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April 14, 2008

Harry Phibbs uncovers the quiet conservatism of Brian Paddick: Line of Fire - Brian Paddick

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Line of Fire
by Brian Paddick
London: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Hardback, 17.99

It is a measure of how bad things have got in the Metropolitan Police that this volume is not just an autobiography of the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London who was famous for being a gay police officer soft on cannabis and anarchism. It is also a warning that political correctness at the Met has got out of hand.

Certainly, Paddick chronicles how he struggled with his sexuality - not just because of the complications it involved as a policeman but, rather more seriously, as a Christian and a husband.

There is never a right moment for these sorts of life-changing revelations
says Paddick who made the disclosure to his wife in
a very good Chinese restaurant in Ewell.

He says:

There was no massive row and she even thanked me for being honest with her. Some time later, Mary told me that if I had said I was leaving her for another woman she would never have forgiven me. Instead, she realised I needed something she would never be able to give me.
Joining shortly before he Brixton riots in the early 1980s when he was firmly in the closet, in the latter stages of his police career Paddick became enthusiastically high profile about being a gay policeman. Far from regarding it as a private matter he crusaded against homophobia.

But while happy to rock the boat, he is clear in the book that he is trying to achieve equality not special treatment. In this regard it is rather an equivalent volume to the one written by his friend, the senior Asian police officer Ali Dizaei.

When Sir Ian Blair was Deputy Commissioner at the Met, Paddick asked for an investigation over a malicious campaign against him. The proper procedure was not followed. Sir Ian told him,

The trouble is Brian, when we've got a senior ethnic minority officer and a senior gay officer involved we don't know what to do.
As Paddick says:
The correct response, of course, is that it should not matter what colour somebody is or what their sexuality is; if you are having trouble with the concept, you should look at the case as if both parties are straight, white male officers and make a decision on that basis.
He adds:
This was a measure of how political correctness appeared to be undermining the whole process of officers being held to account on the one hand and achieving justice for those who were victims on the other.
Paddick also adds that a target for a higher ratio of female and ethnic minority recruits to the police was met not by attracting more applications from such groups but by putting high calibre, much needed, white candidates on a waiting list.

At the Hendon training school Paddick recalls:

I met a black female recruit in week twelve of her training. She told me it was embarrassing for her to meet a white male who had gone through the same selection process as she, yet had to wait 18 months before he started training while she was already three-quarters of the way through hers. At a Scotland Yard briefing on July 28 2003, the head of Personnel told us their were eight thousand application forms waiting to be processed mostly from white males.
Paddick says he considered "for a few hours" an approach to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. He spurned the offer on the reasonable grounds that he was not a Conservative but a Lib Dem supporter.

But he does seem to have a surprising number of conservative instincts. Here he is again complaining about Sir Ian Blair:

One of the first things that Ian Blair did when he became commissioner was to order the refurbishment of his office; an exercise carried out at great expense to the Met. For decades the room had been lined with dark wood-panelling, except for the one section which had a life-size full-length painting of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Met. An old chiming clock sat on a large antique desk. This cross between a gentleman's club and the library of a stately home had seemed timeless rather than old fashioned, giving the occupier a sense of gravitas.

The decor was very different now. The green carpet had been replaced with a beige oatmeal affair, just like the one I had in my lounge at home. The imposing dark-wood formal writing desk in the centre of the room had gone and was replaced by a light coloured modern desk set back at the far end, almost as if it had been pushed out of the way.

Matching light-wood panels on either side. Sir Robert Peel had been usurped by a huge plasma television. a round coffee table with a modern suede leather chairs set around it on a circular rug had replaced the traditional sofa and arm chairs. It looked and smelt like a DFS showroom.

One of Sir Ian's first initiatives was to change the Met's slogan from "Working for a safer London" to "Working together for a safer London."

There was also a change in the font removing the stylised handwriting script. Paddick writes:

I was told by the Department of Public Affairs that the change had been made to make it easier to read by those who were visually impaired. When inevitably the word got out (not from me) that Ian had spent a small fortune redesigning the slogan and making it easier to read for those who were visually impaired, the Yard strenuously denied it.
At the hustings, Paddick has not taken off. He has come across as dull. But in this book he comes across as interesting to the point of being reckless. His criticisms of Sir Ian Blair strike me as valid, though in complaining about the politicisation of the police some of his own conduct is open to question. He still can't seem to understand as a serving police officer contributing to an anarchist website that
the concept of anarchy appealed to me
was ill judged. (Now he is trying to persuade people to turn out and vote for him let's see if the anarchist concept of abstaining in elections appeals to him.)

His enthusiasm for talking to the press was bound to cause trouble for him although his concern to seek understanding with opponents is attractive. As well as anarchists he even made efforts to woo right wing columnists. Brian Paddick writes:

Once the suing of Associated Newspapers was over and the general furore had died down somewhat, I invited Peter Hitchens to lunch at the Royal Academy for the Arts. It has to be said that, while I did not agree with a lot of his views, we had an interesting and engaging lunch where, it probably pains both of us to admit, we enjoyed each other's company.

Encouraged by this success, I then invited Richard Littlejohn for dinner at the Ivy. One of the managers who knew me well came up to me when Richard went off to the loo and said "Tell me that isn't Richard Littlejohn!" I did well enough on convincing Littlejohn he had been wrong about me for him to insist on paying the bill at the end of the evening.

I can see how Paddick must have been a difficult colleague in the police. His willingnesss to speak out must have been exasperating. But I am pleased he has done so in this book. It is both a poignant memoir but also an urgent wake up call to what is wrong with policing in our capital city.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist and a Conservative Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham. The views expressed above are those of Harry Phibbs, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director. The Social Affairs Unit is not a party political organisation.

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