It might appear that there was never a time when Plebgate and Andrew Mitchell weren’t in the news. One of the most tawdry episodes in public life for years just keeps rolling along, with the developments in the last week of two arrests made in relation to the evidence of the confrontation.

 

It would appear that politicians past and present have no limit to the hypocrisy and spin that they will go to in order to make their point. The Newsnight piece on Plebgate last night was another case in point. Even though Mike Pannett and the new PCC of Surrey, Kevin Hurley did their best to add balance, there was a great deal of bias shown. Even the presenter Kirsty Wark resorted to a gratuitous snipe about the average wage of police officers being over £40k. It’d be a bit like saying that the average wage of Tesco employees is £40k. That might be correct mathematically but it’s a simply misleading way of representing pay levels. I don’t know how Newsnight arrived at that figure but I would wager that it is statistically distorted by higher wages of Chief Inspector and above.

 

Even if there are police constables out there earning over £40k then that’s because they work (at a guess) 500-750 hours a year of directed overtime on top of normal hours. Police work doesn’t pay a shift premium as such, unlike other jobs out there, so now ask yourself – would you work on average a 60 hour week of shifts, getting sworn at, spat at, punched, kicked, stabbed and shot at – for £40k? Also, and this was the point Newsnight conveniently glossed over, would you startdoing that for £19k?

 

Lord Baker mentioned the police becoming politicised. Well fancy that, a public service that fights back in the face of idiotic and ruthless idealogical reform. Lord Baker mentioned the conduct and political conduct of the Federation. Oh, the irony. From a former MP.

 

(At least 7 MPs have been convicted of criminal offences in the last 2 years to my knowledge, not including the House of Lords. That’s a little over 1%. Equivalent to around 1400 convictions of police officers. Where’s the moral high ground now?)

 

Lord Baker mentioned on Newsnight that the police don’t like this Government. I can’t imagine a greater misconception. It’s not that police don’t like this Government, it’s that the police recognise that this Government doesn’t understand the job, doesn’t understand what it takes, and doesn’t respect those that do it.

 

Exhibit 1 is this speech in 2006 by David Cameron. In it we find these gems:

“The truth is we won’t deal with crime until we reform the police.”

“You can’t be tough on crime unless you’re tough on police reform.”

 

Ah. So never mind what causes crime in the first place, or any sort of cohesive social policy. It’s the police’s fault. We really shouldn’t expect much more from a man who’s spent the first half of his time as Prime Minister blaming everything on Labour. People are now having to use food banks (up sixfold since 2010) and South Yorkshire police report an increase in people shoplifting basic provisions like food. Never mind that. That’s Big Society in action. Let’s reform the police instead.

 

“This year, each police officer, on average, will make under 10 arrests. That’s not even one a month.”

 

Here we start to see the real nub of the problem; the lack of understanding of the role. I suspect, but I don’t know, that he simply took the number of arrests and divided it by the number of officers. Quite apart from the fact that arrests do not define police work, there are large numbers of officers who are not in roles which make arrests. Everyone above the rank of Inspector, for instance. Officers recovering from long-term injuries in the line of duty. Officers in specialist roles.

 

“Police officers are relatively well paid – better, in fact, than teachers or nurses.”

 

I don’t want to put teachers or nurses down. They do a fantastic job. My wife is a teacher. But teachers don’t work shifts. Nurses do, but they are relatively unlikely to be killed or seriously assaulted at work. Neither treads a fine line between putting criminals in the dock, or ending up there themselves. You could in fact argue, that a police officer has to have parts of the role of teacher and nurse, plus a few others besides. The Tories don’t get that though. Police, teachers, nurses are – as far as this Government are concerned – a financial drag on the economy.

 

“Some officers today have second jobs. In one force, as many as one in fifteen are in this position.”

 

Notice the perjorative language. President Obama would praise hard-working Americans who struggle on, holding down two, three or four jobs in order to pay their way. Not here. Not if you’re a police officer. That’s bad, somehow. And in order to prove it, he’ll mention that less than 7% of officers, in one of forty-three forces, are holding down second jobs. And of course, he doesn’t mention that this is usually with the written consent of the Chief Constable.

 

“So the fifth priority in reforming police pay and conditions should be to insist that policing is a full time occupation in all but exceptional cases.”

