Met commissioner hits back at handling of marches, saying police can’t be both ‘woke and fascists’ – UK politics live | Politics

Mark Rowley hits back at criticism of Met’s handling of marches, suggesting police can’t be both ‘woke and fascists’

Vikram Dodd

Sir Mark Rowley has hit back at Rishi Sunak’s criticism of the policing of anti-war protests, dismissing claims officers are failing to enforce the law as “inaccurate” and claiming officers were being branded as “woke and fascist” at the same time.

The Metropolitan police commissioner spoke out on Tuesday after police leaders were last week summoned to a summit at Downing Street.

It was followed on Friday by the prime minister’s speech on extremism where he claimed forces – with the Met bearing the bulk of demonstrations – were managing rather than policing protests.

Addressing the London policing board, Britain’s top officer said that claims “we are not where the law permits” were inaccurate, and that despite “warm words” offering support for police taking robust action, officers feel undermined with some facing death threats.

Rowley also said the majority of demonstrators were peaceful.

On Friday Sunak said:“This week I have met with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them. And I say this to the police, we will back you when you take action.”

In his first comments since the PM’s speech, Rowley said:

We’re always operating in a very challenging political environments where tensions remain high and hate crime is still a long way above pre-October 7 levels.

Policing is used to being criticised. But where it isn’t justified, I do worry about the impact it has on our officers and staff, and on public confidence as we strive to operate without fear or favour.

At the moment, one side of the debate seems to say that we are guilty of two-tier policing and the other side says that we are oppressive and clamping down on the right to freedom of speech.

In this context of polarised public debate, I do think sometimes that we’re the first people who are able to be labelled simultaneously, woke and fascists …

To suggest that we are not where the law permits, as the law allows policing robustly, is inaccurate. At each of the major protests where the majority have been peaceful, we’ve seen wrongdoing and we’ve acted.

He said 360 arrests had been made in total including for public order and terrorism offences. Of those arrests, 90 were of far right supporters with police believing Suella Braverman’s comments immediately before a protest on Remembrance Sunday weekend, at least in part, incited trouble.

Mark Rowley.
Mark Rowley. Photograph: James Manning/PA

Key events

Voters overwhelmingly favour measures to reduce cost of living over more spending on public services, poll suggests

With Jeremy Hunt expected to cut personal taxes in the budget tomorrow, partly using revenue or headroom created by a further squeeze on public spending, many campaigners have pointed out that opinion polls suggest that this is not what voters want. There is a lot of polling suggesting people believe better funding for public services should be a higher priority than tax cuts. Only yesterday we published polling commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggesting almost three quarters of people are “very worried” or “fairly worried” about funding for the NHS and other public services, while fewer than half of them worry about tax levels.

But today YouGov has published new polling showing that, when the debate is framed using different language, voters overwhelmingly favour personal giveaways over more money for public services.

In his commentary, YouGov’s Matthew Smith reports:

In February, two separate YouGov polls showed that most Britons would prefer the government prioritise public spending over tax cuts …

A variation of that same question which more explicitly notes that the cuts would be on taxes that “everyday people pay” closes the gap considerably, with 41% supporting tax cuts in this scenario, although this is still lower than the 47% who would prefer to put money towards public services.

However, if rather than asking about tax cuts we instead ask about “measures to reduce the cost of living (e.g. measures that reduce food, energy and housing bills)”, then a remarkable shift occurs. Now, fully 64% would rather prioritise cost of living measures, compared to only 26% who would want to put the money towards public services.

Polling on tax cuts, public spending and helping with cost of living Photograph: YouGov

This is a boost to Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, because it validates the decisions they are taking in the budget (as least in electoral terms – their priority), although, almost certainly, it won’t come as any surprise to them. The Conservative party knows a huge amount about public opinion because it commissions a lot of research like this for its own use.

The YouGov findings aren’t all positive for the government. They also show that 79% of people think public services are in a bad state.

Polling on public services Photograph: YouGov

Labour challenges SNP over hint from senior figure party should consider not sending MPs to Westminster

Libby Brooks

Libby Brooks

The reverberations are continuing on Tuesday after the SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown suggested at the weekend that his party’s MPs might withdraw from Westminster following the general election.

Brown mused on the notion in a weekend newspaper column, resulting in private exasperation from many SNP MPs and public dismissal of the idea by other senior party figures – and it has since been seized on by opponents who like nothing better than evidence of Nationalist disarray.

