Graham Cox has recently been elected to represent the voters in Westbourne ward on Brighton & Hove City Council. He has been described, by the infamous Brighton Politics Blogger, as an inspired choice by the local Conservative Party. Perhaps this plaudit has gone to his head? He’s rushed into the blogosphere and will find it takes some time to find his feet under his virtual desk. Unfortunately, time is in short supply for Mr Cox because to win the respect of his dutiful voters he must demonstrate respect for the political office he holds. To be respectable, he must be responsible. To be responsible, he must be measured in his pronouncements. He’s got off to a sorry start.
His first couple of posts proffer his personal perspective on his success. They introduce little information worth remarking upon. It is the usual fare from a local politician: he attacks the party in power, points out the effort made by his opponents to defeat him and forgets to thank the voters who elected him.
Having dispensed with the pleasantries, Mr Cox turns his hand to his specialist subject – policing (the following quotes comprise his whole third post at the time of writing). With a distinguished career in the force behind him, he might have been expected to share his organisational wisdom with the rest of us, to support the police and make genuinely constructive suggestions. Instead, he attacks the police! Traditionally, the Conservative Party supported the police. Was the New Labour project of leaving no issue safely in the hands of the Tories really that successful? His first proper political posting has style of a rough and ready bar back room bare fisted brawler. Here’s how he throws his punches:
I really am trying to avoid posting about policing – honest. However I offer this observation which could be confirmed by about 30 other people who saw the same thing.
Here’s a man who recognises that he must raise his political game from being restricted to mouthing off about his old job, yet cannot manage it. Had the incident describes been really serious or of much local significance, his claim to wish to avoid the subject might carry some weight. He has hung up his cap but still thinks he is wearing it. Look at his description of the trivial incident which has bothered him so much that he cannot hold his tongue:
Today at 10.10am I was waiting for the bus opposite Waitrose to take me back to Kings House. A police officer drove up in his fully marked police car. He parked the car outside Waitrose in Western Road, one half on the double yellow lines and one half of the car on the pavement.
Mr Cox must be congratulated on his attention to detail. If only regular members of the public were so aware of its importance when describing events, then much crime would be easier to sort out. So far, so good and also he gets some political brownie points for subtly mentioning that some members of the Conservative Party use the bus, like the rest of us. He continues:
The officer got out, hatless inevitably, and walked slowly into Waitrose carrying an envelope. He walked past two men sat on the bench outside Waitrose. They were already drunk and openly drinking from their Special Brew cans. They shouted ‘happy new year’ to the officer as he tried to avoid their gaze. He ignored them and wandered into Waitrose.
Obviously Mr Cox thinks that a copper should wear his hat always. I dare say that he is more knowledgeable about the official grooming protocol than my humble self. Personally, I do not think it is all that important to have the thing glued to their heads.
We are told that the officer walked slowly. Being an ex officer himself, nothing he reports about this scene is insignificant to him. He draws attention to the officer’s speed of movement deliberately. Clearly, we are being told that this was not an emergency call. The implication is that is was a casual matter. Except that the police don’t do casual, hatless or not. When in uniform they are on duty. Here we have an officer carrying out his official duties, which was probably connected with the envelope.
Next, Mr Cox stoops to a fiction which neatly fits his prejudged view of the situation. Despite waiting for the bus opposite Waitrose, which places him on the other side of the road, he declares that the errant officer tried to avoid their gaze. Someone on the other side of the road would have be exceptionally well sighted to be able to see where a man getting out of a car to enter a shop was actually looking. He probably had one eye on the traffic, to start with. Mr Cox clearly doesn’t have a clue where the officer tried to look. Did he declare telepathy in his election manifesto? Most probably the officer was trying to look where he was going!
Sadly, many of us locals have become accustomed to not making eye contact with our local street drinkers. We prefer not to see them at all. Their conspicuous personal problems upset us. Mr Cox is clearly of the belief that they should simply go away, where we can’t see them. Perhaps this officer is of the same point of view? Perhaps he was just getting on with his job? Perhaps he didn’t even notice them? Mr Cox certainly noticed them.
What was the police officer doing? I have no idea. It certainly was not an emergency but he could have been investigating something.
He could have been doing any one of the vast range of activities that comprise the complex job of policing, as Mr Cox well understands. Having himself been in various positions of high responsibility when he was in the profession himself, he surely knows that pretty much anything this officer was up to was purposeful and probably under instruction from a more senior officer. Doubtless, he was focused on the task in hand.
What message did he send out to the 30 people watching him? Well presumably it is ok to park on double yellow lines and the pavement if you drive a police car. As for the public bench, don’t worry about old people who might want to sit there while waiting for the bus, it is reserved for Brighton street drinkers to sit there consuming high strength lager.
Oh dear. As a local fellow, Mr Cox knows perfectly well the impossibility of finding a parking space in Brighton or much of Hove. Did he, when he was the last Superintendent in charge of Hove Police Station, order his officers always to find legal parking spaces when carrying out official duties? Doesn’t seem very likely, does it? That stance would have defeated the ability of his force to carry out their duties in sensible time frames; they would have spent much of their working lives driving around to find the free spots and then walking to and from their destinations. What sort of message would that sort of carry on give? None of us like to see parking on pavements but few of us begrudge the officers we pay for, especially when they park on really wide pavements. Where’s the real harm?
Mr Cox could have concentrated on the evident social problems faced by all end of the line places like Brighton. Street drinkers are the most visible end of that spectrum. Drinking in public is not illegal in Brighton. Perhaps Mr Cox wishes that it was? He doesn’t say so… what annoys him is that these particular alcoholics have sat on a public bench.
The alcoholics he finds so distasteful are members of the public but Mr Cox doesn’t think they should sit on a public bench. Therefore, he wants them to sit on the pavement. Has he tried to sit on the pavement at this time of year? I guess not…
Although street drinking is not illegal, antisocial behaviour can be dealt with by the police. However, these alcoholics were not being antisocial. In fact, they wished the hatless police officer a happy new year. This kind sentiment is exactly the sort of vibe which Brighton is famous for.
Such a shame – if the officer had parked round the corner, put his hat on and had a quiet word to the street drinkers the 30 people watching might have thought the authorities in Brighton cared a bit more.
The shame is on you Mr Cox. When was the last time you had a quiet word with our local street drinkers? When was the last time you spoke to them at all? You are now a member of our local authority. Respect for the local authorities rests on your shoulders too. If you want to criticise others, you must be prepared to show some of the public care which you complain is so lacking. When did you last ask alcoholic street drinkers if they might give their seat up for someone else?
What sort of message are you sending out? That it is okay to shoot your mouth off without investigating the facts? What policies does your party offer to cure Brighton & Hove’s serious problems with alcohol and drug abuse? Criticising a police officer like this is a really cheap shot. You would struggle to sink much lower. It is political gesturing gone mad. It serves no purpose whatsoever.
Had you really cared about this incident, which has apparently bothered you so much that you could not resist the urge to issue a public posting about it, you could have taken some constructive action and then written about that. You could have nipped over the road, noted the officer’s number and contacted your old colleagues to enquire whether it was considered acceptable for hatless officers to park on the pavement, to walk slowly, to ignore sociable citizens in the circumstances at the time. Being a local councillor and an ex-police officer, your enquiry would have been treated seriously. You’d have got a reply which dealt with the issues.
If you want to be taken seriously as a councillor, you’ll have to start thinking local issues through a more clearly, before shooting from the hip. This time your aim was ill advised. Consider yourself politically deflowered. Time to start acting the part you have obtained in the theatre of local politics, if you want to be taken seriously.