This war is not in black and white

Published in the Jewish Chronicle 28 July 2006

This is one of those times when I feel badly out of step, estranged, one way or another, from most of my fellow Jews. Crises in the Middle East, I have discovered, have a way of doing that.

So I look to my left and see Jews for Justice for Palestinians, a group who are appalled and distressed, as I am, by the scenes of violence coming from Lebanon. So appalled, in fact, that they took to the streets last Saturday alongside, among others, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Muslim Association of Britain.

JfJfP might have their hearts in the right place, but they get it wrong, time after time. Earlier this month, they spent

Racism is still the key to the Lawrence case

The revelation of corruption at the heart of the Met's investigation must not detract from the main lessons of Stephen's murder

Published in the Evening Standard 27 July 2006

The murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 was probably the most important single killing in this city's living memory. It led to a profound rethinking of policing in London and beyond, but also to a round of soul-searching that affected almost every major institution in Britain. The good ones, at least, looked hard at themselves, wondering if they too were tainted by the disease Sir William Macpherson, in his inquiry into the Lawrence murder, had diagnosed in the Metropolitan police: institutional racism.

The government encouraged this process: they even wanted to name follow-up legislation the Stephen Lawrence Memorial Act (until they were dissuaded by reluctant parliamentary draftsmen). But chief credit for ensuring that we have not forgotten Stephen belongs to his parents, Neville and Doreen, two campaigners who have become the personification of stoic, righteous determination.

Now the BBC has added to that effort, with last night's TV documentary, The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence. Through dogged investigation, carried out over a year, reporter Mark Daly exposed the evidence which might well, at long last, bring Stephen's killers to justice. The programme showed that the suspects' alibis don't add up and that there are new witnesses ready to come forward. That could be sufficient ground for a new murder trial or, failing that, charges of perjury or obstruction of justice.

Daly's key allegation, however, was of police corruption at the heart of the investigation. He argued that Detective Sergeant John Davidson was on the payroll of the notorious gangster Clifford Norris, father of one of the suspects. In return for what Davidson was said to have called a "good little earner," the policeman allegedly protected the Norris family, ensuring that the investigation never got too close.

As if that was not bad enough, the film claimed a cover-up of this cover-up. Detective Constable Neil Putnam wanted to tell the Macpherson inquiry what he knew - but he was never called. He says he offered to talk three separate times, yet his tip was never taken up. That suggests a conspiracy to protect the Met from what would have been an explosive revelation. The sooner these claims get their own investigation the better.

But there is danger here, one that should trouble all those who drew comfort from the Macpherson process and hoped it would lead to a better Met. To understand it, one has to go back to February 1999 and the day the inquiry published its findings.

They were met by praise from both the government and anti-racist campaigners. But others, especially in the right-leaning press, queued up to denounce the Scottish judge. They claimed he had been taken in by lefties, that his branding of the Met as institutionally racist was, in terms that were cliched even then, political correctness gone mad.

It would be tempting now, thanks to the BBC report, to conclude that those critics were right. How ironic, we might say, that after all that fuss, it was not racism that led the Met astray, but plain, old-fashioned corruption. The problem was not some collective mindset that regarded a black life as less valuable than a white one. No, the trouble was much more limited: it came down, at most, to a few bent coppers.

Such an exercise in revisionism would not only affect how we view London's past. It would have a direct impact on London's present. For perhaps the defining mission of Sir Ian Blair's tenure at the top of the Met has been to remedy the ills spotted by Macpherson: rooting out the racists, transforming the diversity of the staff, changing the very mentality of the force. But if Macpherson had wrongly identified the problem, then what need would there be for Blair's painful, and much-opposed, solution?

Drawing such a conclusion from these latest revelations would be tempting indeed. Tempting, but wrong. Yesterday I spoke to Richard Stone, one of the three wise men who advised Sir William. Had the BBC film shaken his faith in the inquiry's findings? Not a bit.

"Our conclusions of institutional racism were robust in themselves, regardless of corruption," he told me. Besides, claims of corruption hardly come as a surprise. The inquiry suspected as much; they just didn't have the evidence to prove it. What was not in doubt was what Stone calls a "collective failure" that went from the bottom to the very top of the Met, which, he insists, could only be explained by the "feeling that they didn't need to bother too much with this case because the family were black."

