First woman chief at Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard has its first woman Commissioner and nearly 15 percent of the Metropolitan Police in London are from ethnic minorities.

Progress is being made. Policing in England is no longer so vulnerable to accusations of chauvinism and racism – even if it has taken more than 40 years since the then commissioner, Robert Mark, set true representation of the population as one of the Force’s prime objectives.

And what a tribute it is to the British police that they still routinely go unarmed. Guns are only used when there’s a need to confront armed criminals or terrorists. The officer who breaks up a street fight on a Saturday night is likely to have only a truncheon as a weapon, probably not even a taser.

How long can that last? Certainly not another 40 years.

Of course, not everything in the “nick” is rosy. Another 40-year comparison shows that the manpower of the “Met” (Metropolitan Police) is pretty much at the same level in 2017 as it was in 1977. Meanwhile, cost-cutting is reducing the number of civilian support staff and causing the closure of some police stations.

That retrenching has been offset to some degree by the adoption of better technology. But that in itself works two ways – cyber crime and the use by terrorists of computers for communication and weapons guidance are threats that did not exist back in the day.

In my novel, Beyond the Last Hill, I look back to 1968, a time when the front line was a “bobby” on the beat, and a sergeant (instead of a civilian worker) at the reception desk.

Today, the front line is “response” – in the same manner that the fire and ambulance services are reactive, rather than pro-active.

Despite the changed scene, I have as much confidence in the British police now as I did in the old days. Mostly, they are dedicated, efficient, and their watchword is restraint. What they do quietly every day is admirable. It’s only when something goes wrong, or is alleged to have gone wrong, that they burst into the media.

The average tenure of a Commissioner is five years. During that time, the new incumbent, Cressida Dick, will face more pressure on budgets, more accountability, headline-grabbing blunders and misdeeds by some of her officers, and some sort of spectacular crime.

And today the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism has warned that the threat of terrorism is at its highest level for nearly 50 years.

You’re a brave woman to take on the job, Cressida. All power to you.




Happy faces of every colour

“In fifteen or twenty years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to Parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s Office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London…

“…We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some fifty thousand dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre…

“…As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.”

The extract above from my book, Beyond the Last Hill, is fact within a fictional story.  In 1968, politician Enoch Powell’s speech gathered up all the racist hysteria in Britain and handed it a legitimacy. The shorthand for those last quoted words was that he was predicting “Rivers of Blood”. The impact on the public shock gauge was somewhere just short of scientific evidence that the world was going to end.

It was at a time of mass immigration from the West Indies and Africa. And that was no invasion. Union power was bringing British industry down. Overmanning in heavy industry meant there were too few indigenous workers in the bottom-end jobs like hospital porter and bus conductor. Britain went on a Commonwealth recruitment drive and many thousands from the West Indies and Africa accepted the invitation.

They arrived in the old country only to meet rampant prejudice, signs on boarding houses saying “no blacks” and race riots in the streets.

As an Englishman, I am delighted to say that is all in the past. It won’t take you long to spot a black person hand in hand with a white and an Asian joking with an eclectic mix of others. Not long ago, I saw about 20 people waiting at a bus stop. There were turbans and burqas among them. Nobody’s eyebrows twitched. Those people saw themselves as equals.

I don’t deny that there are pockets of racism in this country and sometimes it is really nasty, but it’s the exception, not the norm. On the whole, Britain is a content melting pot,

How did we make the transition from bigotry to acceptance? I think there are three reasons:

1 – During the 1950s and 60s,  there was a shock wave. A country with few blacks and Asians started seeing them on every street. it caused the confusion and alarm that always comes with mass immigration. As the years have rolled on, the Brits have re-discovered their usual tolerance and acceptance.

2 – The magnificent success of the immigrants.  Most of them came here for menial jobs, but many of them and their descendants have pushed themselves up the ladder, making it unsurprising to see an ethnic mix in high-profile roles.

3 – Our welfare state – designed to treat everybody equally in housing, healthcare and education. It automatically jumbles people up, so that there are few white or black ghettos.

My profound sympathies to all those immigrants who suffered so badly in the early days. I’m so glad it’s better for you now.


The score is Tree-Nil

A county council has apologised after trees were planted on a football pitch.

Aberdeenshire Council (Scotland) said the intention was to turn over part of the area for “biodiversity” – but talks would now be held with the community.
A spokeswoman said of the site: “Anecdotally it was rarely used. However it is clear now that the community were not engaged with this plan.
“There are full pitches immediately next to this area for community leisure use and the trees will remain on this site until we can come to an agreement with residents.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.”
On social media, people were quick to poke fun at the situation.
One person wrote: “Are they playing tree a side?”