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Words: Paul Waugh
Photos: Paul Heartfield
Jonathan Hill likes to live in the moment. “I’m not very good at thinking long term ahead or particularly looking backwards,” he says, as he sits back in an armchair, sipping tea in a spacious office suite befitting the Leader of the House of Lords.
A typically British mixture of self-deprecation and self-confidence, his relaxed air belies the heavy workload and responsibilities of overseeing the Upper House in the run-up to the end of the session.
The Government may have suffered more than 90 defeats in the Lords this Parliament, but he’s remarkably unflustered. Modest, unassuming and decidedly ‘old fashioned’ (his own description) in his approach, he likes to focus on the job in hand, without the frenetic fug that dogs many Cabinet ministers. From tackling peers’ misconduct to getting legislation through both Houses, Lord Hill of Oareford just likes to keep on keeping on.
That stoicism, and the emphasis on the here and now, may stem from his varied experience both inside and outside Westminster and Whitehall. And for someone who freely admits that he is not a career politician, Jonathan Hill has nevertheless had a long and notably successful career in politics.
A former backroom boy who is now very much on the frontline, the noble Lord says he first fell into politics almost by accident. Having graduated from Cambridge in the early 1980s, he had ‘quite a few false starts’. He started a PhD in Russian history before realising its five-year timetable wasn’t for him. ‘I wasn’t quite that single-minded so I jacked that in,” he says. He took a job as a barman, then went to work for Jacob Rothschild, “didn’t really fancy the City”, went back to working as a barman and then briefly tried his hand at publishing.
A former Conservative Research Department staffer then told him a job in the CRD would be a good way of ‘keeping your options open’. The young Hill was taken on but soon received his first bit of luck. Ken Clarke was promoted to Cabinet as Employment Minister in 1986, just as unemployment was soaring. “By fluke I had been dealing with employment matters in the Research Department. So I wrote to him and said ‘look, do you fancy having a little friend as a special adviser?’ Being Ken he said ‘well, I can’t see why a Secretary of State should need a special adviser, what could you possibly tell me?...Oh, alright then..’ So I worked for Ken for the next three and a half years in three departments [including DTI and Health]. It was huge, huge fun with Ken. It’s jolly nice, twentysomething years later to be sitting next to him around the Cabinet table.”
A brief stint in PR with Tim Bell followed but the rise to power of John Major meant he couldn’t stay away from politics for long. Again, a letter, this time to Policy Unit chief Sarah Hogg, did the trick. “There was going to be a shakeup at Number 10 so just on the basis of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ I got in touch with them and asked was there anything going in the Policy Unit. And there was.” He joined as a civil servant, specialising in housing, transport and inner cities, none of them fields in which he had expertise. His next big break came when Judith Chaplin, Major’s political secretary, decided to run for Parliament, leaving Hill to step in and work directly for the Prime Minister. His appointment was formally confirmed the day Major called the 1992 general election. “That was my baptism of fire,” he recalls.
Some have claimed that the ‘soapbox’ election was perhaps the last genuinely authentic campaign before the new era of polished, on-message politics. “I suppose authentic is another word for chaotic,” he smiles. “It was not a brilliantly pre-planned campaign. The Labour party under Mr Kinnock were running a highly scripted, highly polished, highly professional campaign. It can’t have been that professional because they lost, but they got all the plaudits for the way it was done.”
Even Conservative Central Office originally seemed to think the PM was uninspiring. “They said that what we had to understand was that he was just ‘wallpaper’ and that their great campaign and The Grid was obviously what would do it. It didn’t quite work out like that.”
Major, a fan of public meetings, decided the pre-planned Tory campaign wouldn’t work. “He basically ripped up the plan and said ‘look, this is not quite doing it for me, why don’t we go back on what I used to do on a soapbox?’” The first outing in Luton saw the Socialist Workers Party get out a much bigger megaphone and the Tory team had to retreat to their battlebus after being pelted with eggs. Yet Major persevered. “He was completely fired up by it, so we kept on doing it. General elections are a test of character, I do think the public are wise in the way they perceive the important truths about the situation or people.”
Major was uncomfortable about The Journey, the famous election broadcast about his Brixton roots, the boy from Coldharbour Lane. “I thought it was a remarkable story, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work for him,” Hill explains. “Really only in England would that be a source of snide comment and mockery from certain quarters in the media – and my own party. Most people would think ‘hang on a minute, this bloke left school at 16, he then went off to night classes, he got qualifications, he picked himself up and 25 years later he’s bloody Prime Minister’. I think most countries on earth you’d think that was pretty good but we had an awful lot here of ‘ho, ho, ho…he didn’t go to Oxford?’”
The Tory campaign and research team back in 1992 featured young men, many of whom had gone to Oxford, who later went on to high profile posts. Andrew Lansley, Ed Llewellyn and a certain David Cameron, were all involved. “There was a fantastic spirit, it was huge fun. Those four weeks were the most enjoyable I can think of. If you like politics, elections are the cherry on the cake, particularly when you can win against the odds.” Did he spot Cameron had the talent to go a long way? “Obviously, I’m sure I ought to say ‘Yes I always predicted him for greatness!’” he laughs. “I didn’t.”
Then again, Hill thinks CCHQ would not quite start a campaign these days describing Cameron as mere background ‘wallpaper’ for a bigger message. “If anyone were to suggest that I think that they would very soon be wallpaper.”
Despite the thrill of victory, the misery soon set in with the ERM crisis and Maastricht. What was life like in the No.10 bunker, when Hill was there from 1992 to 1994? “It was a grim time,” he confesses. “But I think that it’s during the grim times that you learn most about people and about character. The word that hung around John Major’s neck was ‘weak’. I cannot begin to tell you how tough you have to be in order to sustain that kind of pressure doing the job. It started in September ‘92, he then did four and a half more years of relentless pressure, boxed in like one of those medieval torture chambers where the walls come in and the floor and the ceiling come up with spikes.”
Hill left Government three years before Major’s final demise in the New Labour landslide. He suggests the real lesson of’92 and ’97 is that parties have to be both clear about their messaging, with politicians connecting their values with the public. “Voters and individual MPs are more empowered by social media than was the case before. That clearly changes things and so you can’t set your face against that and carry on thinking we still operate in 18th century England, much as I would like to. But I think generally in politics what people are looking for are ‘what are your beliefs?’”
Hill went back into PR and became a founding director of Quiller Consultants during the Labour years. But in 2010, he got The Call once more. “It was a total and utter surprise. I had sold my business and I was approaching my 50th birthday in the way that you do ‘so, what do I do now then, mortality?’ The one area that I’ve always been interested in is education. It’s something I feel strongly about, maybe because my old mum was a teacher. I got the call a week after the election. I was surprised, first to come here [the Lords] and then to be a minister at Education was extraordinary really. But then you like all those decisions in politics you don’t have very long to think about it or decide. Because if you say no they’ll give it to someone else, so I said ‘Yes’.”
