Lessons to be learned about the police, the press and a wrong politician

Giles Marshall 10.55am

At the time of Andrew Mitchell’s regrettable outburst of temper, I commented on the distinctly dubious behaviour of the police themselves. My concerns were that - once again - police records had allegedly been leaked to newspapers with impunity, and that the Police Federation was engaged in an unedifying witch-hunt against Mr Mitchell. It turns out that the affair may have been rather more sinister.

Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme reported that a key witness to the altercation had not in fact been present and was, moreover, a serving police officer rather than an ordinary member of the public.

The fact that this ghost witness’s version of events matched the report contained in the police logs - which was fully leaked to the Daily Telegraph - implies a conspiracy between more than one officer. The Police Federation’s iniquitous involvement, and their partial account of a meeting held between Mr Mitchell and West Midlands police officers, has further added to the sense of conspiracy.

The Met is now conducting its own investigation into what seems a thoroughly sordid affair. It is worth remembering that some of the sympathy for the police came because in the same week two police officers had been shot and killed in Manchester, reminding us of the perilous situation many dedicated policemen and women put themselves in on the public need.

It is also worth remembering that, but for the Manchester tragedy, we might have been a bit more focused on an earlier display of police cover-up and malicious leaking after Hillsborough.

The Police Federation launched an overtly political campaign to discredit a serving Cabinet minister because they disagree with the policies being pursued by that minister’s elected government. The Metropolitan Police failed to investigate why a police log was leaked to two newspapers, even though the Leveson Inquiry had already established an undue cosiness in the relationship between the police force and the press to the detriment of appropriate police confidentiality.

Channel 4’s programme - produced, by the way, in a statutorily regulated broadcast media - has raised serious questions for both the Met and the Police Federation.

If it is true that members of the Diplomatic Protection Squad have engaged in a slanderous conspiracy to remove a Cabinet minister, then heads absolutely must roll.

Mr Mitchell eventually resigned for his outburst, while denying consistently the alleged content of his outburst. He appears to have been a wronged and maligned man. More than one police officer should now be under threat of dismissal, with likely court actions as well, if we are to regain any sense that police integrity might be able to be restored.

As for the Police Federation, its appalling behaviour should render it redundant altogether. But there are questions too for the unregulated print media, who slavishly published the police version of events and gave little credence to Mr Mitchell’s. Not much sense there that a free media is engaging in the fearless investigative reporting that we are so constantly hearing about from bleating editors. Apparently, it takes the regulated broadcast media to do that job.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Hands up: who understands the PCC elections?

Timothy Barnes 10.41am

Across England and Wales last Saturday, small groups of volunteers were working to help candidates in the first election for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which will take place tomorrow, 15th November.

I was in Cambridge for a couple of hours, helping Sir Graham Bright in his bid to become PCC for “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”, so covering the City of Ely, where I was born and raised. Sir Graham’s campaign was supported by local councilors, party members, Cambridge University students and not one, but three MEPs: Vicky Ford, Geoffrey Van Orden and David Campbell Bannerman.

Asking around my friends on Monday morning, I was struck by how few people seem to be aware of the elections, and even less of the candidates, in their areas.

Turnout everywhere is expected to be low, so much so that at this point 20 per cent might be considered a good result. Regular listeners to the Today programme would be aware of issues that have made it difficult for independent candidates to stand - such as relatively high deposits (£5,000 versus the £500 for a parliamentary election) - but are probably ignorant of what PCCs will actually be able to do, or why anyone thinks we need them. Like so much of the media, Today has covered perceived problems with the principles of the PCC elections, rather than the issues that those elected might be expected to deal with.

There will be no vote in London, where the Mayor already has oversight of the Metropolitan Police. It is possible that London-based journalists and news outlets have covered the story less than might have been the case had London been involved, but that can’t account for the lack of excitement in most local media. It is true that many local papers have covered basic information on candidates through interviews or profiles, but there has been little debate about their plans or coverage in the editorial pages that would have more usefully served their readers.

The result is that most voters are fairly apathetic, many are ignorant about the role, and a good number are factually wrong about what they believe will happen.

In Cambridge, a reasonable proportion of the people to whom I spoke were unhappy with what they saw as the politicisation of the police. They saw election of PCCs as an unwanted involvement of elected representatives in the way the police service is run. However, most were unaware that local politicians, usually councillors, already sit on Police Authorities, which currently oversee police activities. What is more, their concerns seemed to be more about whether PCCs would be able to interfere in police investigations rather than issues over priorities of local policing, support and other topics that the candidates are campaigning on.

