Policing review to be set up by Labour


Click to follow
Indy Politics

Labour today sought to position itself as the party of law and order, launching a review of policing policy headed by a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The party's annual conference was addressed for the first time ever by the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, who told delegates that officers felt "greatly unloved" by the coalition Government.

Mr McKeever's presence at the Liverpool conference, where he shook hands on-stage with leader Ed Miliband, sparked criticism from Conservatives.

And Mr Miliband himself had to fend off criticism from the business community following his speech yesterday in which he pledged to use tax and regulation to take on "predators" and "asset-strippers".

Former Labour trade minister and CBI chief Lord Jones branded the speech "divisive and a kick in the teeth" to business.

But Mr Miliband took to the airwaves in a series of TV and radio interviews to insist that his approach was "not anti-business but anti-business as usual".

He denied making a lurch to the left, insisting that Labour would remain "firmly in the middle ground of politics", but added: "The middle ground is changing."

His "new bargain" with the British people would involve breaking with the political orthodoxies which have held sway since the Thatcher era, and were left largely unchanged by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Lady Thatcher created "a culture, an ethic, an idea that as long as people maximise their short-term interest everything will be okay in business and elsewhere", he said.

"It was wrong and it has turned out to be wrong. It has caused problems for our society.

"We have got to choose as a society: do we change it or do we carry on as we are? Do we say, 'we had this banking crisis but it was just a little local difficulty' or do we take a long hard look and have a new reckoning and things do have to change?"

Mr Miliband dissociated himself from elements in the conference audience who jeered Mr Blair's name yesterday.

But he made clear he is determined to step out of the shadow of the two New Labour prime ministers, saying: "The Blair/Brown era is over for Labour. I am new, I am in charge and I am going to do things my own way."

The Labour leader was forced to confront long-standing questions about the way he presents himself, after being asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether he worried that people saw him as "weird".

He insisted he was "a pretty normal guy", but said he did not "give a damn" about jibes about his image and believed he could win over voters with the substance of his ideas.

"The problems our country faces are so serious that substance matters, and I have got an old-fashioned view - substance wins out," he said.

In the conference hall, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper announced she had invited former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens to lead an independent inquiry into "the crime challenges of the 21st century and how policing needs to adapt and respond".

Ms Cooper - who broke off from the conference to visit the scene of the Kellingley mine tragedy on the edge of her Yorkshire constituency - told delegates that the inquiry would take the place of a royal commission on policing demanded by officers which the Government had refused to grant.

Echoing Mr Blair's promise to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", she said that the decision showed that Labour, and not the Tories, was the true party of law and order.

She said: "The Tories claim to be the party of law and order but look at the facts: every Tory government since records began has seen crime go up, not down.

"Tories in government do not cut crime. In the end, they just don't believe in the things you need to do, they don't believe in active government, they don't believe in strengthening society."

Policing minister Nick Herbert said Labour's pledge to set up an inquiry was "an abdication of any kind of political leadership".

Speaking to the Police Foundation in London, Mr Herbert said: "The fiscal challenge is urgent, there's no time for delay. There is little use setting up committees of wise men if you don't even acknowledge there are problems to be solved."

Mr McKeever - a serving sergeant in the Met whose federation represents rank-and-file officers - accused the Government of "playing fast and loose" with the public's safety by cutting police numbers.

"We feel greatly unloved, I have to say, and greatly left to our own devices," he said.

"We believe that the Government doesn't understand us and there is a constant denigration of what it is that we do. We find that disgraceful."

Mr McKeever won a standing ovation, but his presence in Liverpool was slammed by Conservative MP Lorraine Fullbrook, a member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee.

"I was disappointed that McKeever, who has complained of politicians 'playing political games', used the platform to attack Government reforms needed to improve policing," said Ms Fullbrook.

A spokeswoman for the Police Federation said Mr McKeever was appearing at the party conference in an "apolitical" capacity.