The difference between being a civil servant or special adviser and being a Minister of the Crown was instantly clear: “If you cock something up it’s very public. And you are the one having to take the decisions.” On his second day, he had the Second Reading of the Academies Bill (‘that felt quite hairy”).
Hill cheerfully admits he had no education expertise ‘whatsoever’, but was passionate about Michael Gove’s mission to let parents and teachers have more control over schools. He recalls his first meeting with DfE officials who had just worked for Ed Balls. “They liked him, but he was at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of insane, micromanagement targets, control. Everything had to fit together, sectoral plan, and they had been delivering it for him. The same people came in to see me and we talked about Free Schools and they said ‘well, what’s your model for a Free School?’ I said ‘well I don’t have a model’. They said ‘yeah but surely are they secondary schools? What’s the curriculum?’ I said ‘well, I don’t know, because that’s for people to decide…’ ‘How big are they?’ I said: ‘I don’t know because that’s for people to say, depending on the circumstances and what they want’. We had a few goes where they obviously thought I was making it up or being polite…and then we got there.”
The Coalition is certainly trying to ‘get there’ on Lords legislation and reform too. Having got yet another call from the PM when Tom Strathclyde decided he’d had enough, Hill was elevated to Leader of the House in January 2013.
Despite the collapse of Lords reform, he’s optimistic that Dan Byles’ limited bill – to make it easier to eject errant peers and allow others to retire – will succeed. “The measures in it are relatively modest but I think they will all make a good sensible, practical contribution to some of the things that people worry about. So having the ability to get rid of people who have got a criminal conviction of more than a year I think is good and sensible, it’s part of the armoury.” Last December, he tightened up the sanctions on peers who bring the House into disrepute, with greater financial penalties and loss of access to facilities. The Leader stresses that overall the standards in the Lords are “very high”. “But for the small number of people who fall short of the standards that we all expect, I do not take a gentle and forgiving line on them instinctively.” However, Hill is not keen on a minimum hours requirement for peers allowances, pointing to the difficulties of definition of ‘appropriate Parliamentary activity’ and of enforcement.
Rumours of a fresh tranche of peers abound, but the Leader won’t be drawn. Yet he is keen to stress that the Lords is not as big as some think. “You see this stuff about this House that is bigger than the Chinese politburo…but if you compare the absolute numbers now of those eligible to vote in the four main groups now with 2007 – which I don’t remember anyone saying ‘it’s unsustainable, it can’t carry on’ – it’s 23 more now.” And while longevity is valuable, there is also a need for fresh blood with “fresher topical experience”, he says.
“On our key task of legislative scrutiny – do we do the job that it says on the tin or has that been affected in any way at all? – no it hasn’t. No timetable, no limits, any backbencher can put any amendment down on anything they want. The consequence of that is that the degree of scrutiny and efficacy of scrutiny of legislation down here is of a totally different order [from the Commons].”
But isn’t there a tension between his role as Leader of the whole House and his Coalition Cabinet job to drive through the Government’s business? Aren’t 90 Government defeats a sign of the health of the House?
“You put your finger on one of these classic English constitutional niceties about having dual roles. Actually I do think in terms of making legislation better, there are huge amounts of amendments that get put down here where perhaps the drafting wasn’t that good, or in the interim the Government has thought again, technical amendments and all the rest of it. That is hugely important. In terms of defeats, that’s always kind of happened. You have ping pong ultimately, if that’s the way it goes, this House will give in.”
As for giving up, what about the allegedly apocryphal story about Hill’s own ‘botched resignation’ from Government? Does he want to finally kill off claims that he offered to quit in July 2012, only for David Cameron to mishear him and renew him in post?
“It’s a very kind offer to kill it,” he laughs. “What you mean is ‘do I want to breathe new life into this story which I had been hoping would die a natural death?’” But was the story true or not? “It isn’t true. The fact is that there were a number of things going on. I have a view that if the Prime Minister of your country asks you to do something, you have to have quite a good reason not to do something. Equally, I’m not wedded to doing a particular job for ever and ever and ever. Unlike my colleagues, for whom I have great admiration that they’ve done it, I haven’t spent 25 years clambering my way up the pole and therefore being understandably keen not to fall off it. So I’m probably more relaxed than most about what I do. I had a life before, I’ll have a life afterwards. There are all sorts of things I’m interested in.
“The particular way the story came across was not true. The Prime Minister behaved, as you would expect, totally properly. We had a totally polite and courteous conversation where I said: ‘Is there something else you want me to do? Would you like to have this job for someone else? What do you want me to do?’ And he said would I carry on, which I did.
“That’s basically what happened. It came out in a much more entertaining fashion. I am I suppose glad to have played my small part in the jollification of the nation. If I hadn’t stayed on I wouldn’t be doing this!”
Jollification or not, Jonathan Hopkin Hill may be the one having the last laugh, thanks to his rise to the Cabinet. And nearly 30 years after he first dipped his toe into politics, it’s clear he could leave it all tomorrow and still have a smile on his face.
HILL ON…SIR JOHN MAJOR
“Contrary to this impression that was created of being a sort of grey person who was awkward with people, he was extremely good with people. He liked the spark you get off from debating with people, heckling.”
HILL ON…THE 1992 TORY BATTLEBUS
“Throughout that whole thing, those four weeks there was never a cross word. Major was genuinely astonishing and brilliantly good natured.”
HILL ON… THE COALITION’S PROSPECTS
“I think it’s a hell of a lot better than any of us would have dared hope in 2010, 2011, 2012. I am feeling quite chipper about it all.”
“Elections normally boil down to ‘is it time for a change?’ or ‘are we on the right track? - don’t turn back’. I think that’s what the next election is going to be.”
HILL ON…ACADEMIES/FREE SCHOOLS
“I’m not a professional educationalist, I have a very simple view which is that you should find and encourage the best possible heads and the best possible staff that you can and let them get on with it.”
HILL ON…THE BYLES BILL
“I’m glad that there is support from the Government for this bill and so I very much hope that we get it.”
My Promised Land
Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the foundation of the Jewish State
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
‘Innocent, innocent! Vive la France! Vive l’armée!’.
Those were the words cried out by Captain Alfred Dreyfus as he stood in the courtyard of the Military School in Paris in 1894. He was being officially humiliated – his buttons, ribbons, badges and cufflinks were stripped off his uniform; his sword was taken and broken in front of him. His supposed crime – spying for Germany. As he was led away the crowd shouted ‘Death to the traitor’, ‘Judas’ and ‘Death to the Jew’. Dreyfus was sent into exile on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana.
