I d been interviewing Sir John Stevens about his celebrated Report when I first met Hugh Orde in New Scotland Yard on the day his appointment as Chief Constable was announced. He seemed like Lewis to Stevens Morse, (its terrible when even chief constables seem young). I got to know him slightly as an easy and friendly communicator even when he wasnt telling you anything much. I wondered how hed fare in the political vipers nest that was post-Agreement Northern Ireland. My verdict has to be, very well. Should he now take his old mentors post? Well, his experience of accountability is unmatched, direct to a Prime Minister, a Secretary of State, a Police Oversight Commissioner. a Police Ombudsman, a Policing Board- and eventually one day, a Policing Minister of whatever title, plus the accompanying Assembly committee . So you could say hes handled politicians a lot more contrary than Boris Johnson. Is he keen on the top job? Is the Pope a Catholic? Saying he would wait and see what happens after seven years in post sounds like a job application to me – and to be fair, he’s never hidden his ambition for it. How is he as a commander? From what I can gather, he wasnt quite one of us, as an Englishman. But then his Englishness had its uses as he was building a virtually new force, based on the highly controversial 50:50 recruitment principle from the Patten reforms. If you can navigate round the elephant traps of NIs kind of diversity you can tackle the English equivalent. How good was he at tackling crime? Reported crime may only scratch the surface, but he makes a vigorous defence of the fledgling forces record. What about gaffes and banana skins? He survived trial by media for the standard tabloid offence, hardly the first cop to fall in that way. What could be more damaging with the right is his curious remarks about talking to al Qaida. In one sense of course the job is much easier now. Mercifully he and the whole community have been spared another Omagh, although low-intensity terrorism dogs us yet. (Ironically Ronnie Flanagan is mentioned as a possible runner but the legacy of Omagh and his present supervisory role would I guess rule him out, although he would be excellent in the job).
The Chief Constable role is more political than ever, balanced between the two camps. Orde was able to act as ring master to full IRA decommissioning and take the politicians with him. Remarkably no call to resign seems to have stuck. For NIs sake, should he stay or should he go? The PSNI have one more big reform left to digest, the devolution of policing and justice. Now might be the time to appoint a NI -born chief before the powers are transferred so that all parties can face up to the full reality of policing by Irishmen and women. For the London job, Orde has had good practice in drawing the line between accountability and political interference. In the circumstances of Ian Blair’s resignation, that certainly runs in his favour. Somehow though, I feel his time is not this time.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London