Brian Paddick is enjoying running for Mayor of London.
The Liberal Democrat candidate may be a distant third in opinion polls, but he has one distinct advantage in this race – lots of people know who he is.
The 2008 Mayoral election is already the most exciting contest since the post was established at the turn of the century.
Incumbent Ken Livingstone is facing a concerted (some would say co-ordinated) barrage of negative press on everything from cronyism to his alcohol intake.
After eight years of his rule London’s main newspaper, the Evening Standard, has gone into anti-Ken overdrive.
The election is further enlivened by the presence of one Boris Johnson, the Tory candidate. He is no stranger to the press or the voters.
A journalist, broadcaster, columnist, scallywag and sometime Member of Parliament, he has been happily knocking lumps out of the Mayor and banking on his unique personality appealing to London’s voters.
Faced with those rivals, even the most exceptional third party candidate would struggle to make his voice heard.
Paddick, who is 50 in April, does not have a track record as an elected representative, only rejoined the party he now represents two years ago, and he talked to the Tories about the possibility of representing them.
So why would not one party but two want him to run for Mayor?
As a career Metropolitan police officer, he first came to the attention of the press over cannabis policy in the London borough of Lambeth.
For operational reasons, he took the decision as borough commander to concentrate resources on hard drugs.
That meant cautioning instead of arresting people caught with amounts of cannabis small enough to be considered for personal use.
The fact that he was openly gay only gave the right-wing press more to be unhappy about.
His career at Scotland Yard proved even more controversial, and he earned a reputation for honestly over the Jean Charles DeMenezes affair.
His account of when senior police officers knew that the man they had shot at Stockwell tube station in July 2005 was not a terrorist but an innocent electrician was at odds with that of the Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.
It is no secret that Paddick had professional ambitions beyond the role of Deputy Assistant Commissioner, but he left the force at that rank in 2006, after 30 years service in the Met.
When asked about his lack of experience as an elected official, he claims:
“In terms of politics, there is nothing more political than the eighth floor of Scotland Yard.”
He says that running for Mayor has allowed him to speak more freely than he ever could in uniform.
“It is a bit like being a senior officer again,” he says of the campaign.
“Morning, noon and night it is TV and radio and newspaper interviews, so I am very comfortable with it. But it has the bonus that I can say what I want.
“It took a while for me to convince myself that I wasn’t going to get hauled in front of the Commissioner every time I gave an interview, which was the situation it had got to in the police.
“So it’s quite liberating. I am in my comfort zone.
“If Ken and Boris keep taking lumps out of eachother like they are now then I might be the last man standing.”
Paddick was borough commander of both Merton and Lambeth, and puts forward his work there reducing crime and disorder as sufficient for the role of Mayor.
“I was working very closely with politicians, the local authority, the health service and the other statutory agencies to deal with the underlying causes.
“We were looking at designing out crime on council estates, trying to improve housing, dealing with the care and resettlement of offenders – a broad range of issues.
“Boris Johnson’s managerial expertise extends to being the editor of The Spectator, something like £15m a year turnover, £1.5m profits, and he was in charge of 50 people.
“When I was at Lambeth I had a £37m budget. In my last-but-one job in Scotland Yard I had 20,000 staff.
“So I have more hands-on experience of delivering services with a large team and large budgets, certainly than Boris has and arguably more than Ken has.”
While Ken, elected as an independent in 2000, has made up with Labour and was certain to be the their man in this election, Boris was not always the obvious Tory candidate.
Paddick’s name was heavily linked with the Conservatives, at a time when that party was desperate to find someone bright, new and atypical to put forward.
When challenged about his Lib Dem credentials, he claims to be long-term supporter.
“I joined the party about ten years ago and hesitated to do that, as police officers are not allowed to play an active part in politics.
“I was a member for a couple of years, when the tabloids got a bit close to my personal life, and I thought I had enough problems without being labelled Liberal Democrat as well, so I gave up my membership. I rejoined two years ago.”
The Tories asked to meet him, despite his support for another party.
“I had an hour and a half meeting with Francis Maude, who was the chair of the party, and another frontbencher, and we had a detailed conversation about me being their candidate for Mayor,” Paddick explains.
He reveals they discussed his membership of the Lib Dems.
“They thought it would be a distinct advantage if I were to turn around and say that the Conservatives had changed so much that I was prepared to run.”
It seems strange in the present political landscape that the Tories would have courted Paddick.
Large sections of the British press are confused as to whether to refer to him as the cannabis cop or the gay, friend of Elton John cop.
Born in Balham, south London in April 1958, he went to Oxford (where he captained the university swimming team) before joining the Met.