L’Affaire, as it was called, paralysed France and it set off a cascade of anti-semitism; eventually Dreyfus was returned to France in 1899, but not found innocent until 1906. Israeli school children are taught about the L’Affaire as the clear evidence that even in civilised France Jews could not be safe. Herzl by Shlomo Alvineri and My Promised Land by Ari Shavit are at one when they see this episode in the Parisian courtyard as the very moment when Zionism was born.
Herzl is an excellent biography of a great man and as such long overdue – I learnt a lot, but in the end it was just that, a well written biography. My Promised Land is a searing critique of Israel, not the frequent schmaltzy renditions where Israel can do no wrong, nor the self-hating attack on Israel the obscene, of which we see too much, but a powerful summary of the nation, subtitled Israel: the triumph and tragedy.
Herzl was born in 1860 to a secular Jewish family in Budapest. He moved to Vienna and rapidly became a leading journalist with Neue Freie Presse, a liberal paper read by the Viennese chattering classes. Herzl observed the plight of the Jews throughout the continent, from the masses in the Pale of Settlement, to those living in post Napoleonic modern societies – communities in which for the first time they thrived in an era of freedom and semi-tolerance. But he could see the looming danger.
After wrestling with his intellect and testing his assumptions he finally came to a conclusion which was at odds with his instinctive starting point. In the Russian dominated countries where Jews existed in their millions (including my own antecedents), they were poor and ghettoised and lived under the constant threat of pogroms – it was what he had expected and indeed witnessed; crude medieval anti-semitism. What shocked him more was the sophisticated, intellectual anti-semitism he saw in supposedly enlightened Germany, Austria, Hungary and finally in France.
Once Herzl reached his conclusion there was no turning back. Emancipation proffered was not enough, the Jewish people needed to grab self-emancipation. Jews would never be safe until they had a country of their own – he devoted the rest of his life to securing this dream. In 1896 he published his epic book der Judenstaat, in which he made the case for the Zionist cause and the establishment of the Jewish national home.
Herzl was always aware of the massive symbolism of what he was preaching – the Jewish return from dispersement, the first time in nearly 2,000 years. But key questions remained.
Where was the Zionist state to be located? Several options arose such as el Arish in the Sinai Peninsula (not enough water), Uganda (lots of water and very fertile, but no Jewish connection), Argentina (a strong contender) and finally Palestine (arid, controlled by the decaying Ottomans and the land where it all started three millennia ago). Palestine of course won the day.
What language for the new state? Yiddish (too redolent of the ghetto), or Hebrew?. Herzl asked the penetrating question ‘who amongst us has a sufficient acquaintance with Hebrew to ask for a railway ticket in that language’. All the same, Hebrew it was.
The book was a runaway success and Herzl became a mega-star overnight. In 1897 he organised the first Zionist Congress in Basel and five more were to follow in his lifetime. The former journalist turned diplomat and went on the late 19th century equivalent of shuttle diplomacy. In 1898 he boarded the Russian ship Imperator Nicholas II (how ironic?) and sailed to Jaffa (his one and only trip to Palestine) and in Jerusalem he had an audience Kaiser Wilhelm II (even more ironic!). He also met the Minister of the Interior in St Petersburg, King Emmanuel of Italy, the Pope, as well as leading politicians in Austria and Hungary. Most supported him not because they approved of the Zionist dream, but because they wanted to hasten the departure of the Jews from their lands.
All to no avail in his lifetime. Herzl died in 1904 and was buried in Vienna. In 1948 his remains were brought to Jerusalem where he was given the new nation’s first state funeral. The city founded in his name, Herzliya, is today the centre of Israel’s hi-tech industry – how apt for a man who believed that the Jewish state must be built on a foundation of technology.
My Promised Land starts where Herzl left off. The book is a tortured read, but impossible to put down. It addresses issues that I have long known but preferred not to think about. Shavit is an Israeli – a staunch patriot – but he tells it as it is.
The author recounts the story of his great grandfather, a wealthy Jew and part of the Jewish British aristocracy (a small club it must be said!), who makes the journey to Palestine and is captivated by the embryonic Jewish community. He decides to stay and grow oranges. There he meets Jews so different to those he had known in the diaspora – not pasty faced accountants afraid of their own shadows, but lean, tanned and strong pioneers, full of ideal and building a new country.
Shavit brilliantly captures the sense of foreboding that European Jews felt in the early 20th century – in Russia the pogroms continued, and in central and western Europe a new modern anti-Semitism was taking root. By the time Hitler came to power in 1933 the die was cast.
The Jewish communes in Palestine knew that they would be the only refuge of the devastation that was about to happen. You can’t help but feel their fear and helplessness in 1942, when the Final Solution was getting into full swing in Europe and Rommel’s troops were poised to conquer Egypt and then march on Palestine. It must have been petrifying. Yet Rommel was defeated and the State of Israel came into being in 1948 when it welcomed nearly 500,000 Holocaust survivors.
But the book also brilliantly describes the Jewish myopia to the Arab residents in Palestine. Quite simply they were never seen and never figured in the founders’ game plan. The section on the Palestinian exodus from Lydda was the most chilling in the book – chilling because it’s a true account and chilling because the issue has been ignored. In the 1948 war of independence the new State of Israel hastened the departure of many ancient Arab communities and none more so than Lydda, where thousands were driven eastwards at gunpoint. Today Lydda is Lod and is located but a stone’s throw from Ben Gurion International Airport.
As a fervent supporter of Israel I found this chapter deeply distressing, and in particular Shavit’s brutally honest words: “If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the state of Israel would not have been born…they did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter and my sons to live.”
In May 2008 I was driven east from Rehovot (home of the world famous Weizmann Institute of Science) passing through the wall of separation to Al Quds University and then onto Ramallah. I left behind an Israel celebrating its 60th birthday with flags and bunting everywhere and arrived in a land that was not celebrating at all. I remember a huge poster: ‘Their Independence - our Nakba (Catastrophe)’. A poignant moment for me.
Shavit does wonders in describing the backgrounds of many Israeli citizens and he portrays the people well. A nation of immigrants, many from the ashes of Hitler’s gas chambers, others expelled by Muslim countries, all gathered unto this melting pot of a nation. Tel Aviv the all night city that never sleeps and Israel itself the regional military and economic super power. It all comes together.
The dream that Herzl had has been fulfilled, but now as then the future remains uncertain.
Lord Mitchell is a Labour Peer and chair of the Coexistence Trust
Words: Paul Waugh
Photos: Paul Heartfield
Chris Grayling is not unaware of his place in history, and for good reason. As the first non-lawyer to be appointed Lord Chancellor for more than 350 years explains: “Most of the people who were previously non-lawyers ended up either in the Tower or being executed.” Without a beat, he adds, deadpan: “And I suspect there’s a few people in the legal profession who would like to do the same to me right now.”
