The End of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (April 2004 – January 2018)

Oversight of policing in England and Wales

On Monday 8 January 2018 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will cease to exist. In its place the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will be established.

For my part I had planned to celebrate this momentous occasion by taking a much-needed week off work and heading to New York for a series of educational visits, lectures, receptions and social events, as a guest of my old law school (De Montfort University).

Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans! So after spending two days enjoying the sights and sounds of Heathrow Airport, here I am: back to reality and blogging about my employer on a Sunday. Life is good!

In all seriousness, I am very proud to be employed by such an important and reputable organisation, and I work alongside some of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to call my colleagues.

Indeed I pay tribute to the incredibly dedicated people I work with, who, like most public servants in our country, are overworked and underpaid for what they do. The smooth running of our society is reliant on hardworking and patriotic public servants and civil servants, who go above and beyond their call of duty every single day.

I have written this blog as a kind of personal tribute and potted history of the organisation that employed me. It is written solely in a private capacity. I do not speak for my employer and nobody should assume otherwise. I do, however, speak for myself, and my right to do so – as well as yours – is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998.

In this blog I shall talk about:

  • My current role and previous work around policing
  • The Police Complaints Board (PCB) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA)
  • The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Macpherson Report
  • Founding of the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC)
  • The IPCC’s size and structure, its scope and operations, and its impact
  • IPCC investigations and criticism of its work
  • The new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)

Within my organisation I currently have a dual role: leading investigations into potential or alleged police wrongdoing; and heading up our national PCS Union branch, which means I lead a team of trade union officials, working to protect the jobs and interests of hundreds of union members. I also lead national pay negotiations for all staff annually; an incredibly difficult and frustrating task whilst we have a government that does not value public sector workers.

Interestingly my career keeps bringing me back to policing in some form or another, although I have never actually served as a police officer.

When I was younger I did four years voluntary service as an Independent Custody Visitor in Leicester, where – as a member of the public – I would visit police stations randomly to check on the welfare of detained persons.

As a solicitor I have both taken actions against the police, and also worked on behalf of the Police Federation, to defend police officers. As a Labour Councillor in Leicester I served on the Board of the Leicestershire Police Authority, where my biggest achievement was leading efforts to help save more than 200 local policing jobs. And then in late 2014 I accepted a job offer with the IPCC.

I think it’s fair to say most people will have heard of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and most people would have some idea of the high level role it played in the police complaints system.

On reflection I suppose it was the organisation’s unique and important function that appealed to me and made me to want to work for it.

I consider myself to have a healthy mistrust of authority. That is to say, I believe everyone in a position of power – be it police, politicians, the press, or any other professional for that matter – should be answerable for the way they work and exercise power, especially when it comes to affecting peoples’ lives.

There must be robust and transparent scrutiny of what powerful people do, especially if and when something goes wrong. Indeed, it is part and parcel of living in a functioning modern democracy, right up there with upholding the rule of law and having a free press.

In terms of the IPCC’s background there were two main predecessor organisations.

In the mid-1970s, following a series of scandals involving the Metropolitan Police – and a perceived lack of independence in the police complaints system – the Police (Complaints) Act of 1976 was passed, and on 1 June 1977 the Police Complaints Board was established.

Until the creation of this body, complaints against police forces were handled directly by forces themselves, although the Home Secretary could refer serious complaints to alternate forces.

The Brixton riots in 1981, and the subsequent Scarman report – which investigated allegations of police racism – increased societal pressure to reform the Police Complaints Board.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 abolished the PCB and, in its place, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) was established a year later, with increased powers to actively supervise internal investigations being run by police forces.

The logo of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

What these organisations lacked however – both the PCB and later the PCA – was the clout to robustly scrutinise police complaints, or even carry out independent investigations.

The Police Complaints Authority was replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was formally created in 2004. In-fact it was established on April Fools’ Day to be precise! (No comment.)

The chain of events, which ultimately saw the creation of the IPCC, was arguably put into motion some 11 years earlier on the evening of Thursday 22 April 1993.

