By Tim Montgomerie
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When Theresa May spoke to the Police Federation a month ago she was heckled and jeered. The Federation described the cuts in police budgets as "criminal" and made the Home Secretary stand in front of a banner proclaiming that message. Newspapers described the Federation's conference as hysterical, militant, rude and a pantomime.
But if police officers thought that the Home Secretary could be intimidated they underestimated her, as many do. The media is reporting this morning that Mrs May wants Tom Winsor to run Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring police performance and, essentially, it examines incompetence and corruption. He has emerged from a screening process overseen by the civil service and Mrs May's preference has the backing of the Prime Minister (Times (£)). It will be the first time that someone from outside the police service has ever taken on the job. Mrs May sees that as an advantage. The Police Federation fears that they will be accountable to someone who doesn't understand their role.
Tom Winsor is, of course, no ordinary outsider. He's the author of the report that caused much of the fuss with the Police Federation in the first place. He has called for the police to have to undergo regular fitness tests, to no longer be protected from redundancy and to lose some of their pension benefits. One of his reforms has been nicknamed the Paddick reform. It will mean police officers cannot retire on a full pension until they are aged sixty. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor, retired at 49 on a police pension of £83,778 plus a very large lump sum. That's offensive to hard-pressed taxpayers who worry about the nature of modern policing.
You can argue that the Coalition is taking on too many vested interests all at once and that is a reasonable concern. There is nonetheless a broad consensus – and not just in the Conservative Party – that the police are Britain's most unreformed public service. The police's system of pay dates from the 1920s. Appointing Winsor to this role is certainly a stakes-raiser but it's a gutsy choice by the Home Secretary and the highly effective policing minister, Nick Herbert.
I guess The TaxPayers' Alliance's Matthew Elliott will also be encouraged. He recently argued that it is essential that Conservatives use their time in government to fill key public sector posts with people with reforming outlooks and sound worldviews. Appointments are often more important than policies because the people who occupy positions of power will be setting policy and choosing how to implement policy for years to come. When Blair was in power he had eight people working on appointments – partly because the Left has always understood the importance of Gramsci's order to march through the institutions. My understanding is that Cameron has just one person undertaking the same role. Perhaps that helps explain why an ex-Labour man is set to be the new DG of the BBC. Cameron should remember that old dictum that "staff is policy". It's something that Mrs May seems to understand.