Monday, September 10, 2007


Brian Paddick: He’s Not the Messiah, He’s a… Very Distinguished Police Officer

Today, the London Liberal Democrats announce their shortlist of potential candidates for London Mayor. I don’t know who’s applied, let alone been shortlisted, but there’s a candidate I’m taking a gamble on supporting… Despite not yet having met the guy, and the likelihood that, if shortlisted, he’ll be the only candidate without a long Liberal Democrat record. If all this makes me sound like the worst sort of fact-free blogger going off into fantasyland (and I sometimes am), there’s something remarkable about this potential candidate: he was a senior police officer with an outstanding, liberal, controversial record. He’s Brian Paddick.

Unlike the subjects of my profiles last year – Ming Campbell, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes and David Laws – I’ve never met Brian Paddick, and I don’t really know what he’s like as a public speaker or his views on a lot of the issues. And it’s quite possible that the shortlist tomorrow will have brilliant candidates I don’t expect; it’ll certainly have Liberal Democrats I know and can, in more ordinary ways, feel more sure of. But I would be gobsmacked if any of them could have anything like the impact on eight million people, from a standing start, that I reckon Mr Paddick can. The two obvious pools of high-profile talent are our London MPs and our GLAMs. Well, after our best-known, best-loved, and probably most hard-working London MP came to grief last time, it’s no surprise that none of our MPs seem to want to do it. And none of our London Assembly Members look to me like they’ve been trying to run for it. Be honest; have any of our GLAMs made such an impact? The only one who did, and now our only MP who’s previously been a member of the London Assembly, is Lynne Featherstone. In some ways, she’d have been the obvious candidate – and, after she was one of the people I hoped in the last year or so might stand for Party President or Deputy Leader, I might have been very torn if the choice had been between her and Brian Paddick… But it isn’t. In fact, when her name came up on a poll of potential candidates on Lib Dem Voice, she suggested people vote for him in the poll instead.

Leave It To Ken and Boris?

Another Liberal Democrat attitude I’ve heard – behind closed doors, perhaps, but it’s what a lot of people are thinking – is that ‘Ken’s going to win anyway, and whoever we stand will get outspent, drowned out and pushed out, so why humiliate ourselves?’ Well, there are three answers to that. First, if we abandoned every campaign in which the smart money would be on us coming a glorious third, we’d have packed up and gone home… Oh, at least thirty years before I was born! And we’ve been on pretty much a constant up since then (NB: I had very little to do with it, though). This is the biggest directly elected job in the country, and we would be mad not to stand. The second, after sheer bloody-mindedness / finding that where we work, we often win despite the odds (take your pick), is that if we don’t choose someone for ourselves, as well as admitting we don’t matter (‘cheers for that,’ says every Lib Dem candidate actually standing anywhere), it invites the question every day until the Mayoral election: ‘So, are you backing Labour, or the Tories?’ The last answer is the most important, and it’s to do with why we bother standing even at those times when we feel it’s a lost cause. I live in London, along with eight million other people across 32 boroughs. And if you want to leave all of us to the Ken and Boris Show, you can f*** off!

Ken Livingstone has achieved quite a bit, of which the Congestion Charge is the most obvious example. But he’s also a bullying egomaniac who puts the Labour Party ahead of Londoners, and Ken Livingstone ahead of the Labour Party. Pretending our GLAMs can hold him to account is, I’m afraid, a pipe dream. He doesn’t believe in accountability, openness or letting anyone else have a say, and the typically control-freak, top-down system Labour devised gives him the thumbs-up for that. Of the 26 people making up the Greater London Authority, one has about 90% of the power concentrated in him or her. It’s not how I’d have designed it, but unfortunately, the Mayor is the bit of the GLA that really matters.