More at home with history (he studied the subject at Cambridge) than the law, Grayling can nevertheless master a brief and argue a case as vigorously as a QC in a courtroom.
As proud of his tabloid moniker of ‘Tough Justice’ Secretary as he is of his most historic title, he is certainly no defender of special interests, nor of what he sees as metropolitan political correctness. And, as in his previous political jobs, he’s not afraid of cutting the deficit, using a mixture of public and private solutions to improve services or of squeezing more value for money for the taxpayer.
But despite being more used to attack than defence (he made a name in Opposition as CCHQ’s sharpest ‘attack dog’), Grayling picks his enemies carefully. While he has no problem dishing it out to his Labour opponents, it sounds as though he’s trying not to pick further fights with barristers and solicitors.
Grayling says that the bottom line is the budget cuts he has to deliver, not least with the Ministry of Justice not ring-fenced like some departments. “We are having to take and have taken decisions which I know are unpopular, in relation to legal aid and the courts,” he says.
“They are not going to leave me as a much-loved figure in the legal world. But my message to lawyers has always been ‘look, I will do everything I can to ease the pain of what we are having to do, but what I can’t do is get rid of the actual financial envelope within which we have to operate’.”
He acknowledges that the “exceptionally aggressive budget targets”, from the Spending Round and Autumn Statement, will be tough for many lawyers. “I have some sympathy with them, I understand why they are unhappy. I understand why people running businesses are concerned about the future. I understand why people in the Bar are saying ‘we don’t want any changes to our fees’.
“I have tried to approach the job first of all by respecting the traditions of the office. They absolutely still require the incumbent to be a champion of the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of our judicial system. But it doesn’t mean that the holder of the office can at the same time be a defender against inevitable financial realities.”
Grayling praises the Law Society for being very clear that despite its opposition to the cuts it will work to get the best deal for its members. “I think that’s a grown-up, mature approach. Perhaps one or two members of the profession might have followed their lead in doing that,” he says.
He even has sympathy for some barristers, whose income varies ‘wildly’. “There are new young barristers who earn not a massive amount as a starting salary, for somebody who’s a graduate and who’s got debts. At the other end of the extreme we have got people who are grossing, when you take into account VAT and chambers costs, the best part of half a million pounds a year. They are a small number, but they are there. Our proposals are specifically designed to try and protect the junior Bar and the less well paid barristers,” he says.
Keen to see the bigger picture, Grayling points out there are some ‘structural problems’ with the legal profession. “Why is it that if you are a barrister you have to train for a long period of time to get into court, if you’re a solicitor you can do very little training to get into court?”
“Almost every senior barrister I speak to will say privately that they think change is needed, that there are too many people in the profession at the moment, that on the solicitors’ side the Law Society itself identified that there were probably too many people being trained for the jobs available.”
To help find some common ground, he’s asked Whitehall veteran Sir Bill Jeffrey to review the legal profession and says his conclusions are due ‘in the next few months’.
“It’s not for me as a non-lawyer to pass judgement over that, but I thought it was helpful and sensible to work with the Bar Council and Law Society to ask Sir Bill to look at some of those issues.”
One area of court controversy that hit the headlines recently was Nigella Lawson’s treatment during the Grillo sisters’ case. The TV chef complained that she had been made to feel as if she was the one on trial, even though she was only a witness.
Does Grayling think that more could be done to protect witnesses? He points to the trialling of a scheme to protect vulnerable child witnesses in sex assault cases and says he’s also “very sympathetic” to plans by the Bar to provide specific training to deal with vulnerable witnesses.
“We have had some horrendous cases of people who really have been victims of crime themselves being given a rough going over in the witness box and who then get traumatised as a result. That’s not good for anyone. But I don’t think we are going to be able to get to a position where you’ve got a lawyer standing alongside the witness in the box. In many respects it’s for the judge to be the advocate for the witness, in terms of saying to the lawyer ‘that’s over the top, you can’t do that’. So I’d be looking more to the judiciary to be the guardian of the witnesses.”
And in the case of Nigella, can more be done in cases like hers? “I understand what she was saying. It is the case that in the adversarial system we’ve got, being a witness can be challenging, there’s no doubt about that at all. And it’s very much for our judiciary I think to be the ones who say ‘actually, you are overstepping the line there’ if they think that’s the case.”
Another big item in the Grayling in-tray is the prison system. Critics feel there’s a tension between his desire to cut costs elsewhere and the potential bill for more prison places caused by tougher sentences. But he stresses that the system “isn’t under particular pressure, numbers wise”. “My strategy has been really to keep the overall capacity above what we inherited, but also to move rapidly to new-for-old. It is cheaper to run a newer prison than an older prison and the more we can replace old with new estate actually the more cost effective the system will be. So what I really want is cheaper prison, not less prison,” he says.
Pausing to attack Labour’s ‘rank hypocrisy’ on jail privatisation, he says: “I am the Justice Secretary who decided not to go ahead with widespread privatisation of prisons. I inherited a year ago plans to privatise quite a number of prisons, I scaled those back and decided not to go ahead with more. The reason I did that was because in terms of meeting the short-term financial challenge that we face, I was looking at a public sector option which involved changes to ways of working across the prison estate or privatisation. And financially it was more advantageous to work together with the public sector option.”
The recent row over G4S and Serco and offender tagging contracts has also underlined that Grayling is no soft touch for the private sector. “There’s two parts to this. Firstly, what’s happened at Serco and G4S has been absolutely unacceptable. Both companies have suffered immense damage to their reputations. They are both subject to legal processes that will lead to wherever they lead to, both companies have lost very substantial contracts with us as a result, both lost their participation in electronic monitoring for the future, they’ve lost their participation in other contracts with us. So I think both companies have paid a pretty heavy price,” he says. “Both have had pretty sweeping changes internally, but they are now going to have to convince us that they have sorted themselves out to a point where it is possible for Government to do business with them again. I’m not in the business of completely destroying British companies but Government will expect wholesale change to the way they work. We have had substantial compensation from Serco and public acceptances from both companies that they have not got this right at all. It’s absolutely shocking.”
Yet he is keen to stress that the failures should not tar the private sector more widely. “This is not a true reflection of the whole of the private sector. It’s very easy to say because we’ve had two problems with two companies that all private sector relationships are bad and there are some who would do that. I don’t buy that argument at all. But it is a lesson to those who work with Government that if you try to behave in a way that is not acceptable, actually you will get caught and it will do you immense damage.”
Grayling is pushing ahead with “fundamentally necessary” plans to privatise probation services. “We have a situation where the highest risk offenders, who are the ones who go to jail for less than 12 months, walk onto the streets with £46 in their pockets and that’s it,” he says.
