Why the Liberal Democrats are worth watching

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Good morning from Bournemouth! I am at the Liberal Democrat conference. I always have a good time here, and I’m often reminded of a story that — horrendous name drop incoming — David Cameron is fond of telling.

At the end of the coalition negotiations following the hung parliament in 2010, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems had achieved an agreement in principle. The question turned to next steps. Danny Alexander, then Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson, explained that the agreement would have to be ratified by their parliamentary party, their federal executive and finally a vote of the lay membership. Alexander asked: what would happen at the Tory end?

To which, William Hague gestured towards Cameron and said (when Cameron tells this story, he would drift into a truly horrendous Yorkshire accent in this part):

He is the leader. He will decide.

What’s enjoyable about covering the Lib Dem conference is precisely that the party membership is sovereign, though today’s looming fight over housing policy (more on that tomorrow) may well serve as a case study on the risks of that approach.

Nonetheless, the get-together is a reminder — and a celebration — of this rare and exciting thing that we have the privilege to do in democracies: debate and resolve disputes without violence or coercion.

That’s just as well, really, because home secretary Suella Braverman and Metropolitan Police commissioner Mark Rowley are both doing their best to show off the downsides of democracy. Some more thoughts on both in today’s newsletter.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on X @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to

Davey’s locker

Why am I at the Liberal Democrat conference? Well, because although the Labour party is miles ahead in the opinion polls, Keir Starmer does have to gain 123 seats to win a majority of one. (To put that in perspective, Tony Blair gained 146 in 1997, while David Cameron gained 90 in 2010.)

I don’t think Rishi Sunak has it in him to turn the Tory party’s fortunes around and much of his recent activity has made the party’s predicament worse, but even so, Starmer faces a very big challenge to win a majority. He must confront a bigger challenge still to win a majority large enough to be able to govern without either having to do deals with his left flank or with the Lib Dems. As such, what happens this week in Bournemouth matters a great deal and is worth watching.

What next for the UK’s largest police force?

More than 100 firearms officers have downed weapons in protest at the charging of an unidentified police officer, known as NX121, with murder following the fatal shooting of Chris Kaba, an unarmed 24-year-old black man. The Metropolitan Police has called in the army to help with counter-terrorism policing. Suella Braverman has said she will “do everything” to support armed officers and has launched a review “to ensure they have the confidence to do their jobs while protecting us all”. Mark Rowley, the Met Police’s commissioner, has welcomed the review and urged the Home Office to raise the threshold for investigations into police use of force in an open letter:

“There is a concern on the part of firearms officers that, even if they stick to the tactics and training they have been given, they will face years of protracted legal proceedings which impact on their personal wellbeing and that of their family. Officers need sufficient legal protection to enable them to do their job and keep the public safe, and the confidence that it will be applied consistently and without fear or favour.”

It’s worth noting the raw numbers here. According to monitoring by the charity Inquest, since 1990, 33 people have been shot dead by serving officers in the Met Police (compared with 47 across the other forces in England and Wales). In three cases (the shootings of David Ewin, Jean Charles de Menezes and Azelle Rodney) a prosecution was brought. No member of the Met Police force has been convicted as a result.

The nature of policing in a world with guns is that a) there will be fatal shootings and b) some of those shootings will require investigation not just by the police ombudsman but in a court of law.

I don’t want to belittle 33 deaths, but it seems to me that by any reasonable definition, 33 fatal shootings in 33 years in a city the size of London is about as low as you would hope for, and three prosecutions (rising to four with the Kaba case prosecution) is also very low.

In a perfect world, no police officer would ever shoot anyone, and if a shooting occurs, it would be screamingly obvious that there was no other option and nothing untoward had happened. But we live in a fallen world. By any reasonable yardstick, that just four police officers across 33 cases would end up in court is not grounds to further raise the bar to prosecution. Again, I don’t want to downplay what were undoubtedly 33 real tragedies, but a rate of 33 fatal shootings, three prosecutions and no convictions suggests to me a system that is working as well as it could.

That more than 100 counter-terrorism officers think that four prosecutions in 33 years is too much frankly says to me that we have more than 100 serving police officers who should not be in the force.

Yes, being a police officer is demanding, but between the inquiry into the killing of Daniel Morgan, the murder of Sarah Everard, and the bungled investigation into the serial killer Stephen Port, there is plenty of evidence that the Met Police requires root-and-branch reform, and that pabulum statements about the difficulty of policing won’t cut it.

That Rowley’s first move is to suggest that the UK needs to loosen the standards police officers must meet, and that Braverman’s first response is to imply that four charges out of 33 is wildly excessive is worrying, but not, I’m sorry to say, surprising.

I’ve written before about how one of the curses of UK policymaking is a tendency to grade police failures on a curve. If teachers refused to teach after the sacking of a headteacher following a bad Ofsted report, the education secretary wouldn’t support the teachers over the parents and pupils, and the home secretary shouldn’t support the police in this instance either.

Now try this

The last thing I did before conference season started in earnest was have guests round for a series of dishes I prepared using two of my favourite cookbooks: Claudia Roden’s Med and Yasmin Khan’s Zaitoun. Roden’s chicken with bulgar wheat is an absolute delight. Now I am gearing up for a period in which fresh fruit, vegetables and water are all in short supply. Let me know if there is anywhere in particular I should try to get dinner in Manchester and Liverpool (where the Conservatives and Labour, respectively, have their conferences).

On the subject of dinners at home: the FT Magazine has a wonderful new series, The Table, which sets out how to put together not just a recipe but suggests an entire dinner party set-up. The first week was very appetising to read, although I have to admit that the two most important vestiges of my Jewishness are fasting on Yom Kippur and refraining from cooking pork at home, but if anyone wants to cook this pork recipe for me, I would be very happy to eat it. Other than today, of course.

A meaningful Yom Kippur for all our readers observing it. (And an apology to the many of you who take the whole endeavour more seriously than I do the rest of the year.)

Top stories today

  • Labour would prioritise ‘new body with teeth’ | A Labour government would push through long-delayed reforms to the UK’s audit and corporate governance regimes, which were first promised years ago after a rash of scandals, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds has told the FT.

  • Oliver Dowden sounds alarm over AI | Artificial intelligence poses a “bracing test” to the multilateral system, the UK government has warned, as it seeks to align countries including China behind its vision for regulating the technology’s “societal-scale” risks.

  • ‘Most expensive white elephant’? | Rishi Sunak is facing a renewed backlash from Conservative and Labour politicians, business executives and university leaders after the government refused to rule out scrapping Britain’s beleaguered High-Speed Rail 2 project beyond Birmingham.

  • On the buses | English devolution is now at a “coming of age moment”, Andy Burnham has said ahead of the UK’s political conference season. Yesterday the first publicly run buses to operate outside London for nearly 40 years began operating, as the region launched a much-anticipated franchised network.

  • Pass it on | Rishi Sunak is considering cutting inheritance tax, the Sunday Times reports. As part of his pledge to announce a series of long-term decisions designed to change Britain, Sunak would frame the policy as an “aspirational offer to voters” ahead of the general election.

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