Northern Ireland has lessons on police governance for England

David Cameron was very lucky he wasn’t addressing the recalled Commons after a fourth night of serious violence. But government fortunes still greatly depend on what happens now on English streets.  MPs were able to  unite around the quickly accepted wisdom that the police went in too lightly for at least two nights, without making a tiresome and unhelpful political crisis over it. Of course if the rioting returns, the crisis atmosphere will return.

The champion of localism Simon Jenkins used the easing of tension to show a sense of perspective .

 Comment abhors banality and the smashed windows and fires that consumed a few London streets have had to be awarded deeper significance. London’s Burning, cried the headlines. It was anarchy, yob rule. The increasingly tabloid BBC compared Croydon with Belfast’s Falls Road, taunting the government to bring in troops, so as to make it seem weak for not doing so. The parallel drawn between a fractured Irish community and London’s suburban opportunists was hyperbole and media hysteria.


Well, I bet the Falls Road was a lot safer than Ealing Broadway the other night, but I take his broad point. In Northern Ireland I guess there are plenty of people of diverse opinions who are looking on enviously at the record of London arrests already. All the same it mustn’t be forgotten that NI is very different.  The roots of unrest remain very political even though the methods for dealing with it are to a great extent community based, as they are in England. Even though the depoliticisation of handling street unrest has progressed more slowly than we might have hoped – after all with a coalition Executive what political aim is there left to struggle for? – our system of police governance might be commended to the English who are badly divided over the Conservative plan for elected police commissioners.  A Policing Board with a majority of elected members  in proportionate numbers but with lay leadership, has much to commend it .

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  • The business community will remember the damage done to them this week against Cameron at the election [with any luck] and he’ll be turfed out on his ear come 2015, or even earlier if it carries on.

  • Cynic2
  • Brian Walker

    Manners please cynic. A few links don’t clinch the point.
    Costs are high partly due to DPPs and there are certainly failures in Policing Baord management and leadership. The point I clearly made was in favour of a balance between elected members to achieve accountability and lay leadership to restrain populism.I point to the leadership of Des Rea and Denis Bradley. Even if it’s decided to scrap the board now the J&P and devolved, it remains a good model for English police areas in my opinion..

  • Like it or not, somewhere deep in the DNA of NI there are unresolved political tensions. Those infamous (but now largely forgotten) “godfathers of terrorism” exploited just those factors. It took over three decades to put most of the genii back in their bottles.

    Meanwhile in England (and this has been a specifically English phenomenon) a very different rough beast stirs. Out of the corner of my eye, at that precise moment, on the desk before me I see the cover of The Spectator dated 30 July — two weeks old, but I’m a slow reader. The headline story is It’s all right for some … how Britain’s governing elite became isolated from the grim economic reality. Unfortunately the three linked writers inside do not match the prescience of the cover.

    Message begins: You cannot have unbridled adulation of “greed is good”, a bankers’ bonus culture out of control, ever greater social division, a rising generation of the underclass with no hope, without massive social tensions. That is not an excuse, nor even a partial explanation; but it is a self-evident truth. Message ends.

    As for Brian Walker’s essential point, I am also sceptical.

    If there was a case for elected police chiefs and local “sheriffs”, Boris Johnson has single-handed demolished it.

    He was elected in 2008 on a pledge to take personal control of the Met Police Authority. After a year he became bored with the responsibility: the need for “hands-on” detail became a chore. So he shuffled the job off onto Kit Malthouse — decent, honourable, competent, but never elected to the job. Anyone who has observed the doings of the MPA subsequently observes mainly the “democratic deficit”.

    Meanwhile Johnson had machinated, for the basest political motives, — largely to score cheap political points off a weakened Home Secretary — the resignation of Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. The Met are now on the third Commissioner (Acting) since Johnson took over. Blair, Stephenson, Yates … a sequence that continues down to yesterday and Fedorcio. Above all, London’s top coppers need to be very, very political creatures.

    If Scotland Yard was too close to the Murdoch corruption machine, so too was Johnson. Why was News International on contract to Johnson’s GLA for £1,702.58 a month? Could it be somehow connected to Murdoch’s attempt at a freesheet, The London Paper (which held BoJo in high regard)? Johnson returned the compliment to “my friend Rupert”: the two dined together every couple of months. Why did BoJo attend News International’s board meeting?

    I note in all that another difference between NI and the Met: at least in NI the Chief Constable has enjoyed support, not subversion, from the main political power. Neither Johnson nor Cameron have extended the same courtesy.

  • Brian Walker

    “Brian Walker’s essential point” is that elected police commissioners are a bad thing but that the NI Policing Board is a satisfactory mix of elected reps (accountability) and lay leadership ( stability).
    A good analysis of Boris I thought, pointing to the unsatisfactory split responsibility of Met governance between the Home Secretary and the Mayor, between parliamentary national government and big city local government by direct election, in which the pressures are different and can come into conflict..