Four years as a constable, by 1981 he was a sergeant in Brixton during the riots, an experience that would later inform his approach to community relations in Lambeth.
“The three best jobs in the police are firstly as an inspector in charge of a shift, where you have a group of people, an eight-hour slice of time and an area that is your responsibility,” he says.
“The best time is night duty because all the bosses have gone home and it is down to you.
“The second is being a borough commander, where you are the local police chief and you have a limited geographical area that is your responsibility and you have the staff to deal with that.
“The third job is chief constable, when you have a force area. I never got to that stage. My happiest times were as an inspector and as a borough commander.
“Being the borough commander at Lambeth was the best time I ever had.”
It was certainly controversial. In 2002, he instituted a new policy towards cannabis.
Confiscation and on-the-spot warnings were used for people caught with small amounts of the drug.
Paddick argued that this freed up police resources to concentrate on serious crime.
“It was a pragmatic approach,” he explains.
“We had too much crime for us to deal with, we were 100 officers short, and so talking to local people … it all pointed to the fact that we should concentrate on crack cocaine and heroin, which were the drugs that were ruining young people’s lives, and we should be concentrating on street crime and burglary, rather than small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
“It was only personal amounts that the policy changed on. There was no change of policy towards dealers or arresting people for hard drugs.”
The tabloids were in uproar. The Mail on Sunday found the combination of a gay man and drugs too heady to miss, and printed a false “exclusive” featuring a former boyfriend of Paddick’s who claimed he had smoked cannabis.
Paddick was transferred to an intelligence job and away from Lambeth while the charges were investigated.
Despite being completely exonerated, and protests from local residents demanding he be reinstated, he never returned to the borough.
“The conspiracy theory is that they downgraded the job of commander of Lambeth to a chief superintendent so even though I wasn’t promoted I couldn’t go back.”
He was moved from the Specialist Crime Directorate to oversee policing in northwest London and was appointed Assistant Deputy Commissioner in 2003.
He does not regret the Lambeth experiment, despite the fallout. He does not advocate a similar London-wide policy either.
“What people forget is that I was the borough commander in Merton for two and a half years before Lambeth.
“I never suggested at any time during that period that we should not enforce the law on cannabis. It was the unique circumstances that we found in Lambeth.”
It is clear that illegality has not stopped the consumption of drugs, most significantly so-called party drugs, such as ketamine, GHB and ecstasy, which are all prevalent on the gay scene.
“What right wing tabloids and to some extent the government are trying to portray is that illegal drug taking is a very small minority sport,” says Paddick.
“They have got to wake up to the reality of the situation. Millions of people every weekend take the drugs you have listed and we have to deal with that situation.
“If you were able to divert police resources to clamping down on people who take illegal drugs, the police wouldn’t do anything else.
“The only way to address the ever-increasing numbers of people taking drugs is to convince them that it’s a loser’s game.
“What we need to put emphasis on is education. A far better way of dealing with illegal drugs is to convince people they are aren’t any good for you.
“There is no point in decriminalising drugs until you convince people not to take them, because there will be a proportion of the population who don’t take drugs because they are illegal, as opposed to any other reason.”
Paddick advocates a new approach in London’s policing too.
“At the moment the police are being driven down a track because of national performance indicators imposed by the Home Office, which are universally applicable across the country no matter what sort of area it is,” he complains.
“In order to rebuild the trust and confidence between police and the community, police need to do what local people want them to do.”
He has promised to reduce crime in the capital by 20% over four years if elected.
“We are talking about British Crime Survey crime, which is real crime, as opposed to police-recorded crime.”
As Mayor, he would take advantage of recent legislation and chair the Metropolitan Police Authority, which sets the budget, targets and priorities of the Met, appoints the Commissioner, in consultation with the Home Secretary, and holds the police to account.
“I know the inside track as far as the way the police service runs,” says Paddick, who clearly still has strong views on how the Met should be managed.
“I am sure that I could work far more effectively with the Commissioner in bringing down crime that either of the two candidates.”
He intends to use the British Crime Survey as opposed to official police figures to demonstrate if crime is falling under a Paddick Mayoralty.
“The BCS involves scientific researchers knocking on people’s doors and asking them if they have been a victim of crime, asking people what their experience of crime was, as opposed to whether they could be bothered to call the police, whether they didn’t trust them or thought they couldn’t do anything about it, whether they couldn’t get through on the phone or the police didn’t turn up when they called … all those things are ruled out.
“They reckon about 50% of crimes are not reported.
“The problem you have at the moment is that people on estates know who these people are but they do not trust the police enough, even anonymously.
