UK

Police Federation reforms: Which direction will they take?

Theresa May Image copyright PA
Image caption Home Secretary Theresa May announced an end to to state funding of the Police Federation

Never has the Police Federation had a week like this.

First came a report from the Home Affairs Committee, which described a culture of bullying and unprofessional conduct at the federation.

Damian Green, the policing minister, responded by calling for "root and branch" reform.

Next, on the eve of conference, the BBC uncovered a fresh allegation of bullying involving senior officials.

That was followed by more revelations about "plebgate" - the row which escalated after then chief whip Andrew Mitchell was prevented from bicycling through Downing Street's main gate - and the dismissal of a police officer, the fourth to be sacked over the affair.

And then - just a few hours before federation members voted overwhelmingly to adopt a programme of reform - Theresa May twisted the knife, reeling off a list of policing scandals, announcing an end to state funding of the federation and warning that further change must follow.

Mrs May's speech, delivered with steely confidence, was further evidence that the Cabinet minister with banana skin-proof footwear is a serious potential successor to David Cameron.

In June, she'll become the longest-serving home secretary since Rab Butler more than half-a-century ago - no mean achievement given her difficult brief.

'Punch bag'

But there was more to Theresa May's address than politics.

The Police Federation, it seems, had acted as a punch bag for all those policing failings that had brought the service into disrepute.

Have a go at the "fed" and you have a go at the police - after all, the organisation does represent 95% of officers.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The federation must vote to replace its chairman Steve Williams, who is to retire

Another view was that the police officer's "union", as it's often referred to, had it coming.

Embarrass successive home secretaries - Labour, as well as Conservative - by slow-hand-clapping, booing or mocking them and you'll get your comeuppance.

However, it leaves the relationship between the government and the police at its lowest ebb for at least 20 years, since Ken Clarke tried - and failed - to push through the controversial Sheehy reforms to officers' pay and conditions.

Sir Peter Fahy, the highly-regarded chief constable of the Greater Manchester force, who agreed with much of Mrs May's address, said he couldn't remember relations being any worse.

The question of how to re-build those bridges is linked to the scale and pace of the reforms the federation has agreed to embark on.

Move clearly and swiftly, and minsters will be keen to align themselves with a forward-looking organisation.

Fudging and procrastinating, on the other hand, will incur further wrath and lead to change being imposed on the federation.

So which direction will it be?

Much depends on who the federation's joint central committee chooses to be its new chairman to replace Steve Williams, who's retiring to spend more time in Wales with his young family.

'Too close to call'

There are two candidates: Mr Williams' 45-year-old deputy, Steve White, an inspector from Avon and Somerset police; and Will Riches, 39, a constable in the Metropolitan force.

Mr White is regarded as the more progressive of the two and couldn't disguise his delight when the conference voted to approve the reform package.

He has more extensive policing experience than his challenger, having served as a firearms response officer and in VIP protection during his 26 years' service.

Mr Riches, on the other hand, is an astute operator whose speech to the conference about the need for "sound judgment" rather than "sound-bites" struck a chord.

He has promised to "deliver" reform, but it'll probably take longer under his watch.

The election is too close to call - supporters of both candidates have claimed they're going to win.

There are 30 votes up for grabs. And if the poll is tied at 15-all, lots will be drawn to determine the winner.

It may not come to that - but if such a bizarre and arbitrary method is used to decide the future direction of the organisation it'll be further ammunition for Mrs May and the federation's other critics whose voices have been heard loud and clear during the past seven days.

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