Not for the first time, City Hall figures are asking whether Croydon’s representative, Steve O’Connell, is up to the task as a London Assembly member.
O’Connell yesterday made a desperate grasp for some political capital over the retirement announcement of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. But the Tory Assembly Member was slapped down later by the country’s top cop who stated publicly, more than once, that he was not being forced out of office by the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, as O’Connell had tried to claim.
And O’Connell, who was recently appointed as the chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee, demonstrated that he is not even in command of his own brief when later he issued a formal statement congratulating Sir Bernard on his five years of service, “including the riots in the summer of 2011”, even though the Commissioner was not appointed to his post until a month after the riots across the capital, including Croydon.
O’Connell’s conduct yesterday reeked of political expediency – and not very well executed expediency, either – and utter hypocrisy.
In eight years as an Assembly Member under Boris Johnson as London Mayor, O’Connell has sat on his hands as police numbers in Croydon, Sutton and across the capital have been cut under the Tories, while police stations have also been closed, including in Kenley, which he is supposed to serve as a Croydon councillor. O’Connell has much to be grateful to Sir Bernard and his senior officers for managing those cuts so well.
O’Connell, of course, was utterly silent in 2008 when Johnson, as Mayor, did intervene politically to oust Sir Ian Blair as Commissioner. It was the first time since 1890 that a Met Commissioner had gone before serving his full term: the previous early departure was James Munro, who resigned when his officers failed to catch Jack the Ripper.
When he announced his departure eight years ago, Sir Ian said, “without the mayor’s backing I do not think I can continue”. Yesterday, Sir Bernard made no such statement.
Indeed, he said that he and Khan have “an excellent relationship”, and he dismissed all suggestion that he was being forced out.
By announcing his retirement now, after the appointment of Amber Rudd as the new Home Secretary in the Conservative government, Sir Bernard is believed to want to move on “before his ‘power deteriorates’ in his final year”, as described by the BBC.
None of that bothered O’Connell yesterday morning, though, when he thought he might get his name in the newspapers. “It has been clear for some time that Sadiq Khan would push out Sir Bernard, not because he has a better option lined up or because Sir Bernard had failed at his job, but because Khan believes that doing so would make him look strong,” O’Connell said, overlooking the role of the (Conservative) Home Secretary in any appointment of the Commissioner of the Metropolis.
“This is the latest mistake by a PR-focused administration that will do nothing to improve the safety of Londoners,” said O’Connell, the professional politician who on the day when it mattered in Croydon – August 8, 2011 – couldn’t be bothered to attend a meeting to plan the action required to ensure there were enough trained and equipped officers on the streets of his own borough to minimise the rioting, arson and looting in the Croydon riots.
O’Connell’s clumsy attempt at grandstanding yesterday also highlighted the inherent conflicts in his appointment to head the Assembly’s police committee: in the morning, he was speaking as the Tories’ City Hall spokesman on policing, while by the afternoon, he was issuing a statement as chair of the cross-party group.
Then, O’Connell was far more considered: “On behalf of the Police and Crime Committee, we would like to express our thanks and gratitude to Sir Bernard for his service as Commissioner of the Met over the past five years. During his time as Commissioner, he has steered the Met thorough complex challenges, including the riots in the summer of 2011…”, which, of course, is inaccurate, “… the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the reduction of the Met’s budget.
“At a time of heightened threat of terrorist attack in London, Sir Bernard has been at the forefront of making Londoners safe.
“He has been very responsive to the committee and its work and we have had many helpful discussions in response to the issues Londoners care about. We look forward to working with him for the remainder of his time in the Met.”
Steve O’Connell pockets £73,147 a year in public cash as an Assembly Member and Croydon councillor.
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