Today, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray has written to SNP leader Humza Yousaf demanding answers over the SNP’s official position on the matter. Yousaf has already dismissed the suggestion, insisting that “actually most of Keith’s piece was about the fact that we need SNP MPs down in Westminster standing up for Scotland.”

Brown wrote that the issue of taking up seats needed to be “re-examined” in the wake of the row over the SNP’s Gaza motion, and “whether it is right to confer any legitimacy on an institution determined to deny democracy in Scotland”.

His comments don’t come out of nowhere – last week it was reported that some MPs were considering a campaign of “disengagement” with day-to-day parliamentary activities, amidst ongoing fury at the way the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, dealt with the chaos and aftermath of the vote, but the party’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, later denied this.

Certainly, this apparent mixed messaging is a gift to Scottish Labour – their current general election line is that the SNP say they want to “send a message” to Westminster, while Labour wants to “send a government”. Any suggestion that the SNP want to disengage more formally from the Commons only strengthens that message.


Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has been giving evidence to the London Policing Board this morning. As Vikram Dodd reports, Rowley used the session to hit back at implicit criticism from Rishi Sunak about the way the police have been dealing with the pro-Palestian marches.

Sir Mark Rowley hits back at the PM’s criticism of the policing of protests; says claims “we are not where the law permits” is inaccurate, despite “warm words” officers feel undermined and police are simultaneously being labelled as “woke and fascist”. Speaking at policing board

— vikram dodd (@VikramDodd) March 5, 2024

Sir Mark Rowley hits back at the PM’s criticism of the policing of protests; says claims “we are not where the law permits” is inaccurate, despite “warm words” officers feel undermined and police are simultaneously being labelled as “woke and fascist”. Speaking at policing board

Fraser Knight from LBC has posted the clip.

“I do think sometimes that we’re the first people who are able to be labelled woke and fascists”

Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley hits out at the Prime Minister’s criticism of how police respond to protests, warning it has an impact on public confidence.@LBC | @LBCNews

— Fraser Knight (@Fraser_Knight) March 5, 2024


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Jeremy Hunt ‘will cut national insurance by 2p in the pound’ in budget, report claims

Speculation about what Jeremy Hunt will do in the budget has primarily focused on “2p or not 2p”, as the Bard would say (whether the headline cut in personal taxes is worth 2p in the pound, or just 1p), and whether or not Hunt will prioritise cutting income tax or national insurance.

In the Financial Times this morning George Parker and Sam Fleming say that some Conservative MPs believe that Jeremy Hunt will announce a 2p in the pound cut in income tax in the budget tomorrow. They report:

Hunt is expected to extend for a further one year a “temporary” 5p-a-litre fuel duty cut and again scrap an inflation-linked rise in the levy, according to government insiders. No government has raised fuel duty since 2011.

While (a further extension of the “temporary”fuel duty move would be welcomed by Conservative MPs, some believe Hunt will unveil a bigger prize in his March 6 Budget: a headline-grabbing 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax.

Such a move would cost about £14bn a year, but Hunt could just about fund it by shaving £5bn off future public spending, deploying £7bn of the sparse fiscal “headroom” allotted to him by official forecasters, and raising several billion pounds through targeted tax rises.

But Steven Swinford in the Times says national insurance will definitely be cut.

Jeremy Hunt will cut national insurance by 2 per cent in the Spring Budget tomorrow

It will cost £10bn and be worth £450 for the average worker. He will sell it as £900 worth of tax cuts when combined with 2 per cent NI cut in Autumn Statement

As per @SamCoatesSky legislation for NI cut will be brought forward next week, enabling it to come into effect in April

Cuts to income tax were deemed too expensive and potentially inflationary


Jeremy Hunt will cut national insurance by 2 per cent in the Spring Budget tomorrow

It will cost £10bn and be worth £450 for the average worker. He will sell it as £900 worth of tax cuts when combined with 2 per cent NI cut in Autumn Statement

As per @SamCoatesSky

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) March 5, 2024

Cutting national insurance is cheaper than cutting income tax because pensioners do not pay it. Swinford says a 2p in the pound cut in employee national insurance would cost about £10b, while a 2p cut in income tax would cut £13.7bn.

But Sunak is said to have been pushing for a cut in the basic rate of income tax. That is partly because it is a visible tax cut than national insurance, partly because it benefits pensioners (who now constitute the core Tory vote) and partly because there is some evidence that people fear a national insurance cut means there is less money for benefits or pensions because they wrongly think NI funds benefits. (It doesn’t, or at least not directly; it’s just another tax, with the revenue going into the government’s general spending pot).