“Confidence in local policing has gone down in the last 12 months.”
Paddick draws on his experiences in Lambeth when explaining what should be done to tackle crime in London.
“You are four times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black, but you are ten times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are innocent, because only one in ten of them results in arrest.
“That does not sound like very intelligence-led policing to me.”
Paddick has been making tabloid headlines again in the past few weeks because, incredibly for a Lib Dem, he seems to have more celebrity backers than the other main candidates put together.
A fundraising dinner held by his friends Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish was attended by, among others, Dale Winton and David Walliams.
The same tabloids that had decried his cannabis experiment were all over the story. Paddick reveals a more human side to the world’s most famous gay couple.
“I have met David probably on twenty or more occasions, and we have had dinner together alone on a number of occasions.
“Particularly if you are feeling low, the tonic is to have dinner with David Furnish.
“He makes you feel very special. He is a real smooth talker.
“Elton I have met on about half a dozen occasions. The thing that comes across is how remarkably human he is. He is a great showman, but when he is off stage, he is a really genuine guy.”
Despite these well-connected pals, Paddick claims only takes cabs when he is late, and the rest of the time is reliant on Transport for London.
“It is the only form of transport I have – I don’t have a bicycle, I don’t have a moped and I don’t have a car – it’s naked self-interest I am afraid, I want the buses and tubes sorted out.”
Paddick’s PinkNews.co.uk interview started somewhat fractiously, when he announced that aspects of his personal life would not be discussed, not for reasons of privacy but because he has a book coming out.
Billed as a ‘tell-all,’ he refuses to be drawn on the content, saying only that it will “set the record straight” and is “full of revelations and some very interesting things that people are going to raise their eyebrows at.”
We already know that it will discuss Paddick’s five-year marriage to Mary Stone, his struggles with his sexuality and sexual encounters with fellow male officers.
We voters, of course, will have to wait until March 24th to find out the full details of the candidate’s life as a closeted gay man. He does reveal some titbits for PinkNews.co.uk.
In his 30 years in the force he was never involved with arresting anyone for cruising.
“In the time that I was a constable, there were so many judges and MPs and other prominent people being caught in public toilets that the bosses at Scotland Yard had to issue a special instruction, that unless they had written authority from the bosses, they couldn’t carry out surveillance operations on public toilets,” he revealed.
“That was in 77 to 81.
“The effect of the instruction from Scotland Yard was that you couldn’t conduct an organised operation to catch gays in public toilets.
“That did not stop homophobic officers from saying that they had just been flagged down by a member of the public who had complained they had seen men misbehaving. Nine times out of ten they had made that up. That then enabled them to go into public toilets and do that.”
He also recalls an incident he describes as one of the most poignant he dealt with.
“As an inspector, you have to visit all scenes of unexpected death.
“I got called round to a pretty grotty housing estate. A young man was hanging from the back of the door.
“He had taken his own life. There was evidence in the flat that he was gay. He was about 20.
“There are still incidents where people feel so isolated or are bullied so much that they become so desperate as to take their own lives.
“That is why I get so angry with (Times columnist) Matthew Parris, and his argument that gays have never had it so good.
“When you still have people being murdered on Clapham Common, you still have young people taking their own lives because they can’t deal with their own sexuality, then the world he inhabits is a different one from the world I do.”
About his own coming out in 2001, he says:
“I was completely naïve about what it was like to be gay. When I eventually did come out I was amazed at how much there was to learn.”
Paddick, having learned to navigate this new world, is now happily coupled, though he is reluctant to discuss his boyfriend with the press, even the gay press.
“He is already having his leg pulled by friends,” he reveals.
“One right wing newspaper is, I think, delving away hoping he is going to turn out to be a 19-year-old rent boy.
“If they do identify him and catch up with him they are going to be greatly disappointed in terms of news worthiness.
“I have, by running for political office, decided to some extent give up some of my privacy.
“But my partner should make that decision for himself, whether he wants to give up his privacy in that way.”
Despite celeb backers, a track record in London’s police service and a fascinating back-story, the opinion polls still place him well behind Ken and Boris in the race for Mayor of London.
Paddick rejects the suggestion that his candidacy is just a preparation for a seat in Parliament, “I am no good at doing what I am told and I certainly don’t relish the idea of being lobby fodder,” and insists he can win.
“There is a real chance, no matter what people say. I see it as a parallel situation when we had years of Conservative government, and all the polls showed that Labour was going to win.
“When it came to general elections, Conservatives consistently won, because when people got into the privacy of the polling booth, they voted for self-interest.
“Faced with a ballot paper with Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson staring up at them, I think people will hesitate.”