In the last Mayoral election, our candidate was Simon Hughes. Previously, Susan Kramer had run an excellent campaign from a starting point of total obscurity, and nearly beat Frank Dobson, puppet candidate for the smaller split of the Labour Party. Simon was well-known, well-liked, passionate, charismatic… And finished on 15%, just 3% ahead of Susan despite a much greater profile and a much greater growth in our opinion poll ratings between the two elections. So what went wrong? A radical, anti-establishment MP failed against two anti-establishment-seeming politicians from two bigger parties supported by more vested interests. The fact that Simon is more genuinely anti-establishment than either didn’t cut it; he’d have done far better against bland machine politicians, but even Labour and the Tories weren’t stupid enough to try that. He was squeezed into oblivion, and the world’s blandest manifesto didn’t help. That’s why I breathed a sigh of relief when the possibility of Lembit Öpik receded. Like Simon, I know him, I like him, I admire his work and I even sometimes agree with him. But he’s an MP for the middle of Wales, and if what Londoners really want is a carpetbagger who’s funny on Have I Got News For You, sorry, Lembit, but Boris Johnson is a bit closer to London, a bit funnier, and a bit better-known. So where else do we find a ‘name’ that can put up a fight so as not to get squeezed out?

Not Your Typical ‘Celeb’

The answer is to field a candidate whose background is outside politics. Now, ‘celebrity’ candidates often seem like booster rockets that run the risk of exploding shortly after take-off. The SDP by-election bandwagon piled up at Darlington when its TV presenter candidate couldn’t answer questions without a teleprompter. David Icke became as big a millstone to the Green Party as he was once an asset. And UKIP had the misfortune not just of Joan Collins endorsing them, then announcing she had nothing to do with them, but of Robert Kilroy-Silk, the unthinking man’s David Owen. Thankfully, unlike all of those people, Brian Paddick would be a well-known candidate who’s not an actor or presenter, but who’s actually achieved something. And, unlike a lot of ‘stunt casting’ options, he’s unlikely to fall apart under pressure; he’s already taken more questioning and had a tougher media ride than almost any other Liberal Democrat could have nightmares about, from his policing strategies, to his private life, to speaking daily for the Met at televised press briefings after the London bombings on the 7th of July 2005. Will he go ‘off-message’? He’s got a history of it, and thank goodness for that. Will he disagree with the Party on some issues? Almost certainly. But if we wanted candidates who’d stick absolutely to the party line, we wouldn’t have selected Simon Hughes last time. I can’t promise, then, that Mr Paddick won’t go off the rails. But that’s not a promise that can ever be made of any politician – even, in some cases, the most terminally dull.

The other big drawback to someone in Mr Paddick’s position is that he feels like an interloper. Liberal Democrats don’t like people who parachute in and declare themselves the messiah, still less the sense that the high-ups are trying to push him on us. So there are bound to be Lib Dems who’ll oppose him not on his own qualities, record or proposals, but on principle. I might have joined them, but I did a little bit of research to see how comfortable I’d feel with him (isn’t Wikipedia wonderful?). And, though he’d sounded pretty liberal from all I’d heard about him before, what I’ve read has convinced me more than many long-term Liberal Democrats do that he’s a conviction Liberal.

A Conviction Liberal (excuse the pun)

You will not be surprised to learn that my moment of epiphany came with Mr Paddick’s statement that had him most demonised (out of many things) by gutter press like The Sun and the Daily Hate Mail. They read his infamous post on Urban75 and decided he was their enemy; I read it and decided he was not just liberal, but my kind of Liberal:
“The concept of anarchism has always appealed to me. The idea of the innate goodness of the individual that is corrupted by society or the system. It is a theoretical argument but I am not sure everyone would behave well if there were no laws and no system.

“"Do as you will but harm none" is the principle that I try to work to, within the constraints placed upon me. I have the freedom of my own conscience to the extent of the priorities I place on what I and my officers do. Does smoking small amounts of cannabis harm anyone else other than the smoker? I do not think so. Can I, as a police officer not enforce the law and get away with it. Probably not. So I introduce a pilot scheme where we do not arrest people for cannabis in Lambeth.

“I do not treat all of anything as criminals - all protestors, all black people, all straight people (!) I try to treat each individual as an individual.

“I admire anyone who passionately believes in their cause and I will defend their right to promote that cause provided they "harm none".”
A lot of that philosophy is something I’ve said almost in the same words. Compare it to John Stuart Mill; compare it to the Liberal MP who said
“A Liberal is an anarchist by instinct and a constitutionalist by necessity.”
Brian Paddick believes in individual freedom, and can articulate that belief. He believes everyone should be free to live their own lives and fulfil their own potential, without infringing the rights of others. That’s pretty much the core of what Liberalism is about.

