What a difference four years makes.
In 2015, just before the General Election, more than 1,000 serving and retired police officers signed a letter which demanded that policing be placed on the election agenda.
There was, quite simply, virtually no mention of policing during that campaign and regrettably the letter made little difference despite the obvious visible damage being caused by the cuts and the hostility shown towards police by Home Secretary Theresa May.
After the referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to hold a further General Election saw a protracted campaign which again didn’t feature policing or other related areas of law and order, namely the prison and probation services.
Tragically that changed dramatically after the Manchester Arena massacre of the innocents. Suddenly questions were being asked, even by the Tory press, as to whether the cuts in police numbers had contributed to the outrage. The predictable government response centred on the dubious assertion that resources to counter-terror (CT) policing had been maintained.
Then on a Saturday night came the first London Bridge terror attack just days before the election. A watershed moment, replayed over and over again, was a Sky News interview from the scene the following day. Former Met police Detective Chief Inspector Peter Kirkham, lambasted the government’s record in respect of policing. He rightly accused the government of lying and interestingly there was no attempt at damage limitation by Conservatives.
The Tory ‘boot boy’ myth.
Police have often been dubbed the ‘boot boys’ of the Tory party but their relationship has often been fractious. Back in the 90’s, the then Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke appointed his friend and British American Tobacco colleague Sir Patrick Sheehy to conduct an ‘independent’ report into policing. The result infuriated police officers and protests were held including a massive rally at Wembley addressed by one Tony Blair.
Fortunately, the appointment of Michael Howard as Home Secretary saw most of the proposals abandoned yet the animosity within the Tory party towards police, seemed to fester over the years. After the 2010, General Election fears that Prime Minister David Cameron’s previously articulated views of police would result in damaging ‘reform’ proved correct.
Rail regulator Tom Winsor was appointed by Theresa May to conduct a review of policing. The report, like that of Sheehy’s. provoked fury amongst police in that it again attacked pay, conditions and pensions together with advocating ‘savings’ in terms of the police budget.
To the disgust of the rank and file, Winsor was then awarded a knighthood and appointed as the head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate which is frequently critical of police whilst rarely cross-referencing ‘failures’ to the drastic cutbacks.
Theresa May’s reaction to police concerns involved the terms ‘scaremongering’ and ‘crying wolf.’ Across the country police numbers were decimated, police stations closed and to the fury of front-line officers’ dog, mounted, traffic and helicopter sections were drastically cut back.
An enthusiastic supporter of cutbacks was the then London Mayor Boris Johnson. Meetings across all 32 London boroughs to ‘explain’ the forthcoming changes to policing attracted an average attendance of 78!!! This wasn’t down to the apathy of Londoners; it was yet another example of a sham consultation process. I attended my local meeting where Boris’s distinctly uncharismatic deputy Stephen Greenhalgh frequently used the phrase, ‘bobbies not buildings.’
Relations between the police and Tories were not of course helped by both Plebgate and Porngate which resulted in the resignations of Andrew Mitchell and Damian Green respectively. Plebgate in particular contributed to the perception that subsequent actions by the government were, in part, born out of revenge.
Arguably, one of the most damaging actions by Home Secretary Theresa May was her criticism of ‘stop and search’ which saw a massive reduction in front-line officers using their powers and a resultant dramatic increase in knife and other violent crime.
Amazingly, even in the 2017 Tory election manifesto, there was a threat to introduce legislation to curb stop and search still further.
Little wonder then that the comment ‘blood on hands’ is applied by the police community to Theresa May and her acolytes in respect of stabbings, shootings and gang crime.
Surprisingly, relations between the police and Labour governments have been relatively cordial. In 1977, Home Secretary Merlyn Rees ordered Lord Justice Edmund Davies to review police pay which resulted in substantial increases and a formula which would guarantee pay levels for generations.
That has been duly destroyed by this government.
The defeat of Labour in 2015 saw that which many regard as a takeover of the Labour party by the hard left who migrated from other organisations traditionally antagonistic to police.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has always been regarded as being as hostile to police and, in many ways her hostility mirrors that of Theresa May. That of course, doesn’t excuse the disgraceful racist behaviour to which she is often subjected; however, the prospect of her becoming Home Secretary is an anathema to just about every police officer whatever their political inclination.
David Lammy is another frequently critical of police. He, together with other leftist activists, are vocal in their condemnation of police aided by short mobile phone clips of ‘racist’ arrests. These clips normally fail to show what led up to the arrest and police critics conveniently ignore the fact that similar force is used on mainly drunken white males every day of the year, but especially in town and city centres on Friday and Saturday nights.
David Lammy, in the aftermath of Grenfell was quick to repeat the ludicrous allegation of others that the Met were somehow ‘covering up’ the number of those who so tragically perished. He was famously taken to task by Andrew Neil; a fate Boris seems determined to avoid.
Jeremy Corbyn’s past liaisons are a perpetual cause for concern and his assertion that he would order a full public enquiry into Orgreave would have presumably lead to officers in their 70’s and 80’s giving evidence and perhaps being liable to prosecution. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Orgreave, nobody died and those who believe police were solely responsible for the violence would so well to read the Guardian report written at the time by journalist Malcom Pithers.
In the Labour manifesto, despite some worthy aspirations in respect of policing, there is a clear implication that police are racist and, as in other manifestos, there is no praise for officers whatsoever.
On the plus-side however, Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh and MP Holly Lynch, have restored some balance by their frequent support of and praise for police. A Labour government with Louise as Home Secretary and Holly as policing minister would go some way to allaying police concerns.
Stuck in the middle.
The fact that the Lib-Dems were complicit in policing and other cuts when in coalition will continue to be a millstone around their necks. Once again, their manifesto implies police racism and once again no praise for officers battling to save lives out on the streets.
Like, Labour, they will effectively legalise cannabis and like Labour, there is concern that this will be a gateway to legalising the use of even Class A drugs. No time here for a debate on this issue which will surely polarise and divide the country.
Politicians, the press and policing.
The main political parties are inevitably supported by sections of the press. There’s a strong argument to suggest that finding stories which criticise or ridicule police is now a priority for newspaper owners and editors be they on the right or the left of the political spectrum.
Those on the left will highlight stories of alleged police racism or corruption with no mention of police dealing with distressing incidents that involve officers frantically attempting to save the lives of BAME youths who, in London and other urban areas, are disproportionately victims of stabbings and shootings.
Newspapers on the right will highlight police who simply snatch a meal or who fail to set about extinction rebellion protestors with truncheons, dogs and pepper spray.
The drip, drip of anti-police headlines and criticism from politicians has a corrosive effect both on the officers themselves and indeed members of the public. The constant criticism from the Prime Minster downwards can only serve to embolden criminal elements to defy, abuse and attack police.
Officers are being subjected to an unprecedented level of assaults both in numbers and severity. The recent legislation that increases penalties against those who assault emergency workers appears to be having little effect, perhaps due to the fact that there is no room in our shambolic prisons.
Politicians beware; the public like the police.
The public over teh election had to endure a bidding war in terms of police numbers.” Do I hear 10,000 from Labour?” “We’ll raise you another 10,000;” “we’ll top that with an additional 2,000.” The fact is that England and Wales will still be near the bottom of the European ‘police to public ratio’ league while the spectacle of Boris attempting to gain ‘brownie points’ by ‘rescuing’ the police from the mess he helped create is frankly unedifying.
Despite the constant denigration, police, unlike politicians, have managed to retain the confidence of the majority of the public.
Policing eventually appeared on the election agenda but it says little for politicians that it took the loss of life for a terror attack to place it there.