On that fateful night Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man from Lewisham, was attacked – along with his friend Duwayne Brooks – in what was a racially motivated act of violence, as they waited at a bus stop.

Stephen was stabbed twice, in the right collar bone and the left shoulder, and he sadly died of his injuries from massive blood loss. Following a catalogue of perceived failings by the Metropolitan Police, and as well as vocal public anger and political uproar, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson.

The Macpherson Report, published in 1999, branded the Metropolitan Police Service as “institutionally racist”. The report made 70 recommendations and this included the setting up of a new ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’.

It is fair to say then, that the IPCC was conceived in an atmosphere of societal discord and political wrangling. But it is also the case that big changes often have a contentious backstory. Something serious usually goes wrong for people to agree that something needs to change.

The key differences between the IPCC and its predecessor bodies were its size and structure, the scope of what it did, the way it operated, and its impact on policing. I’ll now expand a little in each of these areas.

In my opinion the best way to explain the structure of the outgoing IPCC is to think about it in the same way you would a school. In most schools there are two professional groups of people working alongside each other: teachers and governors.

In a similar way the IPCC had an operational structure, with staff members who ran the organisation and did the frontline work, just like teachers. It also had Commissioners – about a dozen or so – who were the public-facing administrators of the IPCC: holding the leadership to account and setting the direction of travel, not too dissimilar to school governors.

The only glitch with that analogy is that, unlike school governors, IPCC Commissioners were actively involved in making key decisions in investigations and appeals. And, if we were to expand the analogy somewhat, this was akin to school governors going into classrooms to teach lessons from time-to-time.

These blurred working practices within the IPCC perhaps serve to explain why, at least in part, the organisation had to undergo a major revamp.

Overall, the organisation – or at least its constituent parts, which shall continue working in the new structure – has surprisingly few staff for the important role that it plays throughout England and Wales. There are only about a thousand employees located across seven sites, with a Head Office in London, and then six further offices in Birmingham, Cardiff, Croydon, Sale, Wakefield and Warrington.

The core business of the IPCC insofar as the public is concerned – as well as policing professionals, politicians and the press – has been to oversee the police complaints system in England and Wales, and to increase public confidence in policing.

Referrals to the IPCC took a number of forms and, whilst members of the public sometimes got in touch directly, usually it was police forces which routinely referred themselves for scrutiny.

These were either voluntary referrals or mandatory referrals, depending on the seriousness of the matter. For example, all death and serious injury cases involving the police in any way required a mandatory referral.

Building on the remit of its predecessor organisation, the IPCC could choose to either supervise or manage a force’s internal investigation into its own officers or staff. Complainants also had the right to appeal to the IPCC in order to have the outcome of their complaint reconsidered.

Perhaps the broadest new power given to the IPCC, upon its founding some 14 years ago, was that of carrying out independent investigations – run entirely by the organisation itself – and using its own investigators.

For ease of reference, and in simple terms, it’s best to imagine the system as a four-layered pyramid. The bottom layer was local investigations. These were low-level complaints that were investigated by forces themselves.

The second layer was supervised investigations. These were carried out by police forces themselves as well, but in accordance with the terms of reference set down by the IPCC.

The third layer was managed investigations. These were carried out by police forces, but under the direction and control of the IPCC. And finally, at the top of the pyramid, there were independent investigations carried out by the IPCC.

The vast majority of independent investigations were serious and sensitive cases and usually fell into one of three different categories: 1) serious complaints; 2) serious conduct cases – so for police officers this meant potential breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour (contained in the Police Conduct Regulations); and 3) serious injury and / or death, either involving the police or following police contact.

When an independent investigation was declared, and once the parameters were clearly defined, the IPCC and its investigators had ownership and jurisdiction.

Arguably in some ways the IPCC was a bit like a law enforcement agency, with its own set of powers, fully trained investigators and support staff, equipment and resources, interview rooms, fleet vehicles etc.

But in reality it only ever functioned as a civilian oversight body: monitoring the police complaints system at arm’s length from government, and run entirely independently of all police forces and law enforcement agencies.

