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The Met's closed culture

From the ground floor up, much of the police culture focuses around informal networks and off-duty s

Most of the allegations of racism made by Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer Tarique Ghaffur are against Sir Ian Blair, so one might have hoped for a more positive response from the Black Police Association (BPA) to the Met Commissioner’s demise.

Instead, the BPA have announced a boycott of Met police recruitment drives aimed at black and minority ethnic communities because the BPA still believes the Met has “a hostile atmosphere”.

Sir Ian Blair, who previously described himself as “a bit of a limpet” exhibited some very un-gastropod qualities last week, jumping ship with the help of a gentle shove from Boris Johnson on the day the London Mayor took over as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Only a vote by the twenty-three member MPA can result in a recommendation to the Home Secretary that the Commissioner resign and she alone has the power to enforce it.

The consequence of the home secretary’s failure to dissuade Blair from resigning appears to hand the London Mayor the power to fire Britain’s top cop at will.

She may have had her reasons, mind you. There were the hotly contested allegations about contracts being given to a company owned by Blair's friend and skiing partner.

And don't forget the ongoing inquest into the shooting by police of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes.

Letting Blair go may have been enticing in the short term but it may prove to be a decision she and her successors will live to regret down the line.

In Monday night’s BBC Panorama programme, ‘The Secret Policeman Returns’, Mike Fuller, the country’s only black Chief Constable talks about how minority ethnic officers find it hard to get put forward for selection.

In justifying their action against the Met, the BPA talk about a recent promotion selection process where none of the 70 successful applicants were black, a situation that has persisted over the past three years.

Retiring as the most senior openly gay police officer in the UK, I had been lucky. I was able to keep my ‘difference’ a secret from my colleagues, at least initially and even when the rumours started, the Met’s promotion procedures during crucial periods of my own career were scrupulously fair.

They involved assessment centres involving a series of different people assessing the same candidate and ‘blind marking’ of written papers.

Such objective assessment has since been abandoned by the Met to be replaced by far more emphasis being placed on what your boss thinks of you, allowing the potential for subjectivity and discrimination.

From the ground floor up, much of the police culture focuses around informal networks, off-duty socialising and informal horse-trading.

Whether it is the team of street cops going to the pub after work - a place where many Muslim and Sikh officers feel uncomfortable - or senior officers thrashing out deals in the wine bars and restaurants around New Scotland Yard, as Fuller puts it: “If you’re not a member of the club…then you can find yourself excluded.”

Tarique Ghaffur and I would sometimes sit in his office bemoaning the fact that ‘they’ did not understand ‘us’, senior officers who were ‘different’. We felt that we were not being listened to, excluded as we were from the informal networks.

As a result, the only way we could get our point across was to go public, whether it was my proposals for a more lenient approach to cannabis or Ghaffur’s belief his department was being starved of cash.

While we were branded as ‘rebels’, it was the direct consequence of the exclusion we felt, the result of a culture that favours the straight white male and the exclusive circles he moves in.

Brian Paddick was Britain's most senior gay policeman rising to deputy assistant commissioner in the Met. He was also the Lib Dem candidate in this year's London mayoral race

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times