It’s not often that the Deep End features a ministerial speech. The reason for that is that most of them are just awful. It’s as if they’re written with no greater ambition than to give the speaker some noises to make at the podium.
But last week Theresa May gave a speech that actually mattered. The Home Secretary used it to do that most conservative of things, which was to tell her audience – in this case the Police Federation – what they didn’t want to hear:
“…if there is 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.”
What followed was extraordinary roll call of shame. It went on for some time:
“…the Leveson Inquiry. The appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the sacking of PC Harwood… The first sacking of a chief constable for gross misconduct in modern times. The investigation of more than ten senior officers for acts of alleged misconduct and corruption.
“Allegations of rigged recorded crime statistics…’Plebgate’. Worrying reports by the inspectorate about stop and search and domestic violence. The Herne Review into the conduct of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad… the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence…
“Then there is the role of the Federation itself… accusations of bullying, a lack of transparency in the accounts, questionable campaign tactics, infighting between branches, huge reserve funds worth millions of pounds, and a resounding call for change from your members…”
You can read the full charge sheet here on the Home Office website – it’s quite something. It’s also quite something for a Conservative Home Secretary to grasp the nettle of police reform with such vigour. The police service is one area of the public sector where Conservatives have traditionally outdone Labour in the indulgence of failure.
As May admitted, “it would be the easiest thing in the world for me to turn a blind eye to these matters,” but staring down her audience, there was no looking away:
“You can choose the status quo or you can choose change; you can choose irrelevance or reform; you can become another reactionary trade union or you can make sure the Police Federation becomes once more the authentic voice of policing in this country.”
Not that she intends to leave the ball entirely in their court:
“If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you… First, it is not acceptable that when the Federation is sitting on vast reserves worth tens of millions of pounds, it is in receipt of public funds to pay for the salaries and expenses of the chairman, general secretary and treasurer… 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.”
There was a lot more in this vein – again, read the whole thing.
One can only hope that the Home Secretary’s speech will inspire her colleagues to speak and act with equal clarity and fearlessness. For instance, if one were to hear anything of remotely equal significance from the Mayor of London, it would be easier to come to certain judgements about the future of the Conservative Party.