I have always felt that the organisation’s leadership and staff were pretty well-grounded, taking their roles and responsibilities very seriously. I also believe that the IPCC has operated as a pre-eminent public body, keeping an eye on the state, and providing a tangible check-and-balance on the way that police power was exercised when dealing with citizens.

Of course the IPCC was not perfect. No organisation ever is. But it did have a set of core values by which the organisation and its people were meant to abide. These were: justice and human rights; independence; valuing diversity; integrity; and openness – indeed it is in the spirit of openness that I have written this article!

Despite its good intentions however, the IPCC sometimes came in for criticism when things went wrong, or if its own staff overstepped the mark.

The organisation clearly had its wings clipped in the famous 2014 case of the IPCC v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (and others). In that judgement, the Court of Appeal held that contrary to how the IPCC had been operating, it could no longer express conclusive findings on whether or not a police officer’s conduct had been unlawful and / or unreasonable.

So instead, the IPCC – and Lead Investigators like me – had to confine ourselves to stating only whether an officer had a case to answer for misconduct, or if a CPS referral needed to be made, rather than appearing to pass any sort of judgement.

Here we have an example of where a body that had been tasked with keeping the police in-check, also itself had to be kept in-check, by an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law.

In my view this merely serves to illustrate that any person or public body exercising power and authority has the potential to overstep the mark and exceed its remit, sometimes even unintentionally, which further proves my earlier point.

Now as we acknowledge the passing of the institution known as the IPCC, let’s look briefly at the future of the organisation, and the changes that lie ahead.

Firstly, as we have seen from the inception of the PCB in 1977, to the PCA in 1985, and then later the IPCC in 2004: the trend is steadily upwards when it comes to increased public scrutiny of state power – as personified by the police.

The new Independent Office for Police Conduct will have greater powers and a bigger remit than the outgoing IPCC. This is not entirely surprising bearing in mind the expanding size of the state, catering to an ever-increasing and diverse population.

In 2017, another small organisation was incorporated into the organisation’s remit, in that the IPCC began regulating the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

This was in addition to the IPCC’s existing role in investigating serious complaints against HM Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency, Police and Crime Commissioners, and Home Office special enforcement staff, not to mention the 43 police force areas of England and Wales, and other specialist police forces also.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) shall come into existence on Monday 8 January 2018. The IOPC will have a range of new powers, including the power to present cases at disciplinary hearings, and the power to proactively call-in matters that it wants to investigate, rather than just waiting for matters to be referred in.

One of the other big changes taking place in the new IOPC will be the removal of all Commissioners – the aforementioned public-facing governors – and the move towards a single operating structure and line of accountability.

Incorporated into the IOPC operating model will be new Regional Directors for every English region and a Director for Wales, and as well a new Director General instead of a Chief Executive.

So it’s clear there are many big changes in the pipeline.

Some 40 years after the first public body was established, to look into complaints against the police, we are set to see a bigger, emboldened, more powerful and proactive regulatory agency, scrutinising the work of the police, and other public bodies.

This is what Parliament voted for, in the public interest, and I think it is a good thing.

In-fact, I would go further and say that in addition to the general public, all policing professionals should want to see a new regulator like the IOPC. It is in the interests of decent hardworking people, of every background, to want to have high quality, transparent and constructive oversight of their profession.

As a solicitor by background myself, I always welcomed seeing the Solicitors Regulations Authority stepping in to root out solicitors who had unlawfully taken client monies, or completely failed to adhere to client instructions. I suspect most police officers and staff would take a similar view in respect of their own profession.

In closing, I wanted to take a moment to mention a particular police officer who really stood out to me over the last year, and no doubt to countless others.

His name was PC Keith Palmer and he was a 48-year-old police constable serving with the Metropolitan Police Service. He had a wife, named Michelle, and a 5-year-old daughter.

In April 2016 PC Palmer was assigned to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Group. Less than a year later, on 22 March 2017, as PC Palmer stood guard protecting the parliamentary estate – the very heart of our democracy – a fascist Islamist with warped beliefs went on a rampage, killing four pedestrians whilst driving a vehicle at high speed along Westminster Bridge.

