Why the Met needs to hear from the Mayor

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Damned if they do, damned if they don't. The Metropolitan Police must be reeling from the reaction to last weekend's Notting Hill Carnival. After years of accusations of heavy-handedness in their dealings with London's black community, they now find themselves in the dock for undue leniency prompted by political correctness. Against a background of two murders, 19 stabbings and 60 hospitalisations, senior Met officers were accused by rank-and-file representatives of turning a blind eye to carnival violence with a "softly-softly" approach.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't. The Metropolitan Police must be reeling from the reaction to last weekend's Notting Hill Carnival. After years of accusations of heavy-handedness in their dealings with London's black community, they now find themselves in the dock for undue leniency prompted by political correctness. Against a background of two murders, 19 stabbings and 60 hospitalisations, senior Met officers were accused by rank-and-file representatives of turning a blind eye to carnival violence with a "softly-softly" approach.

Meanwhile, one Met officer, Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, looks to be in line for a sizeable settlement from the force - after a tribunal found that he had been victimised during an inquiry into racist hate mail. The refusal of Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve to apologise to Sgt Virdi - claiming that "it is not appropriate to apologise part-way through a legal process" seems only to have fanned the flames.

The fall-out from the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder continues, both in London's police force and in the wider community. After all this time, nobody quite seems to be able to define adequately what "institutional racism" is, and how it can be eliminated. Certainly no one can have expected overnight improvements from Macpherson - particularly after the then Met Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, refused to release the tension by resigning.

Nevertheless, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, along with John Grieve's racial and violent crimes task force, has attempted to change the Met's culture by increasing ethnic recruitment. Later this month, every one of the Met's 25,000 officers and civilian staff will be issued with a 129-page handbook aimed at increasing their awareness of racial sensitivities. These are welcome developments. They need support, not least from London's new mayor.

Ken Livingstone, not hitherto famous for his silence or his tact, has yet to pronounce on the events of carnival - or offer his suggestions on a way forward for policing of carnivals-to-come. The people of London snubbed the conventional politicians in May by electing citizen Ken to the mayoralty. Now the unconventional politician needs to prove his mettle by imaginative thinking - not the knee-jerk political correctness with which Ken has for too long been associated.

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