Yes, Davidson was in charge of three witnesses. But there were plenty of other witnesses who were mishandled, and that was by officers who were (presumably) not corrupt. Nor can corruption explain the conduct of the lead officer on the night of the killing, who literally sent his men in the wrong direction because his starting assumption was that if a young black man was dead, he must have been involved in a fight.

Stone remains clear that the Met had a blind spot when it came to Stephen Lawrence, one that cannot be explained by bribery - and I agree with him. It's important that we hold firm to that conclusion, reached so painfully in 1999. For the problems Macpherson identified persist, and some have got even worse. You are now eight times more likely to be stopped by police in London if you are black or Asian than if you are white. You were four or five times more likely when Macpherson sat nearly eight years ago. Says Stone: "The fact is that [the police] are still doing random stops on black people, including young Muslims, just for the fun of it."

We need to act on the BBC film, chasing Davidson if he is guilty and unearthing corruption wherever it exists. But we should not delude ourselves that it was a few backhanders that denied the Lawrence family justice. It was racism - and we must never forget it.

The power shift towards daring Ken

Bumping up the congrestion charge to #25 for gas guzzling cars is an act of political bravado. And Mayor Livingstone will soon be gaining wider controls over London's future

Published in the Evening Standard 13 July 2006

That's the thing about politicians: give them some power and they'll use it; give them a little and they'll take more.

Ken Livingstone has just delivered another masterclass in the subject, with the congestion charge as his set text. When it was first introduced in 2003 it stood at a flat rate of #5, applicable only to central London. That sounded reasonable enough and Londoners backed it. Then, last year, the mayor raised it to #8. There were some mumblings of protest, but not much more. That was followed by expansion of the zone westward, to include Kensington and Chelsea. K & C mobilised its divisions, but to no avail.

Bit by bit the congestion charge has changed shape, costing more and extending its reach across the capital. But yesterday Ken went further than he had dared before. He unveiled a plan to increase the charge once again, though only for a specific category of car: the "gross polluters" known as Chelsea tractors. The mayor wants these cars, the Jeeps and Range Rovers, to pay a whacking #25 by 2010.

It's a move breathtaking for its political bravado. What began as a levy of just #5 will have multiplied to five times that amount for certain drivers within seven years. And unlike those previous increases, he's announced this one in advance of an election, risking the wrath of London's 4x4 vote ahead of the mayoral contest of 2008.

As if to reinforce the sheer chutzpah of the initiative, Ken's own people admit that Sport Utility Vehicles don't add to congestion in the city: one car is still just one car. So an extra tax on them is not a congestion charge at all. It is an eco-charge, a way of taxing cars not for clogging up London's roads but for emitting more than their fair share of carbon into the environment. So not only has Ken Livingstone expanded the cost and scope of the charge, he has now stretched its definition.

The politics are clear enough. Ken is gambling that for every SUV driver he will have to write off, there will be two or more Londoners who share his irritation with the monster cars. Even so, the road ahead could still be bumpy. If Ken defines the category of villainous vehicles the same way Gordon Brown did in the last Budget - as those that emit more than 226 grammes of CO2 per kilometre - he'll find himself punishing regular family cars like the Peugeot 407 and two-litre Ford Mondeo, along with the humble people carrier. They'd all pay #25. Meanwhile, owners of smaller 4x4s like the Land Rover Freelander or the Toyota Rav4 could ride into town for a mere #8. So Ken has to decide what it is exactly he wants to punish. Does he have an aesthetic problem with all 4x4's per se? If not, and his sole aim is to penalise those cars emitting too much CO2, he'd better be ready to declare war on Mondeo Man.

Let's say Ken sorts out the definitions. Will it work? If one assumes that the big polluters are very expensive, and their drivers rich, #25 might not be the disincentive Ken is hoping for. I've heard some wealthy motorists laud the congestion charge, laughingly urging Ken to raise it to #50 or even #100: "Drive the poor off the roads and leave the streets for us!" The City banker in his Porsche Cheyenne will barely notice an increase of #17.

Ken is hoping that such people are in a minority, that most will be deterred by a #25 levy - and not just deterred from driving into central London. No, Ken's ambition is that the capital's 4x4 owners eventually make a financial calculation that, given all the extra costs, the tractor is simply not worth running. One City Hall official puts it concisely: "We don't want them at all."