The terrorist crashed his car into the parliamentary perimeter fence, before abandoning it, and running into New Palace Yard, attempting to access Westminster Palace itself.

As most people understandably ran from the danger, PC Palmer stood up to it, taking the brunt of the violence. PC Palmer lost his life that day, but his heroic efforts slowed down the attacker, and almost certainly saved the lives of other people.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to PC Palmer, and countless other men and women like him – both civilian and military – without whom we would not be able to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we have.

I think it is incumbent on us all never to take those freedoms for granted, and never to lose sight of the fundamental pillars that make up British democracy, such as the rule of law – and holding power accountable in the public interest.

Harborne Labour hit the ground running!

Harborne Labour community update (Page 1)Earlier this month I was thrilled and deeply honoured to have been selected as a Labour candidate for Harborne in the May 2018 Birmingham City Council elections. If elected, it will be the second time I have served on the Council of a major UK city, having previously been a Leicester City Councillor between 2011 and 2015.

Since our selection my good friend and fellow candidate Cllr Jayne Francis and I have been out campaigning regularly in Harborne, together with many of our brilliant Labour activists, and our hardworking local Member of Parliament for Edgbaston Preet Gill MP.

In late summer we ran numerous campaign sessions in Harborne, not only speaking to shoppers on the High Street – and distributing our latest community update – but also getting out on the Labour doorstep and speaking with local residents about the issues that matter to them.

Harborne residents have been relieved to see that the recent bin strike has apparently been resolved. However there remain many pressing concerns in our community on everything from a lack of school places, to a perceived rise in hate crime; from the ever-increasing cost of accommodation, to the threat of increased noise pollution by flights to and from Birmingham Airport.

Harborne Labour community update (Page 2)Like other big communities having to cope with years of Tory neglect and under-investment, we also have our fair share of health and social care challenges in Harborne. Diabetes rates are a cause for concern and Harborne has some of the most worrying statistics when it comes to mental health. In recent years we’ve also seen an increase in levels of homelessness across Birmingham as a direct result of major funding cuts being imposed centrally by Theresa May’s Tory government.

Jayne and I are ready for the challenge of representing Harborne in the years ahead. We will work closely with Labour’s Preet Gill MP, with Birmingham City Council and fellow Councillors, and with other community stakeholders, to secure a better deal for Harborne and to address many of the issues important to local residents.

As we fight to deliver positive changes and improvements for people in Harborne, in line with core Labour principles, we will inevitably face hostility and opposition from those who do not share our values.

Harborne Labour out campaigning on the doorstepThankfully the people of Harborne recognise and appreciate our efforts. Many voters have told us how impressed they’ve been to see us out and about at such an early stage of an election cycle.

And so we move forward with our campaign! We have huge talent and great ability in our Labour team. We have the best activists and a brilliant local MP helping us to knock on doors, promote our message and deliver results.

And we have the right set of values and priorities for residents in Harborne; decent hardworking people who simply want their local politicians to focus on justice and jobs, on housing and healthcare, and to deliver a cleaner, safer and more pleasant community in which to live and work.

So here’s to the good people of Harborne, as we campaign hard in the months ahead, to have the high privilege of addressing their needs and advancing their interests on Birmingham City Council.

Harborne's Labour candidates Sundip Meghani and Jayne Francis with campaigners

Reasons to vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015

Enjoying a quick coffee after a morning's campaigning in Oadby with local activistsOver the last 9 months, together with my team of Labour council candidates, I have been speaking with people in Oadby, Wigston, Fleckney, Great Glen, Kibworth, North Kilworth, Market Harborough, and many other parts of our great constituency.

I have attended four separate hustings, including the Leicester Secular Society debate featured in the video above, and I have participated in several house meetings organised by local residents.

Celebrating Navratri with the Oadby and Wigston Hindu communityI have visited schools, sports clubs, businesses and places of worship, and I have been listening to the concerns of local residents, and the difficulties that people are being forced to endure.

