Should liberal-lefties back Sir Ian Blair?

2:30 pm - November 9th 2007

by Paul Linford    

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As the row over the findings of the De Menezes inquiry rumble on, it is clear that most of the support for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair remaining in his job is coming from the left. While the right and centre are at one in their calls for him to quit, the Labour establishment, from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, is adamant he should not.

Why is this? I am as convinced as I can be it is less down how they view the merits of the case and more down to tribal loyalties. Sir Ian is seen as “Labour’s man,” and more generally as a force for “modernisation” and “reform” in a force that, not so long ago, was found to be institutionally racist. Therefore he must not be allowed to be forced out by nasty reactionary elements.

Clearly Sir Ian himself seems to view things in this light. It’s almost as if he sees the case as less about whether anyone should be seen to take responsibility for the tragic death of an innocent man and the systemic failures in the Metropolitan Police which led to it, and more about a much bigger battle between the forces of conservatism and the forces of liberalism, a battle in which he sees himself as being on the side of the angels.

But in my view, both he and and his supporters are wrong. To base one’s view of this matter on the internal political ramifications for the Met, or even on the ramifications for policing in London, is to lose sight of a much more important issue of principle – the fact that restoring trust in public life requires that those at the top start taking responsiblity for their actions.

Sir Ian Blair’s removal – and in my view it’s a matter of when, not if – may well result in him being replaced by a more conservative figure – a “copper’s copper” as they are known in the shorthand. But if that helps restore a culture of accountability to our public life, it will ultimately be a larger victory for the liberal-left.

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About the author
Paul Linford is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a digital publishing manager and former Parliamentary Lobby journalist where he was political editor of the Newcastle Journal for seven years. He has an 18-year career in newspaper journalism and lives in Belper, Derbyshire, with his wife and two children. A committed Christian, his faith informs his own belief in progressive politics and the view that a society must always be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. His eponymous blog combines a mixture of the personal and the political and has become particularly renowned for its commentaries on liberal-left politics. He is also a leading voice in support of an English Parliament and other democratic reforms. Also at: Paul Linford blog
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Reader comments

1. Innocent Abroad

Well, it’s obviously a fallacy to suppose that Blair is the only copper in the country who could deliver his agenda, as Darren Johnson points out in to-day’s Grauniad.

But is it a resignation issue? Occasionally, police cars run over innocent people; people die in custody for want of proper medical care, but we don’t jump up and down demanding Chief Constables’ heads on those occasions – where’s the difference between that and the De Menezes case?

Broaden it out. If a child dies in care, should the Leader of the Council concerned quit as a matter of course? Should top management be culled every time there’s a fatal train crash?

The question surely is, do we believe that Blair has put in place systems to prevent a repeat performance. If we think he has, he can stay. If we think he hasn’t, or believe he thinks he doesn’t need to, then he needs to go.

Well, the Labour party are supporting him, though I’m not sure we can see Jacqui Smith as of ‘the left’. I agree with the post though, he should go.
I’m not convinced keeping him on because of this ‘modernising agenda’ is viable.

3. Margin4 Error


Blair, like anyone in any job, should be sacked if he has committed an act of gross misconduct. And I’m not coninved he has. Certainly the investigations don’t seem to suggest that.

For those in power its a different matter though. They would struggle to sack a man (or have him stand down) knowing they would then have to work with his replacement. They need the new man to have confidence in them as well as the other way around.

So we can’t expect the government (labour now but perhaps tories next time) to ever turn on a copper while in power.

4. AlisdairCameron

“Sir Ian is seen as “Labour’s man,”–politicisation of the police force is NOT a good or liberal move.

” and more generally as a force for “modernisation” and “reform” in a force that, not so long ago, was found to be institutionally racist.”
–a) he may be, but is not the only such policeman
–b)his actual competence must be called into question. Incompetent reform is not better than slower or lesser but effective reform. More pointedly, the jury is very much out as to whether his modernisation extends beyond self-aggrandising PR
–c) how modernising or reformist is smearing a casualty of police mistakes, deliberately feeding false information to the press and public (‘jumping’ the barrier etc) obstructing an investigation (by the IPCC)? At least in these tactics he is a (New) Labour man

“Therefore he must not be allowed to be forced out by nasty reactionary elements.”–like a stopped clock, even David Davis can be right on occasion. Furthermore I think you’ll find that an awful lot of people on the left-liberal side of things back his departure.

I simply fail to see how backing someone in the face of a court’s findings and those of an independent investigatory commission simply on the grounds that ‘he’s one of us’ (allegedly) is in any way liberal or indeed moral.