I am not aware of any candidate in these elections, whether party-backed or independent, who has not pledged to fight for politics-free police investigations and support for front-line policing. But there are things that PCCs will be able to do that will effect the lives of ordinary people and those voters should be able to express their views at the ballot box having received more information.

In Cambridgeshire, there is a budget of almost £140 million for the local police force and the elected PCC will have a strong say in its priorities. Sir Graham is looking to find ways to separate the oversight of the police from their day-to-day activities and intends to move the oversight function of the PCC out of the existing police headquarters building creating a clear division between the two. He also hopes to support local organisations that support victims of crime, such as rape crisis groups and crime prevention schemes, including the NFU’s FarmWatch, which helps protect rural communities, a major issue for much of Cambridgeshire beyond its three cities.

Other candidates have different spending and policing priorities that voters might prefer but it is hard for anyone to make an informed choice with so few views having been given a decent airing or subjected to much public or press scrutiny. I have met with similar comments when making telephone calls on behalf of candidates in Cumbria, Derbyshire and elsewhere across England.

Anyone seeking elected office needs to rely on the media to help spread word of their activities and policies. This is particularly true for independent candidates, who lack access to an active supporter base used to running campaigns, distributing leaflets and contacting voters. That has not happened here and while it is understandable that some people object to the very idea of electing PCCs, that does not change the situation: there will be an election for them on Thursday and voters should have been better served in learning about the candidates and their policies.

If you want to know more about any candidate in the PCC elections, the Home Office websites has a complete list of candidates. http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk

Follow Timothy Barnes on Twitter @timothy_barnes

Andrew Mitchell’s foolishness is only a small part of the Government’s bigger image problem

Giles Marshall 11.11am

Andrew Mitchell is an arrogant fool who should have kept his mouth shut, adopted a bit of humility and did what he was told when he left Downing Street on Wednesday night.

He might thus have saved himself and the Government a good deal of trouble, but the fuss over his alleged outburst  is indicative of much deeper and more serious problems.

First, there has been an extraordinary sea change – yet to be fully remarked on I think – between the Tories and the police force. From the time of the Bobbies’ formation by the Tory Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, there has been an almost symbiotic relationship between the police and the Conservative party. It reached its apogee under Margaret Thatcher, but in the mere two years of the Coalition government it seems to have all but collapsed.

Theresa May was booed at the Police Federation conference, and the Met’s Police Federation Chairman, John Tully, has lately wasted no time in taking every media opportunity possible to condemn Mr Mitchell.

Now Mr Tully is an intensely political individual. The issue at stake is not so much to do with the way in which policing is conducted. It is far more to do with perceived threats to police pay and conditions. Yet whatever the cause, the Conservative party has opened up a front in their war on public servants that even their most pugilistic leader in days past never dared to.

And the police are only the start of the problem. All over the public sector, the Government is now regarded with little other than suspicion and even loathing.  Mr Cameron’s fine words about school sports during the Olympics were – for teachers – hollow sentiments expressed by a man who had presided over the denuding of school sport with such apparent complacency. Meanwhile, Mr Hunt is going to have to bind himself closer to health service professionals than he was even to the Murdochs if he is to have any chance of winning some of them over.

The “public school snob” is the unwelcome description being ascribed to Andrew Mitchell, and there is a real danger for the Government that this becomes more generally applied to them all.

Despite the fact that Michael Gove, for instance, was educated in the state comprehensive sector, or that Mr Cameron himself relied enormously on the NHS during the years of his first son’s health difficulties, the perception persists that this is a team of ministers that sees public services as being only for the poor and non-coping.

It is a disastrous perception. It widens the gap between the governors and the governed to an unacceptable level. Mr Mitchell’s outburst, meanwhile, suggests a sense of entitlement and superiority hardly merited by actions.

Mr Mitchell has made a further statement this morning, which has hardly closed the lid on the matter. Yet I believe that this furore will subside soon enough, with or without his resignation.

What is less likely to go away is the lack of empathy between Mr Cameron’s Government and the people. The recent reshuffle was more ‘lurching to the right’ than appealing to a centrist majority. If he wants to have any chance of recovering the political narrative and being re-elected in 2015, he should return to the modernising roots that served him so well in opposition, and hang the rightists.  Battles with his own right-wingers are infinitely preferable to battles with the wider British public.

