From a short list of three candidates I confess I was keen to see ‘soft cop’ Sir Hugh Orde win the contest to become the new Met Police Commissioner but now that the Home Secretary has appointed ‘tough cop’ Bernard Hogan-Howe instead I offer him my full support in his new and demanding post. With encouragement from the Platform editorial team I will use this article to offer him some advice.
First and foremost I want to offer advice about his approach to policing – what he likes to call ‘total policing’, a variation of ‘zero tolerance policing’ or ‘tough policing’ and what might be called his philosophy of policing if that is not too grand a claim. According to Philip Johnston writing in the Daily Telegraph, Hogan-Howe appeals to Conservative politicians because he is ‘a scourge of liberal judges and soft sentencing’; is ‘dismissive of the health and safety brigade’; and ‘believes in stopping crime and in keeping order’. ‘If you wanted a Scotland Yard chief’ Johnson suggests ‘who looks tough and talks tough (and isn’t Bill Bratton, the American favoured by David Cameron), then Hogan-Howe fits the bill perfectly’.
In truth, whether New Labour or a Conservative and Liberal democrat coalition, all governments strive to appear to be tough on crime and tough on terrorism and are bound to be drawn to Hogan-Howe, who as chief constable of Merseyside, ‘built up an impressive reputation for getting to grips with the city’s gangs and for tackling anti-social behaviour’.
So far, so good. Anyone who witnessed the recent rioting and looting in London and other English cities, will be pleased to have a tough, no-nonsense cop at the helm. However, whatever style of policing is adopted – tough or soft – it has to be applied fairly. My advice to Hogan-Howe is therefore to ensure that he is as tough on white collar crime as he is on street crime. As Jon Snow pointed out on the Channel 4 News this week, the publication of the Vickers report into British banking reform ‘sparks the question why the UK has so far failed to prosecute a single individual for his or her misdeeds during the financial meltdown of 2008’.
Many readers may have seen Snow press the City Minister, Mark Hoban, on why there had been no prosecutions of dishonest bankers by the Serious Fraud Office. It is easy to bear down on looters but Hogan-Howe will need to show greater courage if he is to tackle what Snow calls a far greater threat from bankers than ‘from any number of more arrestable rioters’.
Hogan-Howe will need to be equally brave if he is to be as tough on far right terrorism, political violence and intimidation as his predecessors have been on terrorism and political violence associated with al-Qaeda and fringe Muslim extremists. He will need to ensure that counter-terrorism policing takes full account of the threat posed by extremists who share the same ambitions as Anders Breivik if not – to date at least – the Oslo terrorist’s chilling skill.
And if the new commissioner accepts the Home Secretary’s view that young Muslims should be ‘prevented’ from becoming radicalised into ‘extremism’ then he should ensure that the same measures are applied to young people joining the English Defence League. Even handedness is essential.
Sticking with the EDL, Hogan-Howe should ensure that the group is treated as a threat to community safety, and repudiate colleagues and politicians who seek to excuse them.
Most crucially of all, Hogan-Howe should be tough and brave in standing up to the Home Secretary in defending Muslim organisations and groups she has wrongly branded ‘non-violent extremist’. He should support his police chief in Tower Hamlets who hails the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) stewards and youth workers in Tower Hamlets as outstanding partners of police.
By the same token, courage should be displayed in defending the outstanding work of Muslims in London who have helped to tackle the threat of al-Qaeda influence. With this being the topic of my new book Countering al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership , I have sent a copy to Hogan-Howe so he can see for himself how important it is to stand up for Muslim partners of police who are now being stigmatised by the Home Secretary as ‘extremist’. This is surely the kind of test that determines whether a police chief is really ‘tough’ or just selectively ‘tough’ on issues that play well in Whitehall, as well as with the Daily Mail and The Sun.
When Sir Ian Blair was Met Commissioner he was regularly attacked in the media for being soft and politically correct – especially in his treatment of Muslim communities. As a result, when Blair attended a conference on Islamophobia at the London Muslim Centre in 2007 he sought to appear ‘tough’. Much to the amazement of the conference organisers Blair began his keynote address by declaring that he did not think Islamophobia was a significant problem and that instead he would deliver a speech on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat – a version of a speech, he said, he had delivered in Italy a few days earlier.
I sat in the audience and after Blair finished his address turned to a police colleague sitting next to me and said that the speech was ill-judged and counter-productive. Somewhat exasperated, after five years of explaining to ACPO officers that there was a need to take Islamophobia seriously, I was forced to conclude that Blair’s speech was aimed at the Daily Mail and not at the audience he was addressing in Tower Hamlets. Hogan-Howe will need to be tougher than that.
I was not able to stay for the entire Islamophobia conference as I had to visit a London mosque that had been attacked by vandals the night before. As I walked away from the LMC, along the Whitechapel Road and past Altab Ali Park towards Aldgate East tube station I pondered a change in Blair’s attitude towards Islamophobia. I recalled how in July 2005 his staff officer telephoned me in relation to a front page report in The Sun newspaper. Typically, just days after terrorists inspired or directed by al-Qaeda bombed London The Sun explained to its readers how this atrocity was linked to Palestinian resistance by seizing on a planned visit to Britain by the academic Tariq Ramadan to make its case:
‘Extremist Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who backs suicide bombings, is to address a London conference part-funded by police..in our bomb-hit capital he is being given a platform to speak – while the victims of Britain’s worst terror atrocity wait to be buried. Ramadan is no ranting Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri. He’s more dangerous than that…He is a soft-spoken professor whose moderate tones present an acceptable, “reasonable” face of terror to impressionable young Muslims…’
In addition to the malicious targeting of specific ‘extremists’ such as Ramadan, Murdoch’s tabloids regularly stigmatise Muslim communities in Britain. According to research published on the sixth anniversary of the London bombings, the News of the World and The Sun have contributed to the creation of ‘suspect communities’ through reporting that fails to distinguish between terrorists and the communities where they live. Unlike some of his predecessors , the new commissioner will need to be tough on journalists too. Journalists, bankers and politicians as much as street thugs. That will be the real test of ‘toughness’ and courage.
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