26th March: I’ll be there!

As you know, I have previously emailed you about my candidacy for the Labour nomination to stand for the GLA Barnet and Camden seat in next year’s London elections.

I thought I’d let you know that I will be taking time out from my selection campaign to join with my union, the GMB, on the TUC National Demonstration against Cuts on Saturday 26th March.

I hope you will be able to come too, as we must show the Conservative-led Coalition Government just how out of touch they are with their cuts to public services, greater than those even the Thatcher government of the 1980s dared implement. If you cannot make it, I am sure you will be with us in spirit.

In many respects, this demonstration also raises GLA questions, and not just about the cuts in services that the GLA is also making. The policing of demonstrations by the Metropolitan Police is very much an issue for London and Londoners, with the Met. being answerable to the GLA for its actions.

It may be hard to believe, but it is the duty of the state (and thus the police) to facilitate peaceful protest, not obstruct it. When I was still an MP, I chaired a major inquiry into the policing of protest. Our inquiry was extended to include the lessons to be learned from the G20 protests of almost two years ago. During the inquiry I also held discussions, at his request, with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary (the national police inspectorate) to ensure he was aware of the direction our inquiry was being taken by the evidence we received, and he very much shared the concerns we were identifying.

Having taken evidence from all concerned: protesters and protest groups, police and journalists, and many others, we produced two hard-hitting reports on what had gone wrong and what needed to be done to prevent recurrences, to avoid  peaceful protesters’ rights not being respected and to avoid injuries to both protesters and police.

After our reports were published, I organised and chaired a conference in Parliament which included ministers, ACPO (the police chief’s organisation) and the inspectorate. The outcome was that our findings were accepted: the style of policing of peaceful demonstrations needed to change, the law was too vague and police training was inadequate. It was agreed there needed to be better communication between the police and protesters, and that policing had to be proportionate to the protest itself.

The reports were laid before Parliament in a debate which I led, just over a year ago: you can read my speech here. Generally, until the recent student protests, policing was done more proportionately, and it now looks like the police have recognised the importance of ensuring that they do not slide back and are adopting a more consultative approach for the 26th March demonstration.

Returning to the GLA selection, I hope you agree that the kind of scrutiny of the police and others that I demonstrated as a select committee chair, investigating effectively these kind of events and problems, and producing recommendations, is the kind of experience and skill we need in our GLA member.

Please take this into account when deciding who to vote for in the selection contest, when your ballot paper arrives in early April – and I hope to see you on 26th March.