Giles is a teacher and a former chairman of the TRG. Follow him on Twitter @gilesmarshall

No Cabinet minister deserves to stay in post more than Theresa May

Giles Marshall 10.24am

John Reid, now Lord Reid, used to be Tony Blair’s ‘man for all seasons’. Regularly shuffled around key ministerial posts, the ebullient Scot was Mr Blair’s blunt, aggressive point man.

Yet even Reid was aghast on arrival to the Home Office, memorably describing it as “not fit for purpose”.

Great office of state it might be, but this ministry has long been seen as the graveyard of greater and lesser political careers. Of those lesser, it buried one of Gordon Brown’s more bizarre appointees and the first woman to hold the office, Jacqui Smith.

However another woman, Theresa May, could now be gradually revising a role that is supposed to lead to failure and frustration.

One of David Cameron’s strengths as Prime Minister has been his willingness to maintain a stable Cabinet team. For all the angst this can cause lower down the political greasy pole, the undoubted benefit is seen in a maturing grip on their departments by a number of reform-minded ministers. Amid the mire of local elections, polls and poor Budgets, it is easy to forget just how radical this Government actually is.

Education and health are prominent briefs where reform - of the effective, root and branch sort - genuinely is taking hold, thanks largely to their Secretaries of State, Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley.

But it is Theresa May who has been the quiet toughie, and is beginning to show her true quality, tenaciously pressing for reforms on many levels at the catastrophic Home Office.

Granted, it does not always feel like that. The Abu Hamza extradition case looked badly handled; it was followed by one of the frostiest receptions ever afforded a Home Secretary at the Police Federation conference.

Nonetheless, consider this. First, Mrs May acted upon the collective wisdom of the Home Office’s lawyers when pursuing Hamza’s extradition. And whatever ire she felt for it, she calmly took responsibility for the decision, refusing to pass blame, and doggedly continued to pursue the result that most Britons wanted to see. It was a textbook case of ministerial responsibility that has become so sadly rare in recent years.

Second, in facing down the Police Federation, Mrs May was taking on one of the most powerful vested interests in Britain, believing correctly that policing has to change. The Police Federation is a union in all but name and acts in the way that all public services unions act. They seek to preserve inefficient working methods for the good of the lowest calibre of members, rather than seeking to create a bridge between professional delivery and public expectation. The country’s police forces remain highly regarded, but not uniformly so. I joked to one non-political friend that Theresa May had better hope she didn’t suffer a burglary or suchlike, as she might not be able to rely on police support. “Just like the rest of us then,” my friend replied, not entirely cynically.

Theresa May continues to challenge Home Office shibboleths in her demands for changes to judgements on deportation made against foreign criminals living in Britain. The weight of the human legal establishment is set to come down on her, but does anyone seriously doubt either the necessity for such changes, or their popularity?

Theresa May proved that she is a politician with iron in her soul when she challenged the Conservative party, as its chairman, not to relish its role as the ‘nasty party’. She spends her time mastering her brief rather than pursuing it for personal PR - and sometimes this can rebound on her. However, she is a formidable and capable operator, unafraid of challenging vested interests in pursuit of reform.

For all his dislike of unnecessary changes to his Cabinet, Mr Cameron shall soon find himself having to organise a reshuffle. Let us hope it is limited. Whoever is shuffled, the Prime Minister should keep his maturing reformers in place. And no one seems to be earning the right to carry on more than the dogged, flak-carrying Home Secretary.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

PMQs review: Score draw but the Prime Minister’s arsenal is worryingly bare

Jack Blackburn 2.08pm

The Government’s fortunes and the composure of its ministers have crumbled over recent months, though it is worth noting that the Leader of the Opposition’s polling numbers have still not managed to match his party’s.

So as we arrived at the first PMQs since April we found a leadership vacuum, created by a Government in disarray, a Prime Minister under pressure from all sides, and a Labour party leader seemingly unable to act like a leader.

This PMQs also took place in a very different context to the last. Disastrous local election results (London’s Mayor aside) for the Coalition parties still sting. The national economy seems to have tumbled into a double-dip recession. We are being badly buffeted by continuing turmoil in the Eurozone, where an anti-austerity Frenchman has just taken up residence in the Élysée palace and Greece is crippled by political upheaval.

