What game is Hugh Orde playing, other than that of the cool statesmanlike top policeman who has got the best grip of any police chief on the rioting since it went nationwide? One day, he’s popping up on TV to tell us how he’s fixing the deployment of outside forces into London, the next day he’s rejecting media and politicians’ calls for plastic bullets ( baton rounds) and water cannon from Belfast to be used on English streets. Careful to remind us he attends the Cobra meetings, he’s championing operational police independence at a time when it has come under question as never before.
Reports say Theresa May quashed David Cameron’s hankering to appoint a former NYand LA PD chief to head up the Met which has seen two commissioners toppled in two years – an idea Orde boldly described as “simply stupid.”
Once again he has shown himself to be by far the most articulate policeman around at a time when several officers of chief constable rank are making lengthy statements to camera to defend their tactics. Hugh of course has the great advantage of not actually being in charge of a police force at the moment while still being able to command an enviable publicity platform as head of ACPO. He has pointed out that baton rounds and water cannon are used to achieve distance between rioters and the police. This a tactic that doesn’t apply to the hit and run behaviour of the young English rioters. However the door is not quite closed: if rioters’ tactics change, so can the police’s.
What he can’t afford to say is that if the cops go in mobhanded they might create a whole new cycle of street violence. If rioting persists and political pressure further mounts, the fine line to tread on the streets and in the control rooms will come under further pressure. It’s worth keeping an eye on for tomorrow’s debate in the Commons recall.
Is Hugh speaking out because he’s got nothing to lose or is he making another bid for the top job? He will know that Cameron, May, Boris Johnson and co will be relying mainly on their political instincts to fill a vacancy which has opened up for the third time in three years. Their experience of and feel for street unrest is severely limited. Police leadership is therefore at a premium, more than ever. This time a faltering commissioner could bring down those who appointed him or her.
I believe Hugh Orde has got the measure of the Met and is more than an undoubtedly smooth talker. I wish him luck.
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