Sunak is also on record as promising to cut income tax. As Christopher Hope from GB News points out, as chancellor in March 2022 Sunak said in the spring statement that he would bring income tax down to 19p in the pound in 2024.

Remember when Rishi Sunak – as Chancellor – said this time two years ago that he would cut income tax by 1p “before the end of this Parliament, in 2024”. Will the current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt deliver on Mr Sunak’s promise tomorrow?

— Christopher Hope📝 (@christopherhope) March 5, 2024

Later in 2022, during the summer Tory leadership campaign, Sunak proposed reducing the basic rate of income tax to 19% in 2024, as the first stage in a process taking it down to 16% in 2029.

(Sunak initially avoided promising tax cuts in the campaign, because he was arguing for fiscal responsibility and attacking Liz Truss’s plans for unfunded tax cuts. He relented as he realised he was losing. Truss beat him anyway.)

One possibility is that Hunt will make an announcement covering both national insurance and income tax, with some cuts coming into force this years and others proposed as options for after the general election.

Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak discussing the budget in Hunt’s study in 11 Downing Street, in a picture released by No 10. Photograph: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

In a Spectator blog yesterday, Katy Balls said she did not think Rishi Sunak was likely to go for a May election. Referring to the dire Ipsos polling for the party, she said:

While a May election has been discussed previously by No. 10 aides, it is unlikely. The argument for going early is that things will only go worse as the year goes on, so why not cut your losses and go now. However, polls such as this one make it rather hard to argue that going to the polls before the Tories need to is a good idea. What’s more, while there are plenty of problems coming up the track, the current picture is not good – the Tories will not want to call an election while the UK is in a technical recession.


Under election law a general election has to be held 25 working days after the dissolution of parliament. The House of Commons library has produced a useful briefing paper listing all the possible dissolution/election dates that Rishi Sunak could choose. For an election on Thursday 2 May, parliament would have to dissolve on Tuesday 26 March (three weeks today). But there is normally a day or two between the announcement of an election and dissolution, to allow time for non-controversial legislation to be passed in a rush (a process known as the wash up), and so Sunak would probably announce the election on Monday 25 March, or the previous week.


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Senior Tories criticise No 10 plans to broaden extremism definition

Downing Street is facing a backlash from Conservative MPs and peers over moves to create a broader of definition of extremism in response to what Rishi Sunak describes as the threat of “mob rule”, Ben Quinn reports.

The Times has splashed on a version of this story.

In his Times story Matt Dathan says Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, is due to announce the new, tougher definition of extremism within weeks. Dathan says:

Under proposals being considered, the definition would ban anyone in Whitehall, government bodies or quangos from engaging with or funding groups or individuals that meet the new definition. It is non-statutory, not a new criminal definition, so would only affect who government bodies, officials and ministers could engage with and fund …

The draft definition … would define extremism as the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on intolerance, hatred or violence that aims to undermine the rights or freedoms of others.

Secondly, it would include those who seek to undermine or overturn the UK’s liberal system of democracy and democratic rights.

Any groups or individuals who intentionally create a permissive environment for either of these would also be banned from working with government bodies. It is understood that this would include influencers on social media who are not extremists themselves but deliberately play down the danger of extremism.


Philip Cowley, a politics professor, put these posts on X yesterday explaining why he thought Rishi Sunak might go for a May election.

I have long thought the election will be late 24 or even early 25. But I can see two things might work towards it being earlier.

— Philip Cowley (@philipjcowley) March 4, 2024

I have long thought the election will be late 24 or even early 25. But I can see two things might work towards it being earlier.

The first is that there is good data showing that, in many ways, things gets worse for the Tories with every month. Demographic changes and mortgage renewals alone are not helpful.

The second is the PM. While he doesn’t exactly strike me as a risk taker, he is numerate (something that cannot be said of all MPs) and takes data seriously. Plus, it is not as if he needs this job, in the way that some do.

He is a portfolio career guy. He isn’t going to spend the rest of his life on the backbenches or in the Lords. We can run a sweep on how long he will continue to serve the good folk of Richmond after his tenure in No10 ends, but we’d all bet low.

So in normal circs, you’d take the Micawber approach and cling on, hoping for something to turn up,it strikes me as quite possible that he becomes convinced that things will only get worse and he may as well go down fighting now and then he can do something that pays better…

I still think late is more likely, because it would be a hell of a thing to be 20+ points behind and call an election. But, if someone really has convinced you that they will only get worse…?