Throughout the campaign I have noticed a distinct theme. Firstly many people in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston are feeling the effects of rising food and energy prices as their salaries stagnate. Moreover, hundreds of local people are experiencing problems as a direct result of the current Tory government’s failures on the NHS, jobs, housing and welfare.

Inspiring the next generation of Labour voters during a visit to Manor High School in OadbyTo counter this cost of living crisis in our country, stimulate faster growth in the economy, and repair our public services and NHS, Labour has a detailed and costed plan with a wide range of excellent policies. (Click here to read the Labour manifesto.)

This includes raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour, banning exploitative zero hours contracts, and abolishing the bedroom tax. It also includes freezing energy prices for two years and freezing rail prices for at least one year, bringing in rent controls to make housing affordable, extending free childcare to 25 hours, and protecting state pensions whilst capping pension fees and charges.

Campaigning to protect our NHS in Market HarboroughFor young people betrayed by the Liberal Democrats – who had pledged not to raise tuition fees and then trebled them – Labour will cut tuition fees by a third. We also want to lower the voting age to 16, reform the House of Lords, increase pay transparency to end the gender pay gap, and freeze business rates for SMEs.

In terms to our NHS we will guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours and have maximum wait times of 1 week for cancer tests and results. We also plan to recruit 8,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses, whilst integrating health and social care in order to help all people with their physical, mental and social care needs. Most importantly of all we want to reverse the part-privatisation of our NHS brought in by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition.

The Lib Dems are in 4th place according to the YouGov NowcastSo to all the wonderful people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, and everyone else reading this blog post, I ask you to please vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015.

Your vote matters a great deal in this election, especially in our constituency where the Lib Dems are now trailing in 4th place, according to several respected media outlets. A vote for the Lib Dems will simply serve to let the Tories back in!

Vote for Labour’s excellent policies and the principles for which we stand. Vote for a progressive government and a leader who is prepared to stand up to powerful interests. Vote for a better future for you, for your family and for Britain.

Vote for Sundip Meghani, Labour's candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

UPDATE

“Thank you to everyone who voted for me in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston. Labour came second; our best result here since 1979! Thanks to my agent and campaign team. Although it was a terrible result for the Labour Party nationwide, I am confident we will regroup, learn some big lessons, and once again regain the trust of the British people.” – Sundip Meghani

Labour candidates on every ballot in Oadby, Wigston and Market Harborough town

Please vote Labour on 7 May 2015For the first time in decades all residents in Oadby and Wigston will have the option to vote for a Labour candidate at the upcoming local Council elections. There will also be a Labour candidate in every ward of Market Harborough town.

This is in marked contrast to the election in 2011, when there were just 4 Labour candidates standing in two Oadby and Wigston wards, and no Labour candidates in two out of four Market Harborough wards.

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston – Leicester councillor Sundip Meghani – said he was delighted with the news. He said:

“Not only is this good for democracy, but in recent elections people in Oadby and Wigston have been forced to choose between the blue Tories and the yellow Tories. It’s time local people the chance to vote for a real alternative and I’m delighted we’re able to offer them one.”

Labour are running three candidates in Oadby Grange and 9 individual candidates in all other Oadby and Wigston wards. There will also be several Labour candidates standing in Harborough district including all four wards of Market Harborough town.

Here is our full list of official Labour candidates in the upcoming elections:

Sundip Meghani is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

Sundip Meghani is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

Sundip and the local Labour team are committed to working hard for all residents

Sundip and the local Labour team are committed to working hard for all residents

Our Council candidates for Oadby, Wigston, Kibworth and Market Harborough

Our Council candidates for Oadby, Wigston, Kibworth and Market Harborough

 

Why I’m standing to become a Labour Member of Parliament

Please vote Labour on Thursday 7 MayOver the next few months most people are going to be swamped with campaign slogans, manifestos, debates and broadcasts, leaflets, billboards and doorstep visits.

I know this to be true because I’m one of those political types planning to bombard fellow citizens with much of the above. (Sorry about that.)

But why do we go to the trouble of campaigning to seek political office?

