Adam Boulton: Obviously now in this morning’s papers there is talk of resignations, looking at what happened on Thursday, especially the attack on the Prince of Wales and his wife, do you think there is a case for resignation either from the Met Commissioner or the Home Secretary?
Ed Balls: No I don’t at this stage. I don’t think we have any reason to make that call. I expect Theresa May should do a statement to the Commons tomorrow, and I spoke to the police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday and I know he is doing a full investigation. He was shocked like everybody was by the attack on Prince Charles and also on the Duchess and the violence which we saw in the protest on Thursday was really totally unacceptable. And it is right that people are protesting and students feel deeply angry about what is happened over tuition fees and rightly so, we all do, and the hasty way in which this has been done and the unfair way. But a minority perpetrating the kind of violence we saw on Thursday, it is unacceptable and I think the police are right to take that very seriously.
AB: But something does seem to have gone wrong, certainly in the case of the attack on the Royal car doesn’t it? I mean you know we need to get to the bottom of how the car could end up being surrounded on a major street in London?
EB: Well look there is no doubt that there was some kind of intelligence failure or operational failure which meant that the Royal couple were trapped in that way. I have to say that Prince Charles has lived all his life with this kind of exposure and threat and he has always dealt with it in a very calm way and I think he did the same on Thursday and the Duchess as well. And they are quite right to say that they are going to carry on as normal, the whole country wants them to do that, but we need to know what happened and if there were mistakes made by the close protection team then they need to be checked out. I know that a report has been done for the Home Secretary on the costs of Royal protection, but I hope that that report is going to look as well at some of the wider operational lessons we can learn from that. And look, if there were failings then they should be addressed, but I don’t think we should jump to knee-jerk responses. I’m certainly not going to do that, I am going to do this in a responsible way.
AB: On that question of Royal protection, there is a lot of talk about cutting maybe the number of people, I think there are currently 21 members of the Royal family plus the Queen who get this sort of protection. Do you think there are too many Royals who get this sort of protection?
EB: Look I have to say that I think at the moment the country is wondering whether there is enough Royal protection on Thursday to make sure that Prince Charles is properly protected. There was a report commissioned a few months ago which has gone to Home Secretary looking at the issue of cost. And look it is important that we get value for money in our protection of our Royal family, but also it is important that it is done in the most effective way, and if there is a lesson about the kind of vehicle which is being used they need to be learned, if there is an issue around the way that intelligence flows were going between the Met more generally and the close protection force, over more than a decade I’ve seen the close protection work up at close hand, I have to say that these are very professional people who know what they are doing, and at this time I think it is very important that we have got that kind of protection happening.
AB: So you would favour continuing close protection for Fergie’s daughters, I think they are called Beatrice and Eugenie, you would favour continuing that protection?
EB: Well look, to be honest Adam, if we were to say now that we removed the close protection for reasons of cost cutting and then in three months time there is a kidnapping or some kind of event – God forbid it happens – I think we’d all look back and say how short-sighted we were. But the real issue, which I am sure you’ll come on to, is the scale of the broad-based cuts to our police budgets and our counter-terrorism budget. That is the real question. Obviously in Royal protection we need to make sure we get value for money, but at a time of rising security and terrorist threats then people who are targets need to be properly protected. And that is true for Prince Charles, but also the other members of the Royal family. And if anything I would like to see a more intense support for the Royal family at this time rather than the opposite. With the Royal wedding next year there is going to be a greater focus and it is right that the Royal family is protected.
AB: Just on the student demonstrations, there seem to be some people saying why were the police standing by and letting vandalism take place on the Treasury or the Supreme Court, why weren’t water canons used. On the other hand, we are hearing from some of the demonstrators that they think that they were treated unfairly or improperly, that there was too much police violence, that they should never have been contained, what is you view?
EB: Well I want to hear Sir Paul’s report and from the Home Secretary on Monday. I have to say that this is very difficult because the police know.. we know from many years of experience that escalation is always dangerous and there will be .. and there are a small minority of people who are seeking to push the police to escalate their response and I’d say I am very sceptical about the use of water canon or rubber bullets because every time in the past you then have a minority who seek to force the police to use that kind of technique. If there are individual cases where the police went too far then they should investigated and there is one IPCC investigation happening now into the lad who was allegedly hit by a truncheon. But in general, as far as I can see, there was a minority seeking to cause violence. And I would like to make a broader point here Adam, this to me is reminiscent of how things were when I was growing up in the 1980s, increasingly when you have got a government on the one hand which is acting in a very rapid and reckless way, without consultation, doing things which are perceived by the public to be very unfair on tuition fees and more widely. And on the other hand, you have got a small minority of people coming along, seeking to cause violence and to provoke incident. And I am afraid our police are caught in the middle. And in the 1980s the police being caught in the middle and being seen by some as an arm of the government pushing through policy, that caused huge damage for a generation and I think that we need to stand back and say are there lessons to be learned, are we putting the police in a very difficult position in the middle here, and maybe that means that the government should think to itself, you know, we were told by David Cameron that this was not a government which believed that Whitehall knew best, but on the NHS, on schools, on tuition fees, on policing they are ramming through centrally-directed polices, without consultation, without listening to the experts, provoking a response from the public. Peaceful protests are an excuse for others to do unacceptable acts of violence, the police stuck in the middle, I think we should learn some lessons from this, people don’t want to go back to the divisiveness of the 1980s, and I am fearful about the direction our society is going in at the moment.
AB: First of all the government is saying that it will make the police accountable in a way they never have been before by the introduction of elected police commissioners and that people will get the type of policing that they want. And secondly, they are insisting, although there is going to be a 5% cut in costs, that that will basically be red tape which will go and that the frontline services won’t be cut. Do you have any evidence that frontline services will be cut?
EB: This week the Association of Police Authorities, chaired by a Conservative with Labour and Liberal Democrats members, the national people who monitor police across the country said the government must think again, look again at the spending review because the massive scale and nature, early cuts in the first two years in police budgets can only mean police capability is undermined and frontline policing suffers. And we are told by the government all they care about is visible policing and that is important. I strongly believe in neighbourhood policing, but there is also people working in organised crime, in drug trafficking, in alcohol, in stopping domestic violence, all very important operational work which may not be visible but is vital to keeping us safe. And I have to say I think it is very reckless what the government is doing, to combine the biggest cuts in the last 100 years outside of wartime in our police budget. We are told in the West Midlands we know over a thousand police officers, the same in Greater Manchester, I’m sure across the country we’ll find police numbers being cut and PCSOs as well. To combine that with a radical change to accountability where I have to say I have not found yet anybody who knows about policing who thinks this is a good idea. One individual elected police commissioner, elected with the cost of that, with a political adviser, one person who can sack Chief Constables and we even know, to add insult to injury, that prisoners will be able to vote in the elections for the police commissioner. I think there is a real risk here we are going to politicise our policing, to have one individual who is politically elected and they can sack the Chief Constable, that is going on alongside these huge and I think very reckless cuts. I think the public will look at this and say well you know if you voted Liberal Democrat they promised 3,000 more police officers, not cuts of 20,000. A Conservative government leading a reckless assault on our police numbers, this isn’t want people voted for and I think it is running grave risks with our public safety at a time when we have got both a rise in terrorist threat and the Olympics, the biggest global event happening in Britain in this decade and in one or two year’s time .. in two years time the biggest cut in police budget happening in the same year as the Olympics is very reckless.