doors in as quickly as possible, right around London". He said this could have "positive effects" even when they find nothing. But he underestimates just how corrosive such raids can be in areas that are already suspicious of police. Yes some will be pleased to see action being taken, but many will be left with nothing but the story of a bewildered mother and the signs of a smashed door. They will ask why other methods were not used first, and why different areas with less stereotypes were not chosen for a public raid.

What makes all this even more infuriating is that Boris Johnson is presiding over massive cuts to police numbers. In Southwark we are losing our community police officers and being forced to cut safer neighbourhood teams. Presumably we are going to have to rely on these grand, top-down show cases to offer demonstrations of strength, rather than building community knowledge that is better able to handle these concerns sensitively. If you ask me, this heavy-handed image will leave us less secure in reality. And I still want to know who is going to pay for that door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is Scottish Labour on the way back, or heading for civil war?

There are signs of life, but also recriminations.

The extraordinary rise of the Scottish Tories and the collapse in SNP seat numbers grabbed most of the headlines in the recent general election. Less remarked on was the sudden, unexpected exhalation of air that came from what was thought to be the corpse of Scottish Labour.

In 2015, Labour lost 40 of its 41 Scottish seats as the SNP rocketed from six to 56, was wiped out in its Glaswegian heartlands, and looked to have ceded its place as the choice of centre-left voters – perhaps permanently – to the Nationalists. But while the electorate’s convulsion in June against the SNP’s insistence on a second independence referendum most benefited Ruth Davidson, it also served to reanimate Labour.

The six seats grabbed back (making a total of seven) included three in the West of Scotland, proving that the Nat stranglehold on Labour’s territory was not quite as secure as it had seemed. There is, it appears, life in the old dog yet.

Not only that, but the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn across the UK has stiffened Labour’s spine when it comes to insisting that it, and not the SNP, is the rightful home of Scotland’s socialists.

Corbyn was largely kept south of the border during the election campaign – Kezia Dugdale, the leader at Holyrood, had supported Owen Smith’s leadership challenge. But in August, Corbyn will embark on a five-day tour of marginal SNP constituencies that Labour could potentially take back at the next election. The party has set a target of reclaiming 18 Scottish seats as part of the 64 it needs across Britain to win a majority at Westminster. The trip will focus on traditional areas such as Glasgow and Lanarkshire, where tiny swings would return seats to the People’s Party. Dugdale is no doubt hoping for some reflected glory.

Corbyn will present himself as the authentically left-wing choice, a leader who will increase public spending and invest in public services compared to the austerity of the Tories and the timidity of the SNP. “Labour remains on an election footing as a government-in-waiting, ready to end failed austerity and ensure that Scotland has the resources it needs to provide the public services its people deserve,” he said. “Unlike the SNP and the Tories, Labour will transform our economy through investment, insisting that the true wealth creators - that means all of us – benefit from it.”

The SNP has benefited in recent years from the feeling among many north of the border that Labour and the Tories were committed to differing shades of a similar economic programme, that was starving public services of cash and that paid little attention to Scottish desires or needs. But as the Nats’ spell in government in Edinburgh has worn on, first under Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, with little being done to tackle the nation’s social problems, patience has started to run out.

Dugdale said yesterday that she “looked forward to joining Jeremy in August as we take our message to the people of Scotland”. That’s not a sentiment we would have heard from her before June. But it does raise the future spectacle of Davidson’s Tories battling for the centre and centre-right vote and Labour gunning for the left. The SNP, which has tried to be all things to all people, will have to make a choice – boasting that it is “Scotland’s Party” is unlikely to be enough.

The 20th anniversary of the referendum that delivered the Scottish Parliament is almost upon us. Then, Scottish Labour provided the UK and the Westminster government with figures of the stature of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and George Robertson. That was a long time ago, and the decline in quality of Labour’s representatives both in London and Edinburgh since has been marked. The SNP’s decade of success has attracted much of the brightest new talent through its doors. Young Scots still seem to be set on the idea of independence. Labour has a credibility problem that won’t be easily shaken off.

But still, the body has twitched – perhaps it’s even sitting up. Is Scottish Labour on the way back? If so, is that down to the SNP’s declining popularity or to Corbyn’s appeal? And could Dugdale be a convincing frontwoman for a genuinely left-wing agenda?

There may be trouble ahead. Yesterday, the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism – whose convener, Neil Findlay MSP, ran Corbyn’s leadership campaign in Scotland – accused Dugdale of “holding Corbyn back” in June. A spokesperson for the group said: “While it’s great we won some seats back, it’s clear that the campaign here failed to deliver. While elsewhere we've seen people being enthused by ‘for the many, not the few’ we concentrated on the dispiriting visionless ‘send Nicola a message’ – and paid a price for that, coming third in votes and seats for the first time in a century. In Scotland we looked more like [former Scottish leader] Jim Murphy’s Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn’s – and that isn’t a good look.”

While the group insists this isn’t intended as a challenge to Dugdale, that might change if Corbyn receives a rapturous reception in August. We’ll learn then whether Scotland is falling for the high-tax, high-spending pitch that seems to be working so well elsewhere, and whether Scottish Labour has jerked back to life only to find itself staring down the barrel of a civil war.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).