For my part it’s because I’m not prepared to settle for the ways things are, and I believe we have a duty to improve society, so everyone has the chance to reach their full potential. I also detest injustice with a passion.

As the son of refugees, having grown up with hunger, poverty, discrimination and hopelessness, I know what it feels like to live in an unjust world.

That’s why I’m disgusted with the current state of affairs where ordinary working people – as well as those who are young, disabled or less well off – are being made to pay for the worst excesses of the rich, the powerful and the greedy.

I’m also dissatisfied with the lack of well paid jobs, the chronic shortage of affordable housing, and the deterioration of our public services, especially the NHS. For these reasons I’m standing for election to become the Labour MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston.

It’s a huge challenge to undertake, but I’m immensely proud to be fighting for local people, and trying to make a difference. I’m also proud to be associated with the Labour Party.

Ours is the party of social justice and solidarity; aspiration and achievement. We believe we can and should work hard to create a fairer, stronger and more prosperous society.

We also believe that unless we consciously stand together and help each other get on in life, society will become more unequal, and in the long term this will damage our nation as a whole.

In this election Labour has a range of excellent ideas and policies to get our country back on track, and to create new jobs, restore a sense of fairness, and improve our NHS. But to get things done we’ll have to convince people to vote for change.

Now obviously my opinion is biased as I want everyone to cast their ballots for Labour. But to paraphrase Plato: when we refuse to get involved in politics we end up being governed by our inferiors.

Whatever your view of our political system – or indeed politicians – I hope you exercise your right to vote on polling day. Don’t leave it to someone else to decide what happens to yours and your family’s future.

Click here to view my pledges to the people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

 

Resignation Statement – Stepping down from Leicester City Council

“I have decided to step down as a Leicester City Councillor in May 2015 to focus on my parliamentary election and my new full time job. It has been a huge privilege to serve as a Labour and Co-operative Councillor for my home ward of Beaumont Leys, the place where I grew up and went to school.

I have worked extremely hard over these last four years to help local people and represent their views and interests on the Council.

I was proud to sit on the planning committee and vote to rebuild my old secondary school, Babington Community College. I also raised money for charities in Beaumont Leys; opposed illegal traveller encampments on behalf of residents; highlighted the damaging impact of Tory and Lib Dem policies on my constituents; and sought to inspire the next generation.

On behalf of the city more generally, I led efforts to save 200 policing jobs back in February 2012, and I spoke about policing cuts at Labour’s national conference.

I also brought conferences to the city to boost business; pushed for a new riverside memorial space to scatter ashes; supported asylum seekers who had settled here; raised the issue of ever increasing homelessness; campaigned to reduce the amount of sugar in school meals; and stood up for Leicester when outsiders sought to create division.

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian refugees it was a particular honour, on the 40th anniversary of the expulsion, to bring a motion in Council recognising the contribution Ugandan Asians have made to our city and our country.

On a personal note it was also quite wonderful to drive my parents to the polling station on 5 May 2011 so they could vote for me – or at least they said they did!

All of the above successes and the many other positive changes we have seen in Beaumont Leys and across our city have only been possible because we have a Labour-controlled Council here in Leicester, as well as three brilliant hardworking Labour MPs in Keith Vaz, Liz Kendall and Jon Ashworth.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Councillor and I believe I have made a positive contribution. I would like to thank Liz Kendall MP, Cllr Vijay Riyait, my fellow Leicester Labour Councillors, and all my family and friends for their support and guidance.

I also want to thank Beaumont Leys Labour members for selecting me, and Beaumont Leys residents for electing me, back in 2011. I will fulfil my duties for the remainder of my term but I will not be seeking re-election to the Council in 2015.

I remain committed to the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party and I will be working hard between now and May 2015 to help elect a Labour government.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Leicester is already British and we’re proud of who we are

** Scroll down for updated comments following the Make Leicester British broadcast **

I first found out about Channel 4’s ‘Make Leicester British’ documentary when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. Many Leicester people including me have serious concerns about the way in which this programme will portray community relations in our city when it is aired on Monday night.

