Britain’s Home Secretary has announced a package of “reforms from without” for the Police Federation, the group that represents rank and file police officers.
Speaking at the Federation’s Annual Conference in Bournemouth, Theresa May told an audience of 2000 officers she would cut their public funding, end automatic membership by officers and threatened an Act of Parliament if they did not reform themselves.
Mrs May said: “We have already said we would reduce this spending from £320,000 to £190,000 per year but I can announce today that this funding will be stopped altogether from August. Instead, the money will go into a new fund to accelerate the introduction of Police First – a new scheme designed to attract the brightest young university graduates into the police.
“If there’s anybody in this hall who doubts that our model of policing is at risk, if there is anybody who underestimates the damage recent events and revelations have done to the relationship between the public and the police, if anybody here questions the need for the police to change, I am here to tell you that it’s time to face up to reality.”
Her speech was greeted with no applause, but she took the opportunity to warn the federation to change. British police officers are not allowed to join a trade union or strike, but the Federation operates like a trade union in almost every respect.
It lobbies on behalf of members, makes public statements attacking policies it does not like, holds protest rallies, and represents members during disciplinary hearings. In recent years the actions of the Federation have led to grave concerns amongst government ministers.
Members are accused of deliberately conspiring to remove the Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell. The Chief Whip was accused of calling police at Downing Street “plebs” – an allegation that cost him his job but looks increasingly unlikely to have happened.
One officer Constable Keith Wallis has already pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office over the affair, leading to serious concerns that the police may be willing to use their powers to unseat a democratically elected official.
In light of recent problems, a number of reforms were suggested by Sir David Normington, and Theresa May was clear that if the Police Federation does not implement them, she will put them through on its behalf. She said: “I do not want to have to impose change on you, because I want you to show the public that you want to change.
“I want you to show them that you have the best interests of the police and of the public at heart.
“But make no mistake. If you do not make significant progress towards the implementation of the Normington reforms, if the Federation does not start to turn itself around, you must not be under the impression that the Government will let things remain as they are.
“The Federation was created by an Act of Parliament and it can be reformed by an Act of Parliament. If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you.”
In the speech Mrs May also confirmed that she was giving herself the right to look at ‘secondary bank accounts’, the savings of individual branches that are alleged to contain tens of millions of pounds.
The speech highlights a growing rift between Conservatives and the police. Whilst they had been traditional friends, the last Labour government fast tracked officers to senior positions who the Conservatives accused of politicising the police. The head of this list was Sir Iain Blair who, as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, even lobbied Members of Parliament in favour of government policy under Tony Blair.
Once policing had been politicised through the back-door, the Conservatives brought in Police and Crime Commissioners in order to allow the public to clip the wings of left-wing senior officers. They had hoped the Police Federation would back them against senior officers but the opposite happened.
The two sides will now spend a period attacking each other, but will probably try to come to a compromise as the current bad feeling hurts both.
If British Police believe they are being treated unfairly they can take heart that they have never served under the former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. In 2005 he fired all 30,000 traffic police in one go for corruption, and today most police stations in the country are built out of glass so the public can see what is taking place inside.