Divisions over Sir Hugh Orde for the Met's top job

Sir Hugh Orde
Image caption Sir Hugh Orde is the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers

The home secretary and London's mayor could trigger a fresh controversy over policing if they block front-runner Sir Hugh Orde from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's job.

It is understood Sir Hugh, the former head of policing in Northern Ireland, has emerged after the first round of interviews as the man best-equipped to head the capital's police force.

It will put Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson in a difficult position if they are reluctant to appoint the outspoken president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, especially after his recent clashes with ministers over the recent riots.

The pair could face criticism - and revive the debate about politicisation of policing - if they reject the best candidate for the job.

Some say it could also have an impact on confidence in the Met's leadership during a crucial time, leading up to the Olympics.

Last week a panel of Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) members interviewed Sir Hugh and three other candidates, Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin, former Merseyside chief Bernard Hogan-Howe and Strathclyde's Chief Constable, Stephen House.

It recommended that only Sir Hugh and Mr Hogan-Howe go forward to be interviewed by the home secretary and the mayor.

But they ignored that recommendation and decided to see all four candidates. The interviews are being held on Monday.

Press speculation has focused on a "battle" between Mrs May and Mr Johnson over who should get the job.

But that would appear to disguise a bigger problem which unites, not divides them: how to credibly resist Sir Hugh's claims to the post if he has demonstrated the most experience and suitability during a tough selection process.

Impressive interview

One City Hall source said: "MPA members who interviewed Sir Hugh Orde said he was very impressive.

"It will raise serious issues, including questions about fairness and transparency, if they are ignored and the home secretary appoints whom she wants regardless."

The Queen will formally appoint the new Commissioner after a recommendation from Theresa May once the home secretary has consulted with the mayor and the MPA.

The constitution does not dictate what weight she gives to different parts of the selection process, only that she has "regard" to the views of the mayor and MPA.

Two years ago Sir Hugh Orde was beaten to the top job by Sir Paul Stephenson after the enforced resignation of Sir Ian Blair.

The then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, MPA members and the mayor were all agreed on the choice.

But this time the dynamics are different.

Sir Hugh is said to have the most experience and to have performed much better in interview than last time.

His main rival Mr Hogan-Howe was drafted in from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary over the summer to be temporary deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police after the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson over the hacking scandal.

Stephen House was asked to apply for the job by home office officials impressed by the work done in Strathclyde to tackle gangs.

But according to one source, he is "not ready for Britain's top police job".

Current acting commissioner Tim Godwin has proved popular with many MPA members, but may have suffered over criticisms of the police handling of last month's disturbances across the capital.

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