17 February 2022
Keeps away from trouble.
By John Watson
It is the hallmark of good managers that when those who they appoint are struggling they give support and help rather than seeking to keep clear of the blame by distancing themselves and adding to the chorus of criticism. It is for that reason that Boris Johnson’s promise of further reshuffles to give his administration momentum demonstrates a disappointing shallowness. It is also for that reason that Sadiq Khan’s effective sacking of Cressida Dick demonstrates that he is not fit to hold the office of Mayor.
I am no expert on the Met but clearly Ms Dick has considerable talents. For a start she has always been popular with the force, not a body which it is easy for a gay woman officer to impress. Again she was recruited from the foreign office, to which she had moved, over the heads of internal candidates. They don’t do that unless they really want somebody and Dick with her Oxford degree and Cambridge masters clearly had the intellectual firepower for the top job. And, my word, has she needed it, having fought the police’s corner over the last five years on everything from budgeting to the tactics against moped gangs and dealt with the crises which inevitably arise in such a difficult job. What she has not succeeded in doing is changing the culture of the force, turning the testosterone-driven atmosphere which pervades some police stations into something a bit milder and more constructive through some form of lib-demisation process.
And how much of a surprise is that? The toxic canteen culture which has infected parts of the Met has been there a very long time and commissioner after commissioner has failed to eradicate it, even after the focus put on it by the MacPherson report. What does that mean? That a new determined leader is called for? We have had plenty of those and it does not seem to have worked. Surely it is time to accept what Sir Peter Fahy, a former chief constable for Greater Manchester Police, says; that the view that replacing the Commissioner will change the culture of the police is “naive”. No, something far more fundamental is required and that will mean politicians and leaders of the force working together to change the structure of policing. In last week’s Shaw Sheet this column suggested that recruitment was probably the crucial area but no doubt there are others as well. It is surely the moment for all those involved in the governance of the force to put their shoulders to the wheel.
And yet Khan has taken a different course. Well, put yourself in his position, what might you do to keep away from the difficult areas, shelter from the blame, keep the political record untarnished and avoid getting too close to policy initiatives which might end in failure? Any thoughts? Would you begin, perhaps, by asking Ms Dick how she proposed to deal with the cultural problems within the police? That is an obvious step 1, combining, as it does, ostensible concern with the exertion of pressure. Then might you suggest that whatever she proposes is not enough, that you have no confidence in it or whatever? That is step 2. Then personalise that into no confidence in Ms Dick herself and off she goes. Job done. Reputation for being tough established without political risk and, better still, the job of finding a successor being for the Home Secretary, a good opportunity to start sneering again when the new commissioner finds that without proper political support the job is impossible.
I really do hope that Mr Khan does not think like that and perhaps he doesn’t, at least consciously. His reaction of forcing the Commissioner’s resignation, however, is a disappointing one and it is a great shame that he did not decide to work with Ms Dick and the Home Secretary to try to develop a strategy to drive reform.
Still, the milk has been well and truly spilt now and perhaps that can be used as a catalyst leading to a solution of this very long-standing problem. It won’t be the selection of a new Commissioner which does it, Fahy is right about that. Nor will it be more training and courses; that has been tried before. Nor stuff about recruiting from minorities, worthy though that may be up to a point. What is needed is a long and thoughtful look at the structure of policing and how to bridge the gap between the attitudes in the force and what is expected by those outside it. That is the cultural difference which needs to be analysed, tackled and dealt with, and Ms Patel should set up the necessary Royal Commission or whatever. Its membership would no doubt be drawn from the ranks of the great and good with senior representatives from the main political parties. Interest groups and representatives of the various communities would have to be heard but as witnesses rather than members. And above all the focus should be on working up a solution rather than apportioning blame – so perhaps Mr Kahn should be kept well away from it.
Tile photo by King’s Church International on Unsplash