I missed the news yesterday that the government has u-turned on having directly elected members on police authorities.
I cannot deny that I think this particular u-turn is good news – just the other day I highlighted the petition on the Number 10 website against it. But I’m also a bit shocked by Jacqui Smith’s comments.
Apparently her decision was motivated by her desire to avoid ‘politicising’ the police. This shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness by the Home Secretary, since I can’t think of any government who have been more responsible for politicising the police than the one in which she serves.
She even tries to pin the blame for this on Boris Johnson and Damien Green. Boris, she claims, was wrong to have no confidence in Sir Ian Blair. Given the number of times Sir Ian was in the news for the wrong reasons I would have thought the Mayor’s lack of confidence entirely rational. And then to suggest that Damien Green somehow provoked the police into arresting him by receiving a Home Office leak beggars belief.
Above all I’m shocked by her comments because she is just plain wrong about politics; she seems to think that politics are somehow bad or sordid and should be avoided wherever possible. Now this might be because she is a rare self-loathing politician, or, more likely, she wants to keep policing power centralised in the Home Office.
In fact, politics are about matching public resources to public priorities. The police are no different. They have to follow the priorities set down for them, whether by legislation or government policy. The problem is that these priorities are set far too far away from the people who will have their own views on what they should be; on one street it might be anti-social behaviour, on one estate it might be a spate of car crime. People want and need a way of having a dialogue with the police to express these priorities and hear what the police are doing, and a way of passing judgement on what they see happening.
And some of the best people at communicating with their communities are their local politicians, it’s what they do – they listen to their residents, the act on their behalf, and then they are answerable at the ballot box.
The Home Secretary shouldn’t be worrying about politicisation of the police force, she’s already part of that. What she should be worried about is that the politicisation she’s overseen is one of increasing centralist control, and she’s not doing anything to move power back towards the people.