To use a recent (and for me painful) sporting illustration, the leaders were level on points going into today’s match, with Mr Miliband ahead on goal difference. This was a mid-term fixture rather than an end-of-season cliff-hanger, but it as was scrappy, messy and confused as the Premier League’s climax, if nowhere near as exciting too.

Mr Miliband has plenty of arsenal at his disposal at the moment. Dreadful growth figures, unhappy nurses, protesting police officers, the controversial Leveson Inquiry, electoral reverses and the seemingly changing political breeze in Europe should have meant that Mr Cameron was in for a torrid time at the Despatch Box. Nevertheless, there was a crumb of comfort for the Prime Minister today in the form of falling unemployment.

Mr Cameron began by using this to his advantage, welcoming a question from his own backbenches, but stressing (as all the Cabinet has done this morning) that the Government is not complacent. There is more to be done. Etcetera. And for once, Mr Miliband also welcomed good economic news, but was quick to try to press home some advantage by questioning what discussions the PM had taken part in with President Hollande about growth plans for France and Europe.

The answer could have simply been, “Well, haven’t really spoken to him since he was elected.” So Edward suggested a text message with “LOL” in it would probably be sufficient. Uncharacteristically funny, and well delivered.

In fact, Mr Miliband’s entire style of performance has improved immensely. He is calm, considered and no longer whiny. Nonetheless, Mr Cameron remains an adept performer himself, and responded strongly: “I may well have used my mobile phone too much, but at least as Prime Minister I know how to use one rather than just throw it at those who work with me”. The Rt Hon Member for Kirkcaldy was, as usual, nowhere to be seen.

Mr Miliband was indeed more impressive today, though still blew it by failing once again to capitalise effectively on the Prime Minister’s all-too-evident woes. He left the economy debate too quickly, so eager was he to cram in questions on policing and nurses, while also failing to pose a question on his sixth time of coming. The eyes were bigger than his abilities.

Yet Mr Cameron also fumbled the ball today, particularly with his final response to his opponent, when he attempted to criticise Labour’s new policy supremo John Cruddas as someone too close to the trades unions. At moments such as those, one realises just how little ammunition the Prime Minister has at his disposal.

It is simple: we cannot allow the offensive and malicious Ken Livingstone back into City Hall

Craig Barrett 11.39am

Polls polls polls! "Boris lead narrows!" "Ken less popular than his party!" "Boris more popular than Tories!" "Only 12% of people believe that Ken is honest!"

While opinion polling has become much more sophisticated, anyone who watched the 1992 general election coverage on Easter Monday would know that only one poll matters: when you enter your booth and wield your pencil (unless you live in Tower Hamlets, of course).

With just one week to go until the election for London’s mayor, the current polling serves only to allow campaigners to twist and spin to whatever advantage possible and to remind people (like me) that we should be doing more to help.

I feel a bit sorry in some ways for the London Labour party. They have had a candidate forced on them who seems to owe no loyalty to them barring the right to campaign under their banner and deploy their activists for his own ends.

Had Labour picked someone else, Mr Livingstone, who believes the mayoralty his divine right, would have run as an independent candidate as he did in 2000.

Mr Livingstone’s campaign is a goulash of undeliverable policies, bold but inaccurate pronouncements about his Tory opponent, and craft attempts to shift the media’s focus away from his own activities. It is not so much that Mr Livingstone is a stranger to the truth, it is more that lying and smoke-screens come easier to him.

To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that he has no power to restore the EMA, or that the TfL ‘cash mountain’ is intended for investment rather than fare giveaways. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that the only experience he has to validate his comments on Boris Johnson’s tax affairs comes from his own hypocritical tax avoidance. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that what spews from his mouth is offensive to one group of Londoners or another.

Mr Livingstone has given us no compelling reasons to vote for him; no policies on which any Londoner can be certain of his delivering. His crony-aplenty, wasteful record in City Hall speaks for itself.

Contrast that figure with Boris Johnson, who has actually delivered on his promises - whether policing, sustainable housing, tax freezes and others - and whose plans are both costed and practical.

But above all else, consider two vital points. First, I am not old enough to remember Mr Livingstone’s reign as leader of the Greater London Council but I know enough to understand it for what it was: a publicly funded one man crusade of self-justification, with money poured down the drain to embarrass Mrs Thatcher’s government or to challenge its actions in the courts.

The Mayor of London must speak for the city with an independent voice, but they must also be able to co-operate with central government to ensure the best for the city. For at least the first three years of the next mayor’s tenure there will be a Conservative politician in 10 Downing Street and while Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron may not be close personally, they do at least have a mutual understanding and interest.