“So we’ve got the best part of 50,000 people, many of whom are going to commit serious crimes, and the majority of whom will commit crimes relatively quickly, walking around our streets in the last 12 months and nobody’s supervising them. Nobody knows where they are, nobody knows what they are doing, nobody’s trying to make sure their lives are sorted out OK. And it’s just a complete travesty, it’s a nonsense, I don’t on earth know how we ever got into that position and I’m determined to put an end to it. The truth is in order to be able to afford to put an end to it, we have to run a leaner system. A less bureaucratic system, but also a system where there’s greater professional freedom.”
He adds that the other key change will be to create a ‘joined-up through the gate service’. “So what we should be having, and what we will have, is a situation where the people who start to work to plan release in prison are the same people who work with the offender after release from prison,” he says.
Now one of the Big Beasts on the Tory Right, and in his own right, Grayling is equally committed to radical action on the vexed topic of the European Court of Human Rights. He is due to respond to the joint committee’s line on prisoner voting “by the middle” of this month. “We should give Parliament the choice of how to respond. We have put in place a multiple option bill which allows Parliament to say either we will accept a votes for prisoners option, or we will say ‘no thank you very much’.”
As for wider reform of Labour’s Human Rights Act, Grayling says “we are progressing towards the end of the work”. “We haven’t reached a final decision on the package. What it will do is it will curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK. It will replace the Human Rights Act, we will have a balance of rights and responsibilities in British law much more clearly. And we will have a situation where our Supreme Court is supreme again. Those principles will be at the heart of it.”
And is the UK quitting the ECHR still an option? “It’s always been an option for us. We haven’t taken a final decision yet but that clearly has always been an option and remains an option for us.”
The recent Dominic Raab amendment over deportation of foreign criminals threw into sharp relief the worries many Tory backbenchers feel over the ECHR. What other ways can the Conservatives counter the looming UKIP threat in May’s elections?
“There are two parts to our message to those people intending to vote for UKIP. The first of those is on the European issue, to say ‘look, actually there are only one or two people who are going to be Prime Minister after the next election. It’s either going to be Ed Miliband or David Cameron. If you get Ed Miliband, you don’t get reformed human rights, you don’t get an in-out referendum on the European Union and therefore you don’t get the chance to vote to leave if that’s what you want.
“So why would you do any thing that helps Ed Miliband towards Downing Street? And the truth is that everyone who moves away from voting Conservative and votes UKIP this year, will simply give Ed Miliband a boost towards Downing Street,” he says. “The other point is, thinking more broadly about those people, about the impact of returning to old fashioned socialism in this country and what that means for them. Quite a lot of those who have always voted Conservative and have suggested that perhaps they might vote UKIP are an older generation who remember what Britain was like in the 1970s. We need to keep reminding them that that kind of Labour politics is profoundly bad for the country and for their children and for their grandchildren. And do they really want to take a gamble with their grandchildren’s future when they are going to get and in-out referendum under the Conservatives anyway?”
But does he have any sympathy with colleagues who say that the party needs to offer the voters something tangible on which powers would be renegotiated by a Tory government from Brussels? “I think, as somebody who sits very squarely on the Eurosceptic end of the debate, I have every sympathy with those of my colleagues who are intensely frustrated with the European Union and the way it’s evolved and have very strong feels about our future in it,” he says. “But the reality is that I’m absolutely behind the party strategy. I think we have to renegotiate our membership first, if we don’t do that we are actually offering a vote on the status quo versus leaving. And if the country votes for the status quo then we lose the opportunities to secure a changed relationship. So I’m absolutely of the view that we renegotiate and then have the in-out referendum.”
Even when he was a student, Grayling was a Eurosceptic. After a brief flirtation with the SDP, “it was pretty obvious to me that in reality I was a Conservative and then finally sort of decided to get involved in my twenties”. He adds: “I wasn’t involved politically in my early professional life because I worked at the BBC and then Channel 4.”
As a former BBC producer, does he think the Corporation has changed since he worked there? Or does he share Tory backbench concerns about its general liberal world view?
Grayling is frank. “I think the real problem for the BBC is not that there is an intentional bias at senior levels, not that it is institutionally biased against us. But it’s that there is a cultural leaning towards the Left. The people who work at the BBC have a particular viewpoint on life more often than not. It’s something that people like Martin Lewis have identified. And so it makes it much more of a challenge for people at the top who I genuinely believe want to be impartial in the way they present issues. “But they are dealing with a cultural challenge which isn’t easily solved. It’s something they really do need to work on. The BBC is generally very good, but there are moments when it really does things in ways that you think ‘this is just not right and proper for a public broadcaster who’s trying to present a dispassionate view on life’.”
He elaborates. “They’ve been on the wrong side, they’ve been unbalanced in the debate over the years about immigration, about Europe. And I think they’ve wised up to that. But there is still a cultural view within the BBC, not just within current affairs. To some extent it’s less with current affairs than within general entertainment, the throwaway lines in a drama which still suggest that actually the BBC’s got some way to go before it really to my mind fulfils the role it has to be a genuinely dispassionate public service broadcaster. I think there’s still an inclination to cover issues in a way that is very much about the culture of a slightly Left-leaning, metropolitan group of people who are disproportionately represented there. That said, the BBC is a great institution and I wouldn’t want to tear it up. But I think it’s still got some work to do.”
So, would Benefits Street (made by Channel 4) never have been made by the Corporation? “It’s still got some work to do,” he repeats, firmly.
The TV Grayling normally loves to watch is live football, especially whenever his team, Manchester Utd appear. But their troubles of late are as much inside the box as on it. The minister is hopeful things can get better, but points out “the Man Utd squad is not up to losing Rooney and Van Persie for a long stretch of the season.” Is that a lesson for politics, as much as in football, that you often need to refresh your squad? He laughs: “Yeah. Hopefully not too quickly.”
Despite the historic omens of executions and imprisonment, this is a Lord Chancellor who won’t be disappearing soon. And as the Coalition enters its own final run-in to 2015, one suspects that Chris Grayling will still be one of the right-wingers David Cameron relies on to secure victory for the Tory team.
GRAYLING ON…LEGAL AID CUTS
“I’m not sitting here with many millions of pounds in my inside pocket, thinking ‘I’m just not giving it to the lawyers’. I’m doing my best to balance books.”
GRAYLING ON…BARRISTER PROTESTS
“I understand the frustration but it isn’t going to change anything.”
GRAYLING ON…SADIQ KHAN
“He has his ‘manifesto for London’. This doesn’t feel like a man who’s girding his loins to become Secretary of State for Justice. The justice stuff is almost an afterthought at the moment.”
“We’ve said you can’t get repeat cautions, that’s gone out in guidance now. We will be making sure that law is modified to ensure what we’ve already announced.”
GRAYLING ON…SIMON HUGHES
“Simon’s a very experienced politican, he’s come to Government relatively late in the day. He hasn’t come to Government for he and I to be at fisticuffs all the time.”
