Police stop and search a protester in the Westminster area. Photo: Getty Images
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The Met has three tests to pass on Stop and Search

Tessa Jowell and Doreen Lawrence write on what the Met can do to ensure Stop and Search works for everyone. 

Two weeks ago, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe announced plans to increase the amount of targeted Stop and Search activity in London. While nearly everyone recognises that Stop and Search is an important tool for police officers to fight crime and reassure the public, it’s also clear that - when the power is not used properly - it can undermine trust in the police.

The overall use of Stop and Search in London has fallen under the current Met Commissioner. That is recognised as a good thing by young people in London, and has gone some way to improving relations between the police and black and minority ethnic communities. But following the Commissioner’s latest announcement, the Met must improve the way in which it uses its powers so as not to provoke mistrust between communities and the police.

For the last six months we have been speaking to young people in London affected by Stop and Search, either personally or through their friends and family. Together, we have published a report which makes three key demands of the Metropolitan Police. These demands are designed to ensure that Stop and Search is used in a way which builds, rather than undermines, confidence and trust between young people and the police. And remember – everyone benefits from increased trust, the police just as much as the public.

The first demand is about the use of body-worn cameras. The Met is rolling out the use of these cameras over the summer. Used properly, they could be a means not just of fighting crime but also of improving police accountability. But if they are not used properly it will undermine trust.

The Met must be clear that these cameras will prevent crime and serve citizens. There is no room for complacency. If the cameras are seen as just another tool in the armoury of the police, then they will do nothing to improve community relations.  Rather, they will erode trust and undermine police effectiveness. Officers must be required to record continuously all interactions that they have with the public during Stop and Search and Stop and Account. The Met have not yet published full guidelines on how and when body-worn cameras are to be used, potentially leaving this to the discretion of individual police officers.

Secondly, the Met must take immediate action to investigate and address the inconsistent use of Stop and Search slips. These slips – which are supposed to be issued for every Stop and Search as an official record of the police offer’s interaction with the individual – are not currently being issued properly. The young people we spoke to frequently pointed out that slips were not always offered after a stop. This makes it harder for people to prove they were stopped or to make a complaint.

Finally, it is only through independence in the training of police officers that the Met can prevent a culture of complacency and antagonism of young people. The Met should open up the way in which police officers are trained, ensuring it involves communities, and particularly young people, in design and delivery. And training should be overseen by an independent training provider, not just delivered in-house.

There is more that should be done. We need an increase in black and minority ethnic representation in the Met. For people to trust an institution or organisation, they need to feel that it represents them, that it looks like them. But currently, 40 per cent of Londoners are black and ethnic minority compared to just 15 per cent of police officers. The Met must more accurately reflect the population of London.

We need to keep a permanent watching eye on police and community relations through an annual review. And we should have a real, community-led Know Your Rights campaign which uses all mediums to make sure young people are aware of their rights.

Above all, we need the Met and City Hall to maintain an unflinching focus on building trust and respect. The pressures of fighting crime should never lead to a situation where the police are seen to be outside of the community. They must police communities with consent – by, of, for and with the people. We want to see the Met put trust and respect at the heart of their use of Stop and Search.

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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.