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.

Daily Mail
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle