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Being the most senior gay police officer in the UK did not endear me to the right-wing press

February 11, 2014 3:40 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Brian Paddick , or Baron Paddick of Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, if you prefer - is in the House of Lords mulling over whether he is now undoubtedly a politician.

"A friend of mine who, unfortunately, died recently, when he heard that I was running as a candidate for Mayor of London the first time, in 2008, phoned me up and said, 'Does this mean I can't believe a word you say anymore?'," he smiles.

"Politicians, regrettably, have a poor reputation. Having said that, of course, the days of 'Trust me, I'm a policeman' are rather dead as well.

"I have to face the inevitable, I think, and acknowledge that I am a politician."

The Metropolitan Police officer of 30 years' standing and twice London Mayoral candidate did not grow up in a political atmosphere. His father taught him not talk about politics or religion, while, once he entered the workplace, his choice of career limited him in voicing party-political views. But, he says, he was always passionate about people and social justice as well as criminal justice, reinforced by winning a scholarship from the police and studying philosophy at Oxford

Brian Paddick

"I had always had liberal views and held to the fact that you should be able to do exactly what you want to do provided you don't harm other people," he says.

"I looked at the different political parties, and at one point thought my values were aligned to Old Labour than any other party. But then as I developed, as I became more mature in my political views, it was quite clear that my views coincided far more with the Liberal Democrats."

This decision came because, not despite, being a serving police officer. Of the Liberal Democrat policy on criminal justice, he says: "The party had a PR problem in terms of getting the message across about what it was trying to do."

"The most effective way to reduce crime is to stop reoffending, and therefore the way in which you deal with offenders to ensure that they don't reoffend is absolutely crucial," he says.

Paddick's liberal views and his homosexuality combined to make him easy fodder for sectors of the right-wing press, and in 2002 a former partner sold a massive kiss-and-tell story to the Mail on Sunday. He says, with some understatement: "Being the most senior openly gay police officer in the UK and suggesting that people found in possession of cannabis should not be arrested did not endear me to the right-wing press."

"If I had been a straight senior police officer and hadn't advocated not arresting people for cannabis, I don't think I would have faced the monstering, I think the technical term is, in the tabloids.

"They went in search of my ex-wife [Paddick was married to a woman for five years in the 1980s], hoping that she would come up with lots of negative stuff about me. In fact, she was very supportive and a week after the kiss-and-tell story there was a double-page in the Sunday Mirror saying what a nice guy I was."

Having come up against the press as a police officer, Paddick could have been forgiven for not wanting to keep out of the limelight, but instead he chose to run in the London Mayoral elections in 2008, coming third with 9.8% of the vote.

After three decades in the Met and an unsuccessful tilt at the capital's Mayoralty, how was Paddick to follow that? In late 2008 he flew to the Australian jungle to take part in I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

Refreshingly, when asked why did the show, he doesn't respond with a stock phrase about showing the public the 'real him'.

"I used to take a very dim view of people who said that everybody has their price. And then, regrettably, when it comes to I'm A Celebrity…, I found out that I had mine," he laughs.

"Having said that, the best you can hope for if you put yourself through that sort of thing is to get away with it, i.e. not to humiliate yourself and your family."

Happily, Paddick did not humiliate himself. Nor, though, did he win, beaten by actor Joe Swash, "who was in EastEnders, apparently".

Once back in the UK, he worried about the effect his taking part in the show would have on his burgeoning political career. "I spoke to a friend a couple of weeks after I left the programme and she had been in contact with a senior Lib Dem. I asked her if I'd destroyed my future political career by going on the show." Apparently, the senior Lib Dem had said "There aren't many politicians that can appear naked on television one week and be on the Today programme the next'."

And so, four years later, he stepped back into the breach as the Lib Dem candidate for the 2012 London Mayoral election, taking on Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone again.

"I had far more support, in terms of people, finance, and professional support, than I had first time round," he says.

"However, the political climate was much tougher in the aftermath of tuition fees and the newly formed coalition with the enemy, as many activists saw it. It was a very difficult campaign from that point of view."

In 2008 he had been voted top of the party's peers list by members but, he says, thought no more of it until this year, when Nick Clegg phoned him to ask about joining the House of Lords.

"One of the things Nick said was: 'I think it's time you had your own political platform'. I'm not sure he realised what he was saying."

But Paddick is clear on the issues he wants to use his new platform to raise.

"Having been a police officer for 30 years in London and having visited people of all social standing in their homes - whether it was a Conservative Cabinet minister who let someone in to wash his hands and the bloke escaped with his wallet, a black family being harassed on a housing," he says.

"I can immediately see the connection between social justice - people having a stake in terms of benefits, a living wage, a decent place to live - and criminality or extremism. All these things are interconnected."

His former profession, he says, also means he will be taken seriously when talking about things issues such as civil liberties in the Lords.

"The head of MI5, for example, arguing that the nature and extent of surveillance on innocent members of the public is necessary to safeguard against terrorism. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?"

"I think it would be all the more powerful if I question the balance between civil liberties and anti-terrorism, between allowing people to live their lives, and bringing in legislation that protects them, rather than someone who has a vested interest in those things."