Gross Misconduct

To err is human, but to foul things up completely requires a politician. Or rather, it requires a particular kind of politician: ideologues flawed by incompetence and floored by dishonesty.

Yesterday (Jan 17th), I read a powerful article written by Danny Shaw – who was, until very recently, the BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent. Titled ‘Home Truths’, it tells a story that exemplifies so much of what has been wrong with the political leadership of this country during the last eleven years: a combination of ideology, ignorance and ineptitude, allied with a basic inability to tell the truth about almost everything. (You can read Danny’s piece in full here: https://www.dannyshaw.net/post/home-truths.)

Let me try to explain why it resonated so strongly with me.

From 2010-2018, the Government cut 44,000 officers and staff from policing in England & Wales. It was a conscious, deliberate political choice – one with consequences that were as predictable as they were devastating.

From the outset, police officers tried to warn politicians about all that would follow. But their concerns were dismissed with contempt. Infamously, Theresa May accused them of ‘crying wolf’. Later on, whenever the government’s approach to policing was challenged or criticised, the political response was to circle the wagons and repeat the mantra that ‘crime is down and police reform is working’. But the fundamental problem with that statement was that neither part of it was true.

Which brings me to Danny’s excellent article.

In early 2018, nationwide surges in violent crime (particularly knife crime) were becoming a source of widespread public concern. And it was clear to all with any knowledge or understanding of the subject that there was a direct connection between rising crime and falling police numbers. Clear to all except the politicians that is. Their response was one of denial and deceit.

In April 2018, Amber Rudd – Theresa May’s successor as Home Secretary – tried to suggest that “the evidence does not bear out claims that resources are to blame for rising violence”. It was a remarkable statement – one that defied both common sense and the professional experience of generations of police officers. More than that though, it was a direct contradiction of an assessment made by Ms Rudd’s own department.

The problem for anyone wanting to hold the Home Secretary to account was the repeated refusal by the Home Office to release the relevant analysis. It took Danny Shaw almost three years to compel them to do so – at a cost of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer. Towards the end of his article, Danny writes this:

“It was an unpalatable truth [that there was indeed a connection between police numbers and crime numbers], too politically toxic to be told… and the Home Office used the courts to try to stop it gaining currency.”

As a conclusion, it could hardly be more damning.

But, actually, the deceit is not the worst thing. All the available evidence suggests that people have died as a consequence of the government’s failures (not only in relation to policing) – and that is worse by far.

There is one thing that David Cameron and Theresa May were right about: that there was (and still is) a clear and compelling need for police reform in this country. But they were wrong about practically everything they did in response to that need. They were driven by ideology (not least the view that the police were ‘the last unreformed public service’ – a problem in need of fixing) rather than by evidence and experience. They paid attention to the voices of those with little or no understanding of the realities of policing (not least the self-titled ‘four horsemen of the police reform apocalypse’), while dismissing the voices of those who actually knew what they were talking about. They developed and encouraged an extraordinarily hostile public narrative about policing – one lacking any semblance of balance or integrity. And, when faced with inconvenient truths about the consequences of their actions, they responded with rebuttals and lies.

All of this has meant that the current government has spent a fair proportion of the last eighteen months scrambling desperately to repair the damage done during the preceding decade.

  • In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced urgent plans to recruit 20,000 ‘new’ police officers. In political terms, this alone was a spectacular admission of the abject failures of his immediate predecessors (who had managed to cut c.21,000 in the space of just eight years).
  • At the start of this year, it was announced that changes to police bail – introduced by the government in 2017 in the face of repeated warnings that it was a bad idea – were being abandoned. As Fiona Hamilton reported in the Times newspaper on Jan 13th, “an overhaul intended to speed up the system instead made police investigations longer and left victims at increased risk.” She quotes an unnamed Chief Constable who described the 2017 reforms as a “cautionary tale of ideology driving policy”. (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/reforms-to-police-bail-that-left-victims-at-risk-will-be-scrapped-2mdzzmxk5)
  • In today’s Times, Fiona has written a separate piece about a warning given to the Home Office fully 18 months ago, concerning a lack of investment in ‘creaking’ police databases that is putting the public at ‘significant risk’. (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/home-office-warned-of-creaking-police-database-khmtnspgc)

And so it goes on. Governments that fail to learn from the mistakes of the past – and then compound the problem with a repeated refusal to acknowledge that those mistakes were ever made – are destined to repeat them. And the public are placed at risk as a consequence.

It is a truth that troubles me more than I can say.

There’s a great deal being written at the moment about the way politicians have been handling the response to the pandemic, and about the way they have been handling the realities of Brexit. Their dealings with both have given rise to overwhelming levels of concern – not least about their basic competence and their ability to be honest with the public they serve. Of course, there are epidemiologists and economists far more qualified than me to talk about those things, but when I consider the way politicians have been handling policing in recent years, it’s hard not to detect a pattern.