Oh, and Innocent Abroad, the combination of Blair himself making misleading statements to the press, and the sheer scale of the systemic failings found by both the court and the IPCC make this very much an instance where the chief must carry the can.

“But is it a resignation issue? Occasionally, police cars run over innocent people; people die in custody for want of proper medical care, but we don’t jump up and down demanding Chief Constables’ heads on those occasions – where’s the difference between that and the De Menezes case?”

It isn’t the fact that the police shot an innocent man in stressful circumstances, bad as that is. It is the fact that rather than face the problems present in their operational procedures that day, they tried to change the story to excuse their manifest flaws. They tried to cover it up:

If the police attempt a cover up over something as important as this, that calls into question whether they can be trusted to protect us at all.

One of the things I find hard to understand is the consensus that’s emerged that the officers at the scene were entirely blameless. We’re continually invited to sympathise with them as frontline staff doing a difficult job, as if somehow they were village plod or community wardens operating well out of their depth, instead of the highly-trained ultraspecialist professional crisis-handlers they usually purport to be.

We expect – no, we NEED – armed antiterrorist police to be able to remain calm under extreme pressure, to make snap judgements on the basis of their own observations and act accordingly. Particularly when communications have broken down, it’s imperative that they can exercise their own judgement as to who is and is not a valid target, rather than just being taken over by a red-misted desire to execute the last order given.

It’s equally imperative, for all our sakes, that officers whose judgement in such circumstances is proven to be dodgy – to the extent, remember, that an innocent journeyman sparky was shot seven times in the head while already immobilised – should be held personally responsible for that failure. It’s no more than the flipside of the medals they’d have received if they’d got the right guy after all; and even with an innocent man dead, if the narrative Sir Ian Blair gave the media had been true – with the padded jacket, and the running away and all the rest of it – a reasonable jury might still have been minded to acquit.

But that whole version of events was a pack of lies. And for that reason alone, whether he lied deliberately or was fed misinformation from below, Blair too must be held culpable.

7. Innocent Abroad

Hmm, not sure I buy into the “Blair doesn’t have to go because of the death, he has to go because of the cover-up” argument. If it could be shown that he made press statements that he knew to be false, I’d agree – it seems more likely to me that he decided not to inquire too closely into what he was being told, preferring to accept the version operational staff gave him. That was a misjudgment, rather than culpable misbehaviour.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying he should stay or he should go, rather that the decision should be taken in the light of what he has learnt from the affair.

Is there really still a debate going on about this? Where do you even begin with the number of reasons why Ian Blair should either be sacked or forced to resign?

Firstly, within an hour of shooting of de Menezes, he illegally attempted to stop the IPCC from investigating. In the IPCC’s own words, this attempt to stop an independent investigation only harmed the Met in the long run. That alone ought to be a resignation matter.

Secondly, despite almost everyone other than himself knowing by the end of the 22nd of July that an innocent man had been shot dead, including his own secretary, he remaining completely oblivious to that fact until the following morning. Either that means that are huge communication problems within the Met or other higher-ups didn’t bother to tell him, for whichever reason. He simply wasn’t in control on the day in question.

Thirdly, he has presided over a police force that could have made clear to the public that the story which emerged in the media and which continued until part of the IPCC’s investigation was leaked to ITV was completely and utterly untrue. Those following de Menezes all stated that he was wearing a light denim jacket, as the IPCC report makes clear. Somewhere along the line this was concocted into a “bulky jacket”, with the witnesses who saw the police vaulting the barriers chasing him mistaking them for him, something the police could have corrected. Despite de Menezes never being asked to stop, the story was that he had either ran from the police or that he had disobeyed orders when he did neither. Again, the police could have corrected those reports. Instead, they included all those incorrect details in their own press releases. We wouldn’t have known the truth about what happened until the health and safety trial if it hadn’t been for the leak.

Fourthly, not content with the above smears on de Menezes’ character, Ian Blair personally decided to contest the health and safety prosecution when others urged him to plead guilty. The prosecution case was so damning that the Met’s defence was left to resort to further smears and lies, putting together a misleading comparison between Osman and de Menezes, claiming that he failed to obey orders when he did not and that he might have done so because he “thought” he had drugs on his person when he did not.

Fifthly, Blair has since then refused to accept the IPCC’s and judge’s conclusions that this was a corporate failure, claiming that what happened on that day was not “systemic”.

Forget all the other arguments about what he’s done for London, whether he’s a “liberal” cop or whether the alternative might be worse, if he doesn’t resign or be sacked for any or all of the other above reasons the police is quite simply utterly unaccountable.