Jonathan Ashworth bets Rishi Sunak will call general election in May

Good morning. Westminster chatter about the prospect of Rishi Sunak calling the general election in May (specifically on Thursday 2 May, the most obvious date for a spring election) has been getting louder and louder in recent days, and this morning Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, ratcheted that up a notch by betting Kay Burley on Sky News that it would happen then.

Ashworth said:

And by the way, this election, I think, is coming in May. I think it’s definitely coming in May. The Conservatives are planning for May.

Burley offered to bet him that it wouldn’t. Being probably less wealthy than Piers Morgan, and certainly less vain and crass, Burley proposed a £10 bet, not a £1,000 one. Ashworth accepted, and they shook hands on it, with Ashworth suggesting that the money goes to a charity for the children of alcoholics.

Labour has been prediciting for ages that the election will be in May, but most journalists at Westminster have, until recently, not taken this particularly seriously. Labour has its own reasons for claiming May is the date in Sunak’s diary. If Sunak delays, Labour can claim he “bottled” it. And, internally, pushing this line serves a “no complacency” purpose, ensuring the party is ready for May if it has to be.

Burley was reflecting the conventional which is based on precedent, and the fact that in the postwar periods prime ministers facing likely election defeat have almost always delayed polling day for as long as possible. Even when No 10 is in permanent crisis, being prime minister is an extraordinarily exciting job and nothing else Sunak does in his life will ever feel quite so important. You don’t give it up lightly, and party leaders find it easy to convince themselves, Micawber style, that, if they wait six months, something might turn up.

But recently there has been a lot more talk about May being an option, fuelled by reports claiming that some in No 10 are pushing the idea.

Last week, Steve Back, the photographer who covers Downing Street, and who specialises in long-lens shots showing what documents people are carrying as they enter No 10, posted these on X.

A prediction from me !! Rishi will announce election 2024 on the 28th of March.

— PoliticalPics (@PoliticalPics) February 28, 2024

A prediction from me !! Rishi will announce election 2024 on the 28th of March.

And, in reply to someone who asked if he was willing to bet on this (not Kay Burley), he replied:

As a non betting chap, I will stand you a few sherries in the Red Lion ! If and a big if am I wrong, not forgetting I see documents through my lens!!

And in a report in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend Glen Owen and Anna Mikhailova said the thinking in Sunak’s circle is changing.

Until recently, Mr Sunak’s advisers were near-unanimous: leave the Election until the last possible moment to give the flagging economy time to pick up. However, the fraught buildup to Jeremy Hunt’s budget on Wednesday has cast doubt on the wisdom of this strategy.

As one pivotal figure said: ‘Six weeks ago we were looking at a £30bn pot to distribute in the form of eye-catching, potentially gamechanging tax cuts. Now, because of the rising cost of government borrowing, that has more than halved” …

A well-connected MP said that autumn will be the time when bills arrive for issues such as the infected blood scandal, which could top £11bn, plus £2bn more for the victims of the Post Office miscarriages of justice, just as hundreds of thousands of voters are coming off fixed-rate mortgages and on to higher deals.

The MP added: ‘I’m definitely on Team May.’ As The Mail on Sunday reported last month, meetings have been held in government offices to make contingency arrangements for an Election on 2 May, the same day as the local elections.

If Mr Sunak went to the country on the same day it would at least avert any attempt by Tory MPs to oust him if the results are as bad as expected.

Those on ‘Team May’ also point out that Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour is now divided over the Gaza conflict as demonstrated by Mr Galloway’s victory over his party – and argue that the opinion polls are showing no sign of budging.

Indeed, the legal migration figures due to be published at the end of May are expected to be ‘a horror show’, and with another summer of small boat crossings on the horizon, the party’s ratings could sink below the current 20 per cent to ‘extinction levels’, with the Tories even potentially being overtaken by Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

Greg Hands, the minister for London, was doing an interview round for the government this morning, and on Times Radio, when asked if he thought there was any prospect of a May election, he said no.

Hands is a former Conservative party chair. But he was sacked from this job in November and given a more junior ministerial job instead. If there is a secret No 10 plan for a May election, he is unlikely to know about it.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Andy Cooke, chief inspector at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.

10am: Martin Lewis, the MoneySavingExpert founder and consumer champion, gives evidence to the Commons education committee about financial education. At 11am Damian Hinds, the education minister, gives evidence at 11am.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

3.10pm: David Cameron, the foreign secretary, opens a debate on foreign affairs in the House of Lords.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.


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