GRAYLING ON…PRISON PLACES
“We will go into the election with more adult male prison places than we inherited.”
Words: Daniel Bond
Photos: Paul Heartfield
Just before Remembrance Day at the end of last year, some 40 men gathered in Guards Chapel at the Wellington Barracks for a special service – the very first of its kind. Among them were former Green Jackets, Fusiliers and Grenadier Guards, some had served in the Royal Navy, some in the RAF, and some in the TA; some as long ago as the 1950s, and some as recently as the 2010s. But they all had one thing in common – they were all current MPs.
Three dozen Conservatives attended at the service, along with several Democratic Unionists. But in the middle of this erstwhile band of brothers, in the green tie of the Parachute Regiment, one man stood out as the sole Labour MP.
In many ways Dan Jarvis’s background sounds tailor-made for a Tory; over a 15 year career in the Armed Forces he saw action in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, rising to the rank of Major and receiving an MBE for his services. But then Jarvis has never been one to swim with the tide or follow convention. He joined Labour while studying politics at university; swept along, he says, by the “infectious enthusiasm” brought about by the rise of Tony Blair and New Labour in opposition to John Major’s tired government.
But while he was bitten at a young age by the politics bug, his first love as a student was rather more adventurous: mountaineering. With a mix of boyish energy and sharp relief, he still recalls a “massively overambitious” early trip he and his younger brother made to K2 in the early 1990s. Underequipped and “horrendously underprepared”, the pair headed for the most dangerous mountain in the world. Or, as Jarvis puts it, the “most spectacular point of the whole planet”. “We didn’t get to the summit, but we made a pretty bold attempt at it,” he remembers from the safety of his Parliamentary office. “It was a formative experience of mine – although I think it’s fair to say not a universally happy one!”
It’s not hard to see why Jarvis is regularly afforded one of the highest accolades a politician can now receive; that he is different. Straight-talking, credible and hard-working, his easy and down to earth manner has made even the right-wing press sit up and take notice. He may not be a Tory, but they certainly respect and fear him; in 2012 ConservativeHome ran a piece by loyal Thatcherite Bruce Anderson picking Jarvis out as a future Labour leader. “He exudes class,” Anderson wrote. “This might be Tony Blair with moral depth.”
His potential was also spotted early on by Ed Miliband. After just over six months in Parliament, Jarvis was made a shadow culture minister, and in last autumn’s reshuffle was moved to Sadiq Khan’s justice team. And while he’s far from the only fresh-faced MP at the top of Labour – seven members of the shadow cabinet are from the 2010 intake – he’s one of the few complete newcomers to politics, nestled as he is among former Special Advisers, economists and think-tank wonks.
Jarvis describes his time in the military as the “best possible apprenticeship” for his parliamentary career, giving him 15 years’ worth of insight and experience “doing very difficult things under very difficult circumstances, often with scarce resource”. He utterly rejects the old idea of the Conservatives as the ‘party of the armed forces’, and with several local Labour parties choosing former service men and women as their candidates for 2015, he does not expect to be the only Labour veteran “for too much longer”.
But there is a wider issue at play for Labour, he adds. “I think people increasingly want to see their elected representatives, in the main, as people who’ve had real life experience. There’s a degree of caution about those who’ve spent their whole life in the Westminster bubble. That’s not to say we don’t have some excellent people who’ve spent quite a chunk of time in this place. But I think if you’ve got up in the morning and done a job that’s very demanding, it gives you that perspective and judgement on the lives that most people lead. So I think it is very important that we seek to have representation from all walks of life in this place, from teachers and doctors and nurses and business people, and I think we have still got some way to go to making sure that this place looks and feels like the country that it seeks to represent.
“My route into politics was an unusual one. But increasingly the public want to see their representatives as people who’ve done other things, and I think the fact that I was able to demonstrate that I had was a significant part of why people picked me as a candidate.”
And having spent 15 years getting things done in the armed forces, Jarvis is ready to get things done in Westminster. At the start of this year he won his first big victory on the MoJ brief, over the recognition of military veterans in the criminal justice system. His amendment to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, calling for ex-servicemen’s records to be taken into account by courts in England and Wales, won backbench cross-party support, forcing the Government to announce a review to be led by Tory MP Rory Stewart. Jarvis agreed to pull the amendment, and has given his backing to the former Black Watch officer. He’s careful to avoid “pre-judging” Stewart’s work, but says, from the evidence he’s seen, there is a “strong case” for the introduction of US-style Veterans Courts for the trying of minor offences, particularly those involving ex-military personnel suffering from service-related illnesses and stress.
“It’s long been a concern of mine,” he says, “that there have been too many people from the Armed Forces in contact with, or on the fringes of, the criminal justice system. Because of the commitments we’ve had in Iraq and Afghanistan we’ve had thousands of young people who’ve experienced very intensive fighting. Now we don’t know for certain the impact that that fighting will have upon them. Many of them will be fine. Some of them won’t be. And I believe as part of our responsibility to those people who’ve served our country, through the military covenant, to look very carefully at those people who are not fine and work out ways in which we can support them.”
His unique position within the PLP means Jarvis feels a particularly heavy responsibility in matters military. As well as his justice brief, he is Labour’s lead spokesman on the commemoration of the First World War; an event which, in recent weeks, has taken on more of a party political feel than many had expected. Jarvis was particularly “disappointed” by the row last month over the centenary, which saw Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt trade blows via articles in the Daily Mail and Observer. While he says most MPs have approached the debate in a constructive and respectful way, he sounds a warning to anyone tempted to use it for point scoring: if politicians allow this most sensitive subject to descend into a slanging match, an already alienated and frustrated public will be unforgiving.
“I do regret the fact that there have been one or two people that seek to politicise it. I don’t think the public want to do it in that way. This was always going to be quite a controversial debate, and none of us have shied away from that. But I think we all need to think about it, we need to take some responsibility for the tone and conduct of this debate. Let’s do it in the right way and let’s use it as an opportunity to think about Britain’s history and Britain’s future as well.
“If we get this right, it can be a really powerful platform for thinking about the lives that we’ve lived in days gone by, but more importantly about the lives we’re going to lead in the future. If we do that in the right way that’s going to be an entirely positive experience. If we get it wrong, I think that will be an entirely negative experience and I don’t think the public will forgive us for that.”