Boris Johnson is a doughty fighter who has regularly exercised his inherent independence to seek the best for London. Mr Livingstone’s egomania and pathological hatred of the Tories will mean that were he to be elected next week, it would be the start of at least three years of pitched battles on meaningless fronts, all paid for by London’s rate payers.

Second, and perhaps most important, Mr Livingstone’s public utterances over the past few months demonstrate the type of man he is.

Whether suggesting that a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham ought to “burn in hell…and…flesh be flayed for demons for all eternity”; whether suggesting that gay bankers in the Middle East could be mutilated; whether suggesting that London’s Jewish population is too rich to vote Labour; or whether simply another cheap insult at a critic, Mr Livingstone appears oblivious to the effect of his own words.

It is not good enough for the Labour party to say “Ken is just being Ken”, or words to that effect. Mr Livingstone is no Jed Bartlet, and the fact that many in the Labour party are doing their best to distance themselves from their own candidate shows the whole strategy is a farce.

In a few months, the eyes of the world will be on London and other cities around the country as Britain hosts the Olympic & Paralympic Games. Boris Johnson may be gaffe-prone but unlike Mr Livingstone his gaffes are rarely offensive and certainly not malicious. We in this great and historic capital city cannot afford to have as our mayor a man who appears to set his stall deliberately to offend others.

For this reason, above all others, I urge you to back Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Let’s make restorative justice a reality in 2012

Robert Buckland MP 2.53pm

Having worked for many years in the criminal justice system, prosecuting and defending in criminal cases, I am acutely aware that the trial process does not - and cannot - address the problems faced by victims of crime.

Since my election to Parliament in 2010, I have taken an increasing interest in restorative justice and how it can play a bigger role in the criminal justice system in the UK. Restorative justice can help turn lives around for the offenders and aid the healing process among victims of crime.

Restorative justice allows a victim of a crime and the offender to meet face-to-face, enabling both of them to play a part in finding a positive way forward. The practice, already being used across England and Wales in our schools, workplaces and in parts of the criminal justice system, can empower victims and communities to come to terms with their trauma and may also help to reduce crime by making offenders understand the impact of their actions.

In the immediate aftermath of the summer riots up and down the country last year, it was clear that far too many of those involved in the rioting and looting were young people.

In the debate held following the recall of Parliament, I encouraged the need for making those responsible come face to face up with the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done. I suggested this to be a good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.

I was very pleased to be part of an inspirational meeting held at the Pilgrim Centre in Swindon one Friday evening in November last year, organised by my local Quaker group.

Quakers are committed to working for peace and justice through nonviolent social change. Quakers seek to practice peace at all levels, whether being active in disarmament or promoting mediation among children.

It was an excellent evening and I was pleased to see that there are many local people in Swindon, in the Council, in schools, in church groups and the police who are committed to restorative justice. We all agreed that there were excellent examples of restorative justice methods being used in Swindon by the police and the Youth Offending Team, and that more work should be done to spread its use.

In the House of Commons, I asked Nick Herbert MP, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, about the steps the Government is taking to increase the use of restorative justice. I took this opportunity to raise awareness of the effective use of restorative justice procedures in Swindon by both the youth offending team and the police, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution.

The Government has specific plans to support the invaluable work being done locally. The Minister assured me of the Government’s commitment to delivering more restorative justice across the system. The Minister agreed with me about the value of the work in Swindon in not only providing enhanced victim satisfaction, as victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process, but also in reducing reoffending rates.

Last month, I met Lizzie Nelson from the Restorative Justice Council. The work of the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police was highlighted; they have been doing some useful restorative justice work in response to the riots.

Greater Manchester Police as a Force is very pro-active in the use of restorative justice. In November 2011 they resolved over 600 crimes using these methods. While the restorative justice work has been slower than anticipated and the Force have not been able to resolve as many cases as they would have liked given this method, there is tentative progress being made, with one offender having agreed to a conference and another using a ‘shuttle method’ with a second offender. This can only help both the victims and also the offenders face up to the severity of the crimes committed.

The Government is considering how they can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder. Funded by the Ministry of Justice and implemented by the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), the Government has also recently introduced a register that lists all qualified practitioners of restorative justice - a process where offenders meet their victims and hear about the pain they have caused.