Good piece. I agree that the left gets this point wrong far too often. There probably is a whispering campaign against him by a bunch of unpleasant freemasons, but he failed on the most basic level in how he handled this and a senior police officer should not be allowed to get away with trying to orchestrate a cover up.

10. douglas clark

This is a terrible thing to say.

An innocent man was shot to death, and, frankly, that isn’t the issue.

The issue was the attempted cover up thereafter. We heard lie after lie about the events – leaping barriers, puff jackets – we had spin over a tragedy.

We had Cressida Dick, who was directly in charge of this, promoted. As if the death of an innocent weren’t a black mark in the Metropolitan Police. Maybe two innocent deaths gets you the jackpot.

We had the IPCC denied it’s role with Government approval.

This is a Police Force, and a government, that has lost the plot. That thinks we are stupid, or at the very least forgetful.

I can’t quite see how him staying can be best for the force. Ultimately this isn’t about him, its about the Met. Something went horribly wrong- I think that from what I’ve read and I’m not aware of the detail there was an organisational problem or series of problems- then compounded by a problem with how the Met dealt with it. Ultimately the Met’s reputation is one of the strongest things in its armoury against terrorism- I’m not entirely sure how the Met’s reputation can be strengthened by months of stories about Sir Ian. Nor am I sure that the world will collapse if he doesn’t leave- arguments about personal indispensibility cut little ice with me- there can’t be only one man in the Police able to carry out these reforms. Therefore I agree Paul, and think Sir Ian should go.

If Blair doesn’t go, the modernising agenda will be tainted by his involvement. De Menezes was the final, fatal, straw.

There are only two Green Party members of the London Assembly but they have split on the issue of Sir Ian Blair – Darren Johnson voted ‘no confidence’ while Jenny Jones voted against. See her explanation in The Independent:

14. Susan Francis

“he decided not to inquire too closely into what he was being told, preferring to accept the version operational staff gave him” (Innocent Abroad @7)
is supposed to be a reason not to get rid of him? On a serious matter like this, for a senior position, that’s either:
a level of incompetence that no organisation can afford;
a willingness to engage in plausible deniability that we should never tolerate. He’s supposed to work for us (the public), for crying out loud. Get somebody who knows where the buck stops.

15. gordons gofer

I won’t back him, not because of the failiures on the day of the shooting but becuase of teh defence later mounted by the met in which they tried to suggest that the Brazillian somehow brought it on himslef. Disgusting

I’d like to know when the police were given the power of summary execution on suspicion alone – can’t find it in Hansard.

Blair should resign, not becuase an innocent man has been murdered, the police seem to make a habit of murdering the people they claim to protect, but becuase his first instinct on the day of the events was to defend his staff and to repeat no national and interntational media oulets the lies his staff were feeding him, e.g. John jumped over the ticket barrier, was wear a rucksac etc. Until the management of public insitutiuons are prepared to acknowledge that they have things to put right and that their staff are capable of making mistakes they are not the right people for the job.

18. Geordie-Tory

Of course you Lefties should support Ian Blair, you only had to hear Brian Paddick’s rave review of him on Question Time the other week, lauding his committment to “Diversity” and “Inclusivity” (and of course, no mention of actually catching criminals, god forbid!).

Everything, and I do mean everything that has gone wrong in Policing and Law and Order under Labour is epitomised by Blair, namely the politicised police forces and skewed priorities of police forces.

If you need a crack team to go in and run a “Diversity” seminar Ian Blair and Brian Paddick are just the type of Politically Correct Stormtroopers you need, if there’s a real civil emergency or criminal to be caught, god help ya!

…….Indulge me a moment please:

…..Sir Ian Blair is transported by Time Machine back to the time of Sir Robert Peel’s “Bobbies” (Clearly far too sexist and paternalistic a term!) to run the force ‘properly’; of course, London in this time has crime issues Jack-the-Ripper and Gin-alleys, but let that not distract from the real issue confronting a true “Lefties-Copper” like I-B namely the instutional sexism (attitude to prostitutes, flower sellers etc) and racism endemic in the Peelers, thankfully there is a copper out there who knows how to run a diversity seminar.

With Kim-Brown-ill pushing for 56 or 90 days detention without trial purely as a populist political stunt (or Government-by-Daily-Mail-reader if you will!) would you trust the police to have such powers, with crass, political incompetents like Ian Blair at the helm?

Paul, he can’t go – he could spill the beans on 7/7 and he has too many powerful allies. He’ll go when he’s ready or when they have another groomed to take over.

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