But there is also a personal side to his involvement. His background as a soldier, Jarvis continues, gives him a different perspective on the conflict, and those who fought in it, to the more academic Education Secretary and his shadow. “To be brutally honest with you,” he says, “I’m doing this because I’ve been very lucky. I’ve taken quite a few risks in my time in the army. There is a bit of survivor’s guilt in all of this – quite a lot of my friends have been killed, quite a lot of soldiers I’ve known very well have lost their lives or had their lives changed forever. And I think, on the back of everything that’s gone on over the previous 15 years, with our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, I just believe that it’s really important that we reflect upon the sacrifice of those who lost their lives 100 years ago, but we also do it in a way that is mindful of the fact that we’ve still got people serving, we’ve still got people dying for this country. Yes this is about the First World War. But it’s also about everyone who’s served our country, and everyone who’s lost their lives. And I do feel a degree of personal responsibility to make sure that in this place, as a former soldier, I offer my contribution, to make sure that we do this in the right way.”
But despite his obvious authority on defence, Jarvis’s two jobs on Labour’s frontbench have seen him shadow the rather different culture and justice briefs. The move is a deliberate one on the part of Jarvis, keen to take the opportunity to “plough some other furrows” and get to grips with formulating public policy. “I’m really excited at the challenge that I now have, of shaping my bit of that for the future,” he says.
And like defence, he believes justice should be an issue beyond left and right, where decisions are based on clear-headed analysis and constructive dialogue, rather than on party politicking. He enjoys a “good relationship” with the junior members of the MoJ ministerial team, Jeremy Wright, Damian Green and Shailesh Vara, he explains. But one name conspicuous in its absence is the man at the top, Chris Grayling. There are increasing fears, he says, that the Justice Secretary is basing his decisions on “ideological instinct” rather than evidence, particularly over the growing hostility towards the European Court of Human Rights, and plans to privatise parts of the probation service – an agenda Jarvis has “huge concerns” about.
“I think that’s a big mistake, and we’re concerned that they’re doing this because it’s in the interests of their own political agenda, and not in the long-term interests of the country,” Jarvis says. “I think Chris needs to be a bit careful with some of the things he’s doing and saying. It’s clear there is an ideological theme running through a lot of what he and his team have been trying to do. And I don’t think that’s something the public really respond to or approve of – they want us to be making decisions that are in the national interest, not decisions in the interests of one political party.”
He’s just four months into his justice brief, but Jarvis already has some big ideas for government. He’s particularly enthusiastic about reforming the justice system to give more of a say to victims. Just before the New Year his team commissioned former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer to look into the possibility of a Victims Law, which would guarantee certain rights to information and support. Far too often people’s experience of the justice system is wholly negative, Jarvis says, with victims relegated to “an afterthought, on the periphery”.
“The reality is, they should be absolutely central to the process,” he continues. “I don’t actually think it should be called the criminal justice system, I think that’s part of the problem. I think as a justice service it would much more neatly focus our minds about what it is there to do, which is to provide a service to the public. I think we need to get much better at making sure people that have been the victims of crime understand precisely what they’re entitled to receive and are kept more up to date with the progress of their individual case.
“The plan is that Keir and his team will report back in the autumn, and we should be in a position to go into a general election in 2015 with a draft bill in place. And, hopefully, if we’ve got a Labour government, that would form a key element of our first Queen’s Speech.”
The other big area of his brief Jarvis wants to concentrate on between now and 2015 is youth justice. He says he expects to work very closely with Steve Reed in the Shadow Home Office team, as well as those on the education and health briefs, to look at how a future Labour government can support young people on the fringes of the criminal justice system, and prevent them falling through the cracks. His team is even looking at whether it would be feasible to extend the remit of the youth justice system, which currently only applies to those aged 18 and under.
“It’s a challenging public policy problem that I’ll be wrestling with, and if we’re in government it’s an area I’d want to dedicate a lot of effort to,” he explains. “I don’t think it can be the right thing that someone hits the age of 18 and then immediately loses the support that the system provided up until that point. There’s some very interesting emerging scientific evidence to show that the brain does not mature until much later than we’d previously thought. I think that raises all sorts of questions about the extent to which we look at extending the remit of youth justice.”
And if the evidence backs it up, he says, Labour could look at raising the age limit of the youth justice system to 21. “That’s precisely that kind of thing that we have to look at. We do have to be very careful to look if there are going to be additional costs with doing that. It is my instinct – and clearly I don’t believe we should be making policy based on my instinct, but on clear headed analysis – but it might be the case that some initial investment to increase the remit of youth justice actually saved money over a period of time, because by extending the support to people over the age of 18 it is likely – and of course I would need to prove this – that you would reduce the rate at which those people re-offend, which clearly would be good for communities, because there would be fewer crimes committed, fewer victims of crime, and that potentially could come at some saving. So I’ll be looking very carefully at that and looking to put the detail behind that over the coming months as we approach a manifesto for 2015.”
Jarvis says he is “utterly determined to give everything” to Labour over the coming years, describing his new political career as “the best in the world”.
So is he in it for the long term? “What I know is I’m completely driven by my job. Like the majority of other people here, I commit a huge amount to being an MP. I get up exceptionally early; I go to bed very late. I’m incredibly lucky to do it – but undoubtedly it takes its toll on you. But I hope to be continuing to make a contribution in this way for many, many years to come.”
Then, as the interview draws to a close, he reveals a secret. “I haven’t said this before; I haven’t actually ruled out going back to K2 to see if I can push a bit further up the mountain. I do miss the physical challenge. But I suspect that opportunity may not come in the short term.”
He may miss the adrenaline rush of his previous exploits, but it’s public service which now gets Dan Jarvis’s blood pumping.
Words: Tony Grew
The chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers occupies a modest office in a nondescript Westminster block. A framed shirt signed by the England rugby squad, a mug indicating he is the world’s best dad and a photo montage of his time as Chief Constable of Northern Ireland are the only indications that the office belongs to Sir Hugh Orde.
He started his career in 1977 as a bobby on the beat in SW1. “I patrolled round here, Rochester Row police station, now luxury flats,” he recalls. Things were different then.
“If I arrested a beggar outside the Army and Navy and took him into Horseferry Magistrates Court – now luxury flats, everywhere I worked has turned into luxury flats – and I said that person was begging or said that person was drunk the magistrate would believe me, routinely.
“I am not sure that is a good thing. It is right that police officers are challenged just like anyone else in court, that is a far more challenging environment, but I don’t think the underlying honesty of cops has changed for anything but the better in that time.”
Something else has changed – Tory home secretaries could normally be relied on to back the police to the hilt.
Theresa May has cut police budgets and numbers, created Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Crime Agency and the College of Policing. In less than four years the police service has undergone the most radical reforms since the Peelers first took to the streets in 1829.
May has criticised ACPO as “neither accountable to the public nor able to speak authoritatively on behalf of the whole of policing”.
She claims the creation of the College “ends ACPO’s monopoly on deciding the future of policing”.
Orde argues there is still a vital role for the organisation: “The Home Secretary ceased all funding for ACPO head office, which is this massive structure you have walked into today – about half my staff are in this room – in December 2012. She stopped all funding, period, for this setup.