Mr Paddick as a candidate might even make the Liberal Democrats hold our heads up over some issues the party’s been afraid of. We’re nervous on crime, because too many of us don’t see how we can sound Liberal and populist at the same time. The Party’s Leadership remains critically scared about drugs policy, and having such a high-profile candidate who’ll inevitably be asked about it might make them make up their minds. And, after twenty years of being the party with the best record by a mile on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights getting forced half-back into the closet by embarrassment by the badly handled outings of Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten last year, having an out and proud gay man as candidate for such a crucial post would do us a power of good (social historians of gay people in the British public view may marvel that he’s a distant relation of Hugh Paddick of Julian and Sandy fame). He’s fought off enough homophobic attacks from inside the police and the braying tabloids that, if a couple of Lib Dems feel stupidly uncomfortable or join a certain blogging ex-member in making up bigoted claims of a “gay mafia”, I doubt he’ll even break step. And more than in any other party, the overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrats will back him to the hilt on that.

Mr Paddick’s candidacy would carry certain inherent Liberal messages – gay-friendly, pro-liberalisation on drugs – but his most important qualification is his record in the Metropolitan Police. A Liberal approach to crime is more likely to work than knee-jerk authoritarian solutions, and his innovative, intelligent work helped prove it. The old Liberal Democrat election slogan ‘A record of action, a promise of more’ can rarely have been more true.

By the time Brian Paddick retired from the police in May, he was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Met. He was a sergeant on the front line during the 1981 Brixton riot, proof of the need for community policing, and rose through the CID and eventually to Commander in charge of policing in Brixton, where he pioneered new ways of policing by consent. Famously, he instructed his officers just to give on-the-spot warnings for cannabis possession rather than arrest or charge people, no longer wasting police time on victimless crime and allowing the police to tackle real crime, with the bonus of far greater community support. Despite massive attacks on him, the Government eventually followed his lead by reclassifying cannabis (something on which they’ve been trying to backtrack ever since). Despite all the controversy, that make him one of the best-known and best-loved police officers in the country, with one of the best records.

Can he win? It’ll be astoundingly difficult. If there’s one thing we should have learned from Simon’s campaign, it’s that we’ll never win merely by being everyone’s second choice. Brian Paddick is not the cuddly, fluffy, inoffensive candidate. Some people will hate him. After such a high-profile career, many people already do. But wouldn’t it be a relief to field a candidate who’s actually done something, rather than just talked about it?

In a recent interview with the Mail on Sunday – which shows quite a bit of chutzpah – he outlined some of his ideas for what he could now do for London:
“Nobody else putting themselves forward as Mayor knows more about the issue of law and order than I do…

“I shall never be afraid of adopting a radical solution if it’s fully thought through, if it’s workable, affordable and gets the right result.”
Such solutions from him might include using technology to improve the timing of buses, or making the Congestion Charge could be much more sophisticated. I look forward to seeing more of what he has to say.

So that’s why I want Brian Paddick to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London. A practical approach; a personal record; a strong philosophical base. There’s no doubt he’s a gamble. But some gambles are worth taking.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Wow. Backing (albeit slightly provisionally) a candidate you don't know a great deal about. That says a hage amount about the quality of what he's had to say, in the little exposure you've had so far.

I read the forum post that you linked too, and came to the same conclusions you did - this guy is a conviction liberal, and can explain why in an articulate way. But much as I like the sound of Paddick, I'm going to reserve judgement, simply because I don't know if that will necessarily translate into a confident performance at hustings, on TV, and on the doorsteps. There is a very coherent case for intelligent liberal policy on law and order, but (as either you or Richard said last week, I can't remember which!) it needs to be explained articulately - whereas the authoritarian brigade only need a few quick phrases or slurs to make their case. The dice are loaded in their favour - so we need to wait and see how Paddick copes when he's confronted in front of the cameras by a Hate Mail columnist, or the grieving parents of a teenage addict who OD'd, or anyone like that.

Not that it matters too much - I'm a temporary Londoner right now, won't be getting a vote on this, and will be quite happy to back (and, if I can make it down, campaign for) whichever candidate London Lib Dems choose.
But some gambles are worth taking.