The result is a challenge to the two men who would be prime minister. Ken's people reckon Gordon Brown "bottled it" on Vehicle Excise Duty in the last Budget, failing to hit 4x4 owners hard enough. Meanwhile, they wonder what the cycling David Cameron will say about the #25 charge. Will he stay green and instruct London Conservatives to back it - thereby risking the ire of the Fulham 4x4 drivers who should be his natural constituency? Ken may just have found a way to do what Labour nationally has not yet managed: to flush out Cameron.

For my part, I'm prepared to give the idea a go - even though my own family car could fall foul of the new rules. The threat of climate change is so serious that drastic measures are necessary. And if this is what it takes to stop boiling our planet, then so be it.

What makes the move particularly fascinating is that today Ruth Kelly, the local government minister, will announce that the mayor is to receive a whole lot more power. The government has been reviewing the London set-up established in 2000 and decided that Ken has performed well enough to be trusted with greater muscle. Now he will have the power to approve - not just veto - planning applications, as well as greater control over adult learning and, crucially, London's rubbish.

The lesson of the congestion charge is that Ken will not let these new powers wither. He will grab them, use them and, if he can get away with it, expand them. And that is to be welcomed. After decades of movement in the other direction, finally power is shifting from the central to the local, pulled with both hands by Mayor Ken. Whitehall is watching closely, seeing how he does. If he makes London work, they'll be prepared to repeat the pattern in Manchester, Birmingham and beyond. A rebalancing of our national political system could be underway - led by a man with the gall to take what started as a traffic toll and transform it into a tool for saving the planet.

A great chance that shouldn’t be wasted

The World Cup has shown the way for us to make a success of the Olympic Games - and we shouldn't shirk from paying the extra #1.5bn forecast for regenerating East London

Published in the Evening Standard 6 July 2006

Today is the other anniversary. Like tomorrow's, it marks a year since a rare moment of solidarity in the life of this city, a time when Londoners came together and realised the depth of their attachment to this place, and perhaps even to each other. Unlike tomorrow's, this anniversary is one we will remember with a smile.

It was a year ago today that we heard the hesitant voice of IOC president Jacques Rogge announce that the Olympic Games for 2012 would go to the city of - followed by an agonisingly long pause as he fiddled with the envelope - "Lonndon!" He sounded as shocked as we were.

Few of those had given London much chance of winning. Used to sporting defeat, we assumed Paris was the obvious victor. But for the rest of that day, into the evening, there was a quiet, nodding satisfaction. We watched the pictures from Singapore - of Ken hugging Becks, both in their British-bid beige suits - and caught the excitement: a world event was coming to our city.

It lasted until rush hour the next morning. On July 7 London made the world's front pages for a different reason, and the Olympic celebrations felt like they belonged to another age. Yet the work has gone on and this week is the right moment to see how it's going - just as what's claimed to be the biggest, most successful sporting event in history draws to a close. Those organising London 2012 should be taking a good, hard look at Germany 06. For the World Cup has been a masterclass in how such things should be done.

Not one of the fears pessimists had about the tournament has materialised. There were warnings (including from the Vatican) that Germany would turn into a giant brothel, with one US Congressman predicting that 40,000 women would be trafficked into the country to be exploited as sex workers. It hasn't happened. Indeed, German prostitutes have complained that business has been down: the men have been too busy watching football.

There was minimal hooligan trouble; the Poles, who the German authorities had their eye on, exited meekly at the group stage. There has not, to date, been a terrorist attack, fear of which so haunted the tournament organisers. Nor did Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turn up to watch his national side, thereby tempting arrest as a Holocaust denier. Nothing has gone wrong.

Of course, Seb Coe and his team cannot do anything to replicate the Germans' good luck. But there are some lessons, positive and negative, they can learn. The first is transport. Those who were there have lauded the simple efficiency of the Germans' ability to get people from one place to another. On the largest scale, it was the completion of the new Hauptbahnhof train station in Berlin, a gleaming steel-and-glass marvel that was meant to open two weeks before the World Cup - and did, on time and on budget. More modestly, it was the lines of trams that awaited the crowds as they spilled out of Leipzig stadium, ready to ferry supporters to the train station. No queuing, no pushing, no shoving. How did the Germans pull this off? "It's not complicated," says the Guardian's Berlin correspondent Luke Harding. "The Germans threw money at the problem."

When it comes to transport, that?s been their habit for decades, long

before the World Cup, but they kept it up. The federal government spent some e3.7 billion (