  • ayeYerMa

    It’s idiotic to treat Northern Ireland as being any different. Thugs are thugs and should merely be treated as such – there was NEVER any excuse for any of the rioting or thuggery here.

  • Brian Walker @ 8:53 pm:

    Which is why I agree with Mr Walker: I am “also sceptical”.

    Apologies for not being clearer.

    The pattern for Police Authorities outside London is not greatly different in essence to that for NI. It has worked adequately for many years. For the record it is typically nine from the constituent local authorities (reflecting the political balance therein), and eight independents (worthies from the locality, to include three magistrates). As always in such matters, there is mystique about how the persons chosen are given the Home Office Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

    Quite why the Tories in opposition felt a populist (Poujadiste?) alternative was preferable is beyond me. My impression is the notion (like many Cameroonie whims) doesn’t sell too well in the bars of provincial Con Clubs. The House of Lords (vote of 12 May last) seem to take a similar view: again from idle chit-chat I’d gather that the example of BoJo went unstated but was taken as a dreadful warning — and that Tory peers (having been whipped to vote the Bill through) were none too distressed by the set-back.

  • An alien perspective on the shambles or a nail hit right on the head with the troubles highlighted for all to see. There is no leadership, only pretenders who have spectacularly failed at the helm of HMS Titanic?

    Ok … Time for some real plain talking after yesterdays pathetic fiasco of a House of Commons performance which saw all those apologies of public servants wholeheartedly agree amongst themselves to defer debate on, to cynically deflect attention and decisions and resources away from, the root cause of discontent for more of the same old nonsense that they are so good at ….. ineffectual reaction to the results of their serial incompetence. Quite why the nation and intelligence and security forces tolerates their squatting in positions and offices of power, is one of those enigmatic mysteries which is also asked of them here. Have they no valid and viable leaders who see through the nonsense being presented to media as government.

    There are whole nations starting to realise that their administrations are probably, all too easily, quite criminal and in league with fantasy money markets, to artificially inflate their bank balances beyond that which the public purse and ponzi credit scams and permanent debt schemes are designed to deliver and maintain/sustain.

    Westminster, the Mother of all Parliaments has lost the plot and runs with crooked intelligence, and the world knows, and sees right through such twits and toffs as are so full of themselves in their plays to the gallery and stalls and media with heroically empty rhetoric?

    Plan B please, Dave, or forever be realised as the complete wally who never saw the Great IntelAIgent Game Waves coming.

    The Arab Spring turns into a Naked Short Sell of an Anglo Saxon Autumn …. and that requires more of a SMARTer IntelAIgent Service response than pontificating media puppets, stripped and/or bereft of virtual intelligence services supply, can ever hope to present and deliver of the future.

    PS ….. It would be both negligent and naive, to the point of a criminal dereliction of duty and provision of care, to not imagine that the twin problems of studious ignorance and crass class arrogance endemic in present Western capitalist society models, will not very quickly explode and cause catastrophic mayhem and colossal financial losses, right at the top of the pyramid tree, should new intelligence not be embraced and used to boot up a New Global Operating System with Novel Virtual Drivers ….. which should be recognised for the APT Offer that it is and IT can deliver, rather than imagined as anything else at all sinister and/or something completely different.

    Please share and wire this APT Offer widely, for it is not a secret to be squirreled away from the light of day and human knowledge…… IT is paid for and free.

    Time for a Change ….. Enough is enough already, and already is it too much.

    cc Palace Barracks, Loughside.

  • ayeYerMa

    I think there are also some lessons for NI. Cameron was also talking yesterday about new “gang injuctions” and some new laws to tackle gangs. This is EXACTLY how Paramilitaries should be being addressed and treated in NI. They were never anything more than gangs and should be treated as such with the word “paramilitary” eradicated from the NI political lexicon.

  • “to restrain populism.I point to the leadership of Des Rea and Denis Bradley.”

    Brian, I left a message for Des Rea on one occasion complaining about Denis Bradley’s, er, populism – his playing of the Nationalist/Catholic card. I got a return call the following morning from Des, inviting me to outline my concerns. I pointed out to him that I felt it was inappropriate for such a card to be played, that I expected the chair and vice-chair to speak in a non-partisan manner, not as tribal representatives.

  • Cynic2

    “there are certainly failures in Policing Baord management and leadership”


    I am sorry and don’t mean to be rude at all but I do think it is nonsense and that view is not just underpinned by a few links. The report into the Board was devastating. Its a shambles. And what have the DPP’s achieved? Generally nobody attends them except people paid to do so!!!!!