The Government will also be piloting new Neighbourhood Justice Panels, where local residents, properly trained and with advice and support, will be able to bring victims and wrongdoers together to deal with local problems in a way that gives them a real say in the outcomes for their communities. I am delighted to say that Swindon will be one of the pilot areas.

The great thing about restorative justice is that victims are never forced to go through the restorative justice process. The wish to meet the offender has to be led by the victims themselves. Currently many victims of crime who want to meet and confront their offender have to fight very hard against entrenched practices in some of the agencies that purport to offer welfare. I am keen for Swindon to be used as a beacon for restorative justice practices and am pleased that the Swindon Youth Offending Team and the Neighbourhood Team are already well engaged in these practices.

I believe that momentum is starting to build around restorative justice issues. Between November 2011 and February 2012, there was media coverage of restorative justice issues that almost reached 40 million people. An ICM poll, commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust, showed that 88 per cent of the public felt that a restorative approach was an appropriate response to the UK riots. Books such as Belinda Hopkins’ The Restorative Classroom show how thinking on restorative practice in schools can make a difference.

In conclusion, it is about all of us, you and me, and how as a society we work together to tackle the problems and conflicts that we face. Let’s make this vision more of a reality in 2012.

Robert Buckland was elected MP for South Swindon in May 2010.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertBuckland

Boris Johnson and the Angel in the Marble

David Cowan 10.15am

Boris Johnson is the darling of the Tory grassroots. From the pulpit of his Telegraph column he has hurled bread to his Tory base. His support for tax cuts, higher police numbers and his stance on Europe reveal a populist streak. He has earned the affection of ordinary Tory voters in a way no other Conservative politician, including David Cameron, has managed.

That is not to say Boris Johnson is a Tory ideologue. He is a very much a Tory pragmatist who has tried to appeal to the liberal metropolitan London electorate with substantial increases in the London Living Wage, criticism of housing benefit reform, and support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Appealing to the outer suburbs will not be sufficient for a successful re-election campaign. Getting out the vote will be his first priority and that means he has to appeal to a very broad range of people.

This approach has risked making attempts to identify Boris Johnson’s political philosophy like nailing jelly to the wall, but his appeal to the traditional Tory base and the wider liberal metropolitan electorate has been reconciled by the man himself:

“I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country. I want London to be a competitive, dynamic place to come to work.”

This is reflected in his impressive record as Mayor (see my earlier blog here), with greater investment in public infrastructure, falling crime rates, and the freezing of council tax. But Boris seems to lack a singular, large achievement that people can easily identify.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone has developed his own narrative by attempting to transform the Mayoral Election into a referendum on ‘Osbornomics’.

Boris Johnson’s personal popularity and impressive record may be enough to secure a second victory but it will do very little for the Conservatives in London. Polling puts the party well behind Labour. This may well mean that the Conservatives will lose the London Assembly but, more seriously, it will also mean a lack of support in the London constituencies that are needed to win the next General Election in 2015, such as Hammersmith.

Boris Johnson must use his time in power to see the Conservative voter in the London electorate as a sculptor sees “the angel in the marble”, as the Times claimed Benjamin Disraeli once did. There are limitations to the Mayor’s powers, but the key to establishing a wider Tory base could lie in his ‘One Nation’ vision.

One of the basic foundations of ‘One Nation’ conservatism has been the ‘property-owning democracy’, as popularised by Anthony Eden and first made a reality by Harold Macmillan’s ambitious 1950s housing programme. Boris Johnson could take this one step further by establishing a new generation of property-owners, and therefore more likely to vote Tory, by implementing a Right to Own scheme, as proposed by five Conservative MPs in ‘After the Coalition’.

Under the Right to Own scheme tenants of social housing would have an automatic share in the equity of the property which they could then choose to sell onto the open market. The equity owned by the tenant would then be used to help pay for a new private property and thus begin to climb the private property ladder. The rest of the money from the sale of the property would then go to the new ‘mayoral development corporations’, which will replace the London Development Agency, and be invested into new modern social housing to meet ever increasing demand in London. This would drive down housing prices and open up access to private property in London’s deprived areas, thus increasing the number of property-owners in London.

Coverage of this year’s mayoral election will inevitably focus the personalities of Boris and Ken. But Conservatives cannot lose sight of the long-term future of the party in London. A new generation of homeowners, supported by efficient infrastructure, effective policing and a prudent City Hall would provide a new Tory base in London from which to secure an overall majority in 2015.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

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