For one thing the trailer begins with the following statement: “In one of Britain’s most diverse cities immigration polarises opinion.” Most of us in Leicester know this is a lie. ‘Polarises’ is a very strong word. It implies there are major disagreements in our city and that immigration is a huge issue for local people. This is simply untrue.

The trailer then cuts to further statements from two different individuals: a man says “English society is losing its identity”; and a woman is then seen to say “I do not want any more people coming into this country; enough is enough!”

These are clearly very provocative statements, although I’m advised the programme will not be as inflammatory as the trailer would seem to suggest. Indeed it appears the trailer has been specifically designed to cause a reaction (and it worked) as well as to whip up a frenzy of viewers on Monday night.

It’s disappointing but unsurprising that Channel 4 regularly broadcasts controversial programmes such as this. ‘Benefits Street’ is another example.

Channel 4 would have us believe they are a bastion of liberal media and a guardian of social justice and equality in Britain. In reality Channel 4 is a commercial organisation and in the end it all comes down to profits and advertising revenues. The higher the viewing figures; the greater the income stream.

Immigration is one of many important issues we care about here in Leicester. But our people and our politicians do not talk irresponsibly about immigration or seek to blame immigrants for the ills of society. Leicester people by and large know that societal problems tend to stem from Tory policies, both past and present, which have always disproportionately favoured very rich people and big corporations.

visitleicesterIn any event I think it’s a disgrace that the programme is called “Make Leicester British”. As my friend and Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth tweeted recently “Leicester, proud of our rich diversity, already is British.”

It is extremely offensive for the programme makers and for Channel 4 to suggest our city is not British, or that our ‘Britishness’ has somehow been diluted by the arrival of immigrants, be it from Poland, Somalia, or anywhere else. We also don’t appreciate having some middle class, middle aged, middle management types from London defining what Britishness means to our people and our city.

In regards to the programme I think it’s highly unlikely a bunch of journalists from London visiting Leicester for a couple of weeks – who handpicked participants for an edited 90-minute broadcast – will have gained a sufficient understanding or experience of our beautiful city, our rich heritage, our cultural diversity, and the unity of our people. But let’s wait and see what kind of footage they put out on Monday night.

‘Make Leicester British’ will be shown on 3 November 2014 at 9pm on Channel 4

UPDATE

Having now watched ‘Make Leicester British’ I can make the following observations.

Just a few minutes into the broadcast I knew it would be utter garbage. The narrator referred to Leicester as a divided city, which is an outright lie. In-fact the programme was full of lies, i.e. claiming there were 53 mosques in Leicester when there are actually around 30.

I feel vindicated for having serious concerns about the way in which the programme would portray Leicester people. But I also knew the documentary was produced by the same people who gave us ‘Benefits Street’.

This was manufactured gutter television of the lowest order, designed to create controversy, boost ratings and advertising revenues, and advance the interests of the programme makers – not the political issues or the participants.

The show was sensationalist drivel passed off as a documentary. It entirely failed to reflect the true face of Leicester people. To top it off these visiting London journalists had the audacity to try to define what Britishness should mean to our city and our people.

Ultimately 8 days of footage was edited into 90 minutes of viewing to paint a particular narrative. Specifically, the programme makers wanted us to believe Leicester is divided and that immigration is a major issue in our city; neither of which is true.

The producers handpicked the participants and seemingly opted for people who held extreme views. Whilst this may have made good television – in the eyes of the programme makers – sadly all it demonstrated was that this was never meant to be a sensible, thought-provoking or reasonable documentary about immigration and its associated issues.

There was no factual discussion of the positive aspects of immigration, such as the fact immigrants have contributed more than £25 billion to the British economy. There was also no discussion of the welfare payments asylum seekers receive, which is a maximum of £36 per week.

Overall it was a disgraceful distortion of our city and our people. The programme entirely failed to properly debate the important issue of immigration in a mature and rational way. By ending with a few pithy examples of participants learning the error of their ways, this tacky programme tried to harvest some sense of dignity, and justify the need for its production.

It failed miserably on all counts and I’m sure most Leicester people would agree with me.

One Leicester