10 thoughts on “Gross Misconduct

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  1. It is a sad that even today, no politician will acknowledge the below. The level of arrogance and denial is breathtaking. I have recently retired from the Job and moved to NZ, it is like a breath of fresh air in so many ways.

    Regards

    Dale Townsend

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  2. It is the complete absence of integrity in successive governments that have divided and broken the UK. It is a tragedy. I retired from the Met in 2005 after 30 years and moved to Greece. I feel, with great sadness, really detached from the UK now, I can no longer identify with the way it is governed. Lies and deceit delivered Brexit and removed my EU citizenship rights. I am however fortunate to be of a privileged generation and can lead a happy and fulfilled life. I think recent governments will cause the break up of the UK within the next 10 to 20 years and this may be (ironically) the only benefit of all that has happened politically since 2010. We shall see.

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  3. Food for thought as always. There is something creeping across the world that is causing animosity and distrust of police forces, encouraging bribery and corruption (I am thinking of the country I live in), and lessening the respect citizens have of the very people they call on in times of need – and then expect to be assisted and protected.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We have forever been considered blue collar workers by politicians and therefore our opinions don’t matter because after all, what do we know. In my 36 years of policing I came across some incredibly bright people so to suggest that we don’t know what we’re talking about in our own field of expertise and that we’re not eloquent enough to put our points across is simply preposterous, supercilious and arrogant as well as a recipe for disaster, but then again they are doing it to the scientists with the pandemic though as you quite rightly state we cannot profess to be experts in that field. I’ll leave you with an anecdote. In 2011 when police ‘reform’ ie cuts was high on the political agenda I was at the SCC. Traditionally the Home Secretary has always attended and addressed the course, which is after all composed of future police leaders. On this occasion the then Home Secretary Theresa May refused to attend and only agreed to a delegation of four seeing her in her office. I’ll let you mull on that. All I can say is that my UK colleagues were seriously unimpressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another point is that it’s apparently not force recruitment advertising that is being prioritized. It’s “HM Government” recruitment ads on TV that always mention the 20,000.

    It’s not as if the average recruit will apply for more than one job. I’m a cynic, but it grates with me that even in reversing this disastrous policy a party political point is being made at public expense.

    How many other mass recruitment campaigns ever mention the total number?

    And how long will the training and loss of past experience still cast a shadow over this literal half reversal of numbers, or the other CJS cuts in courts, probation service and forensic science that also have had a knock on effect on police workloads.

    We could add social services and mental health provision as contributory factors as well. You don’t have to be a Guardian reading liberal to see the thin blue line being stretched as the service of last resort.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What is needed is a fundamental reform of the selection process for politicians, the creation of a code of ethics and standards they must work to and an effective disciplinary code – with an independent investigation and enforcement process – capable of restoring public confidence. At the moment we all feel we are being led by incompetents whose only skill is to fool enough to the electorate to vote them into power. Once in power, they have neither the leadership skills or the integrity to stay in office and yet they do, through deceit, through dishonesty and by simply pulling the wool over people’s eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s the lack of basic competence amongst our elected politicians that worries me. I’ve seen politicians who are meant to be some of the ‘brightest and best’ demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of how things work and of the need for people to do the dull but necessary, work of writing and implementing policy. How do we get out of this situation? I don’t know but I am tending towards thinking we need a root and branch reform of our political system. An introduction of a form of proportional representation and limits on how long someone can serve in parliament would be a start. I’d favour no politician being allowed to serve for more that three terms and then at least two terms out of Parliament, if a ‘healthy churn, is good for the police then it must be good for the political class.
    To put it bluntly I think we are in trouble in the UK. Brexit was handled badly and the pandemic is probably the worst government failure in over a century.
    As Kipling put it in his ‘Epitaph to a Statesman’

    I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?
    from EPITAPHS OF THE WAR 1914-18”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with the overall tenor of your article but I would challenge your statement about all the warnings given by police officers when the cuts were announced. Those comments I read came from chief officers saying (repeatedly) we can absorb these cuts without impacting frontline capability!
    However, I have long suspected that the long term intention of civil service strategy is to bring the police service under the direct control of the Home Office. They have now severed the local control with elected councillors with the abolition of police authorities and replaced them with the failing post of Police and Crime Commissioners. When they finally decide to kill off that post the only option will be to centralise/nationalise control. If they follow the strategy of the past ten years, this will also be dreamed up outside the boundaries of a manifesto or a Royal Commission.
    I joined the service in Kent in 1967 and left in early 1984. It is not a service I could imagine joining in the 21st century.

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