28 November 2013
One hundred years ago last month, on Oct 14th, my father’s father Thomas Jones was killed in the Senghenydd mining disaster, along with 438 other men and boys. It's still the worst industrial accident in the history of these islands. It left my grandmother Polly a widow with 7 children, including my Dad, Percy, who was 8.
The mine owners paid out something like 26 pounds in compensation - in total. And my Dad then grew up in abject poverty. He and one of his brothers used to share a pair of shoes - one of them got to wear them each day to walk to school.
After the First World War, when my Dad left school, rather than work down the pit that had killed his father, he and a brother walked all the way from Abertridwr, South Wales, to London to find work. They slept in Hyde Park on benches until the Salvation Army found them and fed and sheltered them.
My Dad found work in London as a cook, then moved to Brighton with another job, where he met and married my mother, Christine. She came from a staunch Labour Party family. Her granddad Will Evans had been the first Socialist (no Labour Party then) Councillor on Brighton Council in the 1890’s, a strong supporter of Trade Unions.
During the Second World War, my Dad was a cook with the RAF while my Mum painted railway engines. When the war was over, they moved into a council house in Moulsecoomb, a suburb of Brighton, which was part of the Homes Fit for Heroes project. I grew up happy and secure, with my brother Allan, not realising we were quite poor – the last in our road to get a fridge or a phone or a TV.
Having known hard times, my parents were big fans of the Welfare State. They both knew a Britain where it didn’t exist. So my upbringing was full of gratitude and awe about free education, free medical care and an understanding that you have to help the most vulnerable in society because that’s a mark of civilisation, how you help the poorest.
I’ll skip over my next 40 years, which were marriage, two wonderful daughters, some travelling, archaeology and a very great deal of deep green politics, and say that I am astonished to be here. Considering I have done nothing but talk abolition since my appointment, I have received a warm welcome, for which I am grateful.
On the issue of this debate, I’d like to say trust in the police has always ebbed and flowed, but Plebgate has caused a flurry amongst even the usual supporters of the police. Even the middle classes are saying, if the police could do something like this to a Government minister, what chance does a working class youth on a council estate have?
I published a short report this year which looked at the levels of trust amongst young Londoners and the Met. It was marked that they differentiated between different bits of the Met – local police were mostly accepted, but the TSG was heartily disliked. The young people talked about ‘bully vans’ and how the TSG would come into their streets, cause problems, then leave the sorting out to the local police.
The worst reaction seemed to be as a result of stop and search. Although most young people could see some use in it, even to make them safer, they disliked the way it was done. Again and again, the Met managed to mess things up because they didn’t show professional politeness and didn’t communicate properly.
My years of Met scrutiny, first on the Metropolitan Police Authority and subsequently on City Hall’s Police and Crime Committee, have led me to the conclusion that the police’s biggest problem is communication. If forces could communicate better, then they would hear more useful intelligence from communities, get more support on the streets, and fewer attacks in the press, which would raise morale internally and improve the public’s confidence.
For example, recently I complained that the Met was reducing its training of armed officers. Now that really is an area that you would think needed the highest level of training – there are already enough incidents, we don’t want more. But when explained to me, the training had reduced slightly, but it appeared generally to the benefit of officers and their skill. But the Met hadn’t bothered explaining the changes. They hadn’t communicated properly, which wasted my time, their time and got them unfavourable publicity.
And then there’s the undercover police, spying on and sleeping with their targets in various environmental organisations. Remember these targets are people – women – who are innocent of any crime. And the officers have intruded in their lives to an astonishing degree. One of them even fathered a child. The Met seems strangely mixed up on this, the Commissioner telling me that the Met never authorises such activity, while in court the Met lawyers are saying the opposite. This needs clearing up quickly.
Of course this seat I’ve taken here is courtesy of the Green Party, whose members voted for me and whose policies I shall do my best to promote.