She gave them generous pay and pension deals, let them move out of the communities they policed (providing a certain amount of anonymity – people no longer knew their local Bobby personally), and put them in patrol cars rather than on the beat. In return, she was able to rely on their loyalty.
The same cannot be said today. Current Home Secretary Theresa May wants you to think the police service is out of control.
In fact, it isn’t. The problem for Ms May, whose position on human rights makes it clear that she wants to be able to use the force as a tool of repression, is that our constables have found better ways of upholding the law.
This is why May’s tough talk on reforming the police rings hollow. She wants to break the power of the Police Federation, our constabularies’ trade union – but her attack is on terms which it is already working to reform.
She has demanded that the Federation must act on the 36 recommendations of the Normington Report on Police Federation Reform in what appears to be a bid to make it seem controversial.
But the report was commissioned by the Federation itself, not by the Home Office. It acknowledges problems with the organisation that may affect the wider role of the police and makes 36 recommendations for reform – whether the Home Secretary demands it or not.
One is left with the feeling that Ms May is desperate to make an impression. She has been very keen to point out that crime has fallen since she became Home Secretary – but this is part of a trend since Labour took office in the mid-1990s. Labour brought in neighbourhood policing, police community support officers, antisocial behaviour laws, improved technology and (more controversially) the DNA database. These resulted from Labour politicians working together with the police, not imposing ideas on them from above; they brought the police back into the community.
Theresa May’s work includes her time-wasting vanity project to elect ‘police and crime commissioners’, and her time-wasting project to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency with the almost-identical National Crime Agency.
She has taken a leaf from the Liberal Democrat book by claiming credit for changes that had nothing to do with her, suggesting that police reform only began when she became Home Secretary in 2010.
Is it this attitude to history that informs Michael Gove’s attempts to revise our attitude towards the First World War, as was reported widely a few months ago? If so, it is an approach that is doomed to failure and derision, as Mr Gove learned to his cost. Ms May deserves no better.
There is much that is wrong with the police service – and most of that is due to interference from Conservative governments.
Thankfully, with the service and the Police Federation already working to resolve these issues, all Ms May can do is grumble from the sidelines where she belongs.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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