“I would not dream of suggesting why she did it; that is her business. What we had to do was make sure that we could continue in the public interest to keep citizens safe – the only reason we exist is to keep citizens safe.
“This is not a trade union body; it is a body that coordinates operational national activity that secures agreement across 44 chief constables all of whom are independent in law.
“That has to be right for the citizen. It could only be delivered by chiefs coming together through chiefs’ council, which is part of ACPO. That is why we exist. In a crisis my role is specific in terms of providing information to Cobra, if invited of course.
“Cobra is a government structure. I sit in Cobra to advise and all the chief constables get on and deal with whatever the crisis is. They can’t do both. Recent examples would be the riots in London and the threatened fuel strike, never mind exercising and practising.
“So there are some precise roles within the national structure that only a leadership organisation can do. You can call it something else; you can structure it in another way.
“We are in law a company limited by guarantee so this building in which you sit can be hired, the staff can be employed, but that is where it ends.
“The rest of the business is done through chiefs’ council in an entirely professional way.”
ACPO’s structure – a not for profit private limited company, rather than a public body – comes in for criticism. Orde argues that the alterative are worse.
“The first thing I did when I was here was to go to Mr Vaz’s committee, one of my favourite occupations, and told him I was uncomfortable too.
“We have looked and looked at what else we could be and it is very frustrating. Because there isn’t a lot. A charity ill fits it even worse I think. Community interest company? The same really, with a slightly different wrapper. Or some really complicated partnership arrangement which does not give you an identity? ACPO gives us an identity, therefore gives you transparency. We publish all our accounts, we have to comply with company law, we have a board of directors.”
He adds: “You could legislate, the Home Secretary is not minded to. I don’t blame her. It would be very hard to legislate in a way that would be sufficiently flexible.”
Orde says his role “exists by virtue of the Police Reform Act 2002 and that was in recognition of the job becoming more and more time consuming so the idea of a chief constable doing it for a year meant the chief constable was not in the force for a year”.
“Can you imagine a PCC being happy with that? I wouldn’t be.”
Last September May tasked retired general Sir Nick Parker with examining whether ACPO is a “cost effective use of public money”.
Orde, while confirming that Parker’s recommendations are being examined by the police and crime commissioners who fund ACPO, regards them as pretty obvious.
“What did he find? One, you needed something that looks roughly like ACPO to run national business. Two, you needed a forum for chief constables to come together. Three, £1.2m was in his terms value for money ie: you are not going to do it for a lot cheaper. Four, he could not get his head round, as many people can’t, the company limited by guarantee bit.”
Orde points out that the new police IT company, the College of Policing and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners are all companies, just like ACPO.
“And we are subject to Freedom of Information, notwithstanding what a certain Member of Parliament claimed in a Westminster debate last week. Staggering considering he is on the Home Affairs Select Committee. We asked to be FOI-able several years ago.”
He adds: “If you look at the level of knowledge in your readership it varies from a clear and deep understanding to, one could argue, a degree of sort of mischievous misrepresentation.”
As for those other elected representatives, PCCs, Orde says the “overwhelming majority” understand the need for a central structure.
“There is common agreement that a number of things are better done once than 44 times. So the question is what does it look like rather than should you have it. And what is it going to cost.”
Orde’s role at ACPO is as much politics as policing. Fortunately, his previous job as chief constable of Northern Ireland prepared him for that. The photo montage of his time there records memorable meetings with the Obamas, President George W Bush, Blair and Brown, Irish President Mary McAlesse. But Orde looks happiest surrounded not by dignitaries but by his officers.
Does he still keep an eye on the situation in the province? “Only on a daily basis,” he says.
Are there lessons for English forces from his experience of building up a new police service that needed to command broad community support?
“One is that the basic principles of policing are little changed since 1829. In (Chris) Patten’s report, and this is its great strength, it was a great model of community policing with some bespoke bits – governance, 50/50 recruiting. Representative force is probably the biggest learning point.”
He says that in recruiting from minority groups, “the lesson is if you legislate it happens”.
Orde is “aware” of the so-called ‘bobby tax’ that Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh has campaigned against. Before applying to become a police officer in London, aspiring officers must complete a Certificate in Knowledge of Policing, which costs up to £1,000.
“If one is looking at building a representative force, if you put barriers in the way that may impact disproportionately on certain groups, then you are limiting your opportunity for getting the right people in. It restricts your field.”
Equipping cops with cameras is put forward as another way of increasing confidence in the police. If everything an officer does is recorded, then it can all be used in evidence. Orde says there is a spectrum of views on whether and when officers should use cameras.
“If I was a real chief where would I be on that spectrum? I would be ‘yes they have a value’. I think you need to think through very carefully the impact of every interaction with a citizen being on camera.
“Not just from an evidential story point of view but the impact on the relationship is what is critical. Certainly in my last world, in Northern Ireland, forget it. It would be a crazy thing to do and extremely bad judgement. I think there are some big issues around Article 8, and if I am in someone’s house.
“The policy will be worked up through the College of Policing but my sense is I think we should trust our officers.
“You can be too precise and these officers make frontline split second decisions every day of their lives, surely it is within their wit to form a view as to whether it is appropriate, necessary, sensible, or not and we live with that decision. The risk of course with that will be ‘you turned it off, you turned it on’. We just have to be grown up about that.”
Despite the profound reforms of the past few years, Orde wants more.
“The basic failing is that the force structure is flawed. We have got far too many forces. This Government is not interested in changing it. The last government wasn’t interested in changing it, so what you see is a huge amount of effort to coordinate that we would not have to do if we had fewer forces.
“Police Scotland is now eight forces into one. I think it is entirely the right decision. When I was last up there it looked like it is going in entirely the right direction.”
He adds: “The current Government’s view is that if forces want to merge they would look positively on that but that is no way to reorganise a police service.”
Will we see Police England in the near future?
“No, I think the solution is a serious review, it’s such an important topic it should not be done by the police, on what is the least worst fit. I think it is a function of population and geography. I don’t know what the answer is.
“The Royal Commission of 1962 talked about creating a model of policing fit for the next few decades not the next century. Colour television didn’t exist in 1962. The internet, email, cyber, international crime, money moving round eight countries in two nanoseconds. Yet we are still trying to police that with the same model.
“Governance is of course a matter for government. There are other models to governance depending on the size and scale of the force.”
Orde is never far away from the headlines. The papers love to write stories about the “outspoken” police chief.
“The press are a vital part of how chief officers are held to account; I have no difficulty with press in that sense at all. Does that mean I get frustrated when a very small number of journalists have a particular view and continue to make that view in an ill-informed and unintelligent way? Yes. Does that stop the basic principle? No.”
For Sir Hugh, handling the press, along with battling home secretaries, is just another day at the office.