…and it's about time that we did. The greatest curse that liberals carry is the expectation of rejection and failure, which leads to playing safe and attempting to cosy up to the unthinking and the unthinkable who will trash us regardless.

I'd vote for Brian Paddick if I were still in London, for much the reasons you've given; the courage of liberal convictions, anyone? Might be worth a try!
Nice post alex! I came from very much the same background, having heard of Brian and the things he had done but not being sure about whether he was a true liberal or whether his record and charisma could really challenge Boris or Ken. I have to say though, I came to much the same conclusion after researching him for a couple of hours. he also knows how to deal with ordinary people if any of his Urban 75 posts are anything to go by and could become a very popular politician. we'll see though, do you know if he's speaking at conference, I might try to record it?
As much as *what* he posted on Urban75 was that fact that a senior policeman *was* doing so. And well before web 2.0 was all the rage.
There's a hustings for the Mayoral candidates at Conference - can't remember the time or place offhand, though.

One story I recall hearing about Paddick was that when he came to prominence in Brixton he was apparently offered the chance to leave the Met and become a DCC/ACC in one of the smaller counties (and thus being assured of becoming Chief Constable someday) but he turned it down because he was committed to working for London.
Hi, Jonny! Your reservations are very reasonable, particularly about Brian Paddick as a performer. Things have of course become more complex since I wrote yesterday, with the two other shortlistees announced, and both of them exciting, too (I know one of them’s a pretty good performer). I did see Mr Paddick last night on London Tonight, where he came across well: sensible, likeable, informed, but a little nervous. You never know if any candidate’s going to fall apart at some stage, but we already know more about Mr Paddick than we could know about any of the three after a short internal campaign, and (ferocious as Lib Dem members are) I suspect he’s been rather more tested by the media over the last few years than he could be by the roughest ride we could give him.

I think the biggest problem for our candidate will simply be getting listened to. The other two look good, and I want to know more about them, but – with uncharacteristic recklessness, perhaps – my instinct remains that his record and the fact that so many Londoners already know of him as having been able to do such a major job gives him, and us, a massive leg-up in practical politics. Add that to the way he can speak his mind with evident Liberal instincts (more important for such a one-off position than detailed policies), and I’ve placed my bet. I think perlmonger hits it on the nail!

John (a radical writes), as Nick points out, there’ll be a London hustings at Conference – I’ll certainly be there, though I expect it’ll be packed ;-)

Good ‘selling points’ identified by Hywel and Nick, too; if Mr Paddick does end up lucky / unlucky enough to be chosen as our candidate, I’m sure they’ll be added to the list of qualities for his campaign…
I must commend my fellow prospective Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidates firstly for getting through a tough and gruelling selection process. I thought I would lay down some of the experience that I bring to this contest; elected to be a City Councillor in Oxford in 2002-2004, I also led the Party's campaigning body on Black and Minority Ethnic social policy issues called the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (2002-2006). I served as a Deputy President of the Party from 2006-7 and am currently a Federal Executive Policy Member and councillor in the London Borough of Haringey.

I bring with me the 'hard graft' of having worked through the Party and my vision for London is based upon the themes of social and financial inclusion for Londoners. As more Londoners have increasing debts and more complex social problems, there is a real need to tackle the root causes of issues that lead to people nose-diving into complex debt issues. Allied to this, power gaps on issues like planning (which have a great impact at a grass roots local level), have opened up. Where devolution of planning powers would have given more empowerment to locally elected councillors, residents and planning officers, what we now see is the Mayor making more planning priority decisions for local authorities. What we need is less centralisation and more devolution of such powers at a grass roots level.

Just some thoughts and I look forward to comments. There is more to come.

Warm Regards

Fiyaz Mughal
Part of me hopes Boris wins, for the comedy value. When asked on 18 Doughty Street what his first action would be as Mayor, he said "I'd... I'd.... rejoice!"
Hi Alex,

Just wanted to say that I am happy to take questions from anyone on any topics of interest on the Lib Dem Mayoral campaign.

Hope all is well and take care!

Best Wishes,

Fiyaz Mughal
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