Peter Bingle is the Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and is widely regarded as someone both close to and with a wide understanding of what makes the Conservative Party tick.
That is why his blogpost, “A musing about the politics of policing in modern Britain…”, is so interesting. He makes the point that the Conservative Party of today is taking a rather different approach to policing from its predecessors:
“These are difficult days indeed for the police service. There is no longer a Michael Howard as Home Secretary. Howard believed that being a policeman was special. He respected the Office of Constable and successfully fought off attempts (initiated by his predecessor Ken Clarke!) to fundamentally alter the structure, pay and conditions of the police service. Ironically one of special advisers at the time of the Sheehy Inquiry was a certain David Cameron.
There was a time when the police service was special for the Tory Party. Law and Order was their issue. It was one of the things that differentiated the Tory Party from its political opponents. Tory Home Secretaries such as Willie Whitelaw, Douglas Hurd, Leon Brittan and even David Waddington understood the importance of the police in civil society. It took that old bruiser Ken Clarke to decide to take them on. He saw the Police Federation as an over powerful trade union which needed to be tamed and the police service as inefficient, expensive and non-productive. The saviour of both the Federation and the service was Michael Howard. ….
We are now at a moment in time when the coalition is able to reduce the number of police officers and alter pay and conditions with apparent ease. Nobody appears to be speaking for up for the police service.
Policemen are being treated in the same way as cleaners in schools and hospitals. They are part of a public sector which is too large. It must therefore be cut. The police are no longer seen as special. When did you last hear a politician talking about the Office of Constable? Does it not follow that if the police are the same as everybody else in the public sector that they too should have the right to strike? I don’t think they should but it is possible to make a pretty cogent argument in support.
The politics of this are interesting. In the years ahead as the spending cuts start to bite there is the possibility (I put it no higher than that) of civil disorder in certain parts of the country. The police will be called upon to protect the peace and maintain the rule of law. It is therefore essential that the police service is well funded with high levels of morale. Otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.
There was a time when Tory ministers used to boast about increasing the number of police officers. That is no longer the case. Nowadays Tory ministers talk about how it is perfectly possible to reduce the number of police officers whilst protecting the front line. There was a time when The Sun and other newspapers used to talk about protecting the thin blue line. They do so no more.”
An intriguing warning, but it is also noticeable that the police service has yet to wake up fully to the fact that, as one Home Office civil servant put it to me a few months ago:
“ACPO don’t seem to realise that for the first time for over thirty years they have a Government that does not only not respect them but in many ways holds them in contempt.”
And it reminds me of what I once heard David Davis MP say:
“If I was Home Secretary, there is not a single Chief Constable I would want to keep.”