Police will adopt a new code of conduct on stop and search powers. Photo: Getty
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Police adopt new stop and search code of conduct: analysing Theresa May's role

Tracking the Home Secretary's tenacity on stop and search is an interesting context for the police now having agreed to adopt a new code of conduct.

Police stop and search powers have always been a painful topic, both for members of Britain’s black population who are disproportionately targeted, and for government ministers, who never quite manage to stamp out both unlawful use and racial discrimination in the practice.

Today, all of England and Wales’ 43 police forces have agreed to adopt a new code of conduct on stop and search powers launched by the Home Secretary Theresa May. She insists that the police power is misused too often, and is therefore a factor in the breakdown of trust between the police and public.

These changes are being brought in after it was found by the Inspectorate of Constabulary that 27 per cent of stop and searches are not carried out on reasonable grounds for suspicion, and are therefore illegal. The changes also come after the discovery of the Equality and Human Rights Commission last year that black people are six times as likely to be stopped, and that this has been 29 times as likely in some areas.

Following the London riots of 2011, many argued that it was police misuse of stop and search powers that built resentment of the authorities in certain communities, and it has been a subject of much controversy both before and following the riots.

Politically, May’s role in curbing police stop and search powers is worth looking at closer. It is a subject on which the Home Secretary has been very vocal – and at odds with her seniors in cabinet – over the years.

She clashed with David Cameron over curbing the powers, as reported in January this year. It came out that May had been keen to announce sweeping measures to tackle police abusing their powers before Christmas of 2013, something that the PM apparently vetoed due to the risk of the Conservative party appearing soft on crime.

However, May has never quite dropped the issue, in spite of the perception concerns her party supposedly fears. She was unable to achieve her aim of having a curb of police stop and search powers incluced in the Queen’s Speech this year. Yet she has continued to battle for change, in April vowing to introduce a “comprehensive package” revising the powers after telling the Commons that a quarter of a million street searches in 2013 were probably carried out illegally.

At the time, though clearly having not managed to persuade Downing Street of the importance of reform, she told the House:

"I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen.

"Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.”

It is a tough one for the Tories, with many not wanting the party to seem soft, particularly with Ukip's criticism and questioning of its rightwing credentials mounting, and some on the other side arguing that liberalising stop and search is a way the party can extend its appeal to black and ethnic minority voters.

Although May will inevitably face accusations that Cameron has watered down her plans to curb stop and search in the announcement of today’s changes, due to the rather public reporting of her clash with No 10 on the issue, and disappointment from campaign groups who want the practice stopped altogether, it is clear that she has remained steadfastly up for the political challenge of reforms in this area of policing. A senior Conservative MP close to another cabinet minister once told me that there is a strand in the party who nicknamed the Home Secretary “Theresa May-be” because of her reputation for prevaricating over the big issues. Perhaps seeing her perseverance on stop and search, they’ll have to think of something new.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred