Over the last two days this week there has been the first and second reading of a political Bill that is clearly not fit for purpose and even if it included issues that were appropriate it was clearly something that is not well timed. The “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill” includes issues related to the protests and that is what many people including Sir Charles Walker who is the Conservative MP for Broxbourne are deeply concerned about. His view is expressed very clearly on that tweet from Politics for All but he stated it very clearly in Parliament on Monday and there was a response from Priti Patel
CW: This House criminalised the freedom of protest. It was this House—us—not Dame Cressida or the Metropolitan police, who criminalised the freedom to protest collectively. We are up to our eyeballs in this. Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that now is the time to decriminalise freedom of protest—not tomorrow, not next week, but this afternoon or this evening? Let us get people back on the streets and allow them to get things off their chest again. Protest is a safety valve.
PP: I understand entirely the sentiment that my hon. Friend has emphasised this afternoon. The Prime Minister has laid out a road map, and I appreciate that my hon. Friend would love me to say right now, “Let’s just do this and change things immediately,” but we are still in a pandemic and we are following the guidance that has been put in place. Obviously, it will be subject to debate over the next week or so, and I am more than happy to continue to discuss this with my colleagues.
What is fascinating is that she is willing to discuss it with her colleagues when in fact she should be discussing it with people who are not her colleagues but who understand the issues very much better. Along with the challenge for a small number of well connected Politicians in the same party as Priti Patel such as Charles Walker, there are far more in other parties but of course the lack of numbers means she will ignore them. Other much more disturbing challenges are arising in the public spaces but of course Ministers are very distant from such situations as they demonstrated over the weeken. This piece in todays Times Newspaper comes from an interview with Sir David Thompson who is the Chief Constable from the West Midlands. It is very clear that the Chief Constable for the West Midlands is facing exactly the same challenges as Cressida Dick and indeed the Chief Constables in a range of Police Services including in Sussex. The debate that has been taking place here in Sussex directed at senior police officers from their external advisors including MPs and Councillors is clearly matching very clearly the article from David Thompson. Because he has been put into a piece in the Times I can only see the first few sentences but they are very clear.
One of the country’s most senior police chiefs has urged the government to relax restrictions on protests, saying that police could not win when it came to enforcement at events. Sir David Thompson, the chief constable of West Midlands police, said officers were unfairly criticised for being “either woke and over-tolerant or cracking down too hard”. Thompson, whose force is the third biggest in England, said the current regulations should be “quickly realigned”, adding that a rethink was needed before the end of lockdown rules in June. Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, has faced calls to quit after police arrested women at a vigil for Sarah Everard at the weekend. Smaller vigils were held around the country. In Birmingham, about 100 people.
There have been several vigils in Brighton over the last week and at least one of them was much bigger than the 100 people from within the West Midlands. The reality is that rather than a Chief Constable needing to raise their concerns in the Times that the Police and Crime Commissioners across the UK and particularly in the settings where there are events taking place should be able to raise these issues both privately to Priti Patel and publicly. The fact that they are not her colleagues indicates that her comment is wrong However that will never happen in a coherent way because sadly we have party politics in the PCCs and whilst that was never intended back in 2010 when David Cameron first proposed the PCC role, the fact is that he then ignored his own plans. Let us hope that whatever happens in the next few weeks that in May, there will be a significant increase in the number of Independent Police and Crime Commissioners across our nation so that in the future the political objectives of Priti Patel and future Home Secretaries regarding policing can be challenged by all of the PCCs without any sense of which party they are members of.