 

Like, for example, being an MP? Or a Police and Crime Commissioner? His government have allowed Police and Crime Commissioners to take a salary from the public purse of around £70k per year, and they don’t even insist it’s a full time role to run the police!

 

“So enhanced entry schemes should make it possible for talented people and professionals to join the police later in their careers and at all ranks.”

 

Lest we forget, the Hillsborough disaster was caused by the incompetence of the scene commanders in their mismanagement of the crowds, and was covered up by senior managers too by removing any criticism of management from officers statements. That’s going to improve by parachuting in the winner of the 2013 Apprentice is it? Again, they don’t understand the role.

 

Possibly the most important thing to note is this: the speech was given in 2006, before the financial crash. At a time when debt as a percentage of GDP was lower than when Labour came to office. Public finances were in good shape, relatively speaking. So these reforms are not about cutting the deficit. They never were. This was always going to happen, crash or no crash.

 

Exhibit 2 is Theresa May. National Policing Conference, 29th June 2010

 

“But targets don’t fight crime; targets hinder the fight against crime. In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime. No more, and no less.”

 

16th August 2011 just after the riots around the country.

“As Home Secretary, I’ve been clear from the beginning that the test of the effectiveness of the police, the sole objective against which they will be judged, the way in which communities should be able to hold them to account, is their success in cutting crime. I haven’t asked the police to be social workers, I haven’t set them any performance indicators, and I haven’t given them a thirty point plan, I’ve told them to cut crime.”

 

In the same speech, I found this:-

 

“This is one reason why, in addition to his work on pay and conditions, I commissioned Tom Winsor to produce a second report into the long-term future of policing. As part of this second report, I asked him to consider how we can introduce direct entry into the police – including the most senior police ranks – so that suitably qualified outsiders may apply.”

 

Note, not “should we”, or “might it be a good idea if” or “will it damage the service” but“how can we do it“! Winsor’s much trumpeted “independent” report was nothing but a front to see how they could crowbar their preconceived notions into the service.

 

This is where ignorance turns to arrogance;

 

“Earlier this year, when I scrapped the last remaining police targets, I told commanding officers: “I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a thirty-point plan; it is to cut crime.”

 

One chief constable, who has since retired, told the media afterwards that they only spent about a third of their time dealing with crime, and that the job wasn’t as simple as “just catching criminals.”

 

Well I couldn’t be any clearer: cutting crime is the only test of a police force and catching criminals is their job.

 

And when people have the power to hold the police to account through elections, any commissioner or chief constable who doesn’t cut crime will soon find themselves looking for a new job.”

So – May has been told. “It’s not that simple”, from the horse’s mouth. A Chief Constable. She acknowledges that she’s been told. But she ignores the experience and opinion of those who know, and presses on regardless.

 

During the recent floods, police intervened to keep people safe. But according to Mrs May, that’s not their job. Their job is to cut crime. No more, no less.

 

And in this year’s speech to the Police Federation Conference, in the context of mental health;

 

“And we have also agreed to consider the transfer of commissioning of all police health services to the NHS as soon as possible. That means health professionals will look after mentally ill offenders and victims, not the police – because that is their job, not yours.

 

I don’t want police officers doing other people’s jobs – the police are crime-fighters and that is the job I want them doing.”

 

Again – a clear demonstration that she does not understand the job. When a person is suspected of involvement in a crime, it’s the crime (the police’s job, according to Mrs May) that gets priority. Any information regarding mental health comes later. Sometimes much later. So – does the police officer walk away at this point? Of course not. It’s this kind of “fine on paper but lacking in detail, and unworkable in practice” that we are seeing more and more.

 

“But the crime fighters will remain police officers, patrolling will not be privatised and policing will remain a public service, accountable to the people and carried out by consent.

 

It will only ever be police officers who make arrests; it will only ever be police officers who lead investigations; and it will only ever be police officers who direct policing operations.” [emphasis added]

 

Patrolling has already been, in part, privatised. Police forces have been, and continue to, put work out to private tender which includes patrolling, detaining suspects, and investigative work. Notice the neat little qualifiers “lead” and “direct” in that quotation.

 

Going back to Newsnight – it’s not that the police don’t “like” this Government, as Lord Baker put it. The police recognise that they are fighting for their very survival. Fighting against an arrogant Government that does not understand the job and refuses to listen. Public safety is being put at risk. If the police did not fight against that, they would not be doing their jobs.

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