Theresa May’s political earthquake

This week has already seen a political earthquake nothing to do with UKIP or elections. On Wednesday Theresa May addressed the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth. Frequently Home Secretaries have received a tough time form the Police Federation: heckling, laughter, slow hand claps and other forms of open scorn have all been inflicted on Labour Home Secretaries.

May a thin, yet matronly figure (though she has no children) with a fondness for conservatively fashionable clothes and designer shoes (a significantly softer, slightly posher Thatcher) might have seemed an unlikely figure to cast fear into the hearts of the frequently macho and confrontational Police Federation. She, however, politely, calmly and assuredly delivered the most devastating critique of policing produced by a Home Secretary in living memory.

Her speech started positively and even anodynely enough. Then, however, she recited the litany of problems to have beset the police in the last 30 years: Hillsborough, Stephen Lawrence, Ian Tomlinson, Plebgate. She omitted the issue of the miners strike and the Battle of the Beanfield but included the police use of Stop and Search against black people, the manipulation of the crime statistics, the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad and corruption of the Police Federation itself. She began by stating that the British model of policing by consent was in danger, challenged them to radical change and finished by reminding them that their organisation was created by statute and as such could be changed by parliament. Along the way she also ended government funding for the Federation. She also demanded they accept all the proposed Normington reforms of the Federation: something they promptly (and meekly) proceeded to do.

It is difficult to imagine a Home Secretary or their equivalent let alone a right of centre one in any country deliver the demolition job done by May. There is no doubt that the Tories have been angered by Plebgate but the litany of recent problems for the police seem to have emboldened May to make the attack. The traditional public deference and respect for the police at least in middle and upper working class communities in mainland GB now seems to be significantly diminished. The automatic assumption that the police are on the side of “decent people” (to steal a phrase from the past) has been significantly eroded.

David Walker in the Guardian has noted this as an attack on a public sector unions and that currently the government have no reason to worry about keeping the police on side but that seems to underestimate the gravity of the problem facing the police. Martin Kettle (also in the Guardian) has pointed out that unlike Labour who always feared being labelled as soft on crime, a Conservative reformer could be more radical. The fact that many of those who have suffered from the scandals May pointed to are unlikely to be natural Tories (except plebgate) or always archetypal middle class “decent people” seems relatively unimportant in the current climate of public – police distrust.

There is no doubt Theresa May felt she needed to make this speech as public concern does seem to be significant. However, in doing so she has demonstrated once again that she is a woman of very considerable political steel. With Cameron in the process of dealing with a fairly woeful set of elections and Boris Johnston still more the joker than a pretender to the throne, people have looked for alternative candidates for Tory leader. Michael Gove was at times mentioned but since Ed Milliband is regarded as potentially too geekish it is difficult to take Gove seriously as a leader (difficult enough in other ways as well). As such if the European elections prove even worse than the council elections it might be worth remembering that the Tory’s most successful Prime Minister of the last century had a fondness for designer shoes.

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  • Ruarai


    Though I think you spoiled a good post by drawing attention to May’s parenting status. Inconceivable you’d have considered it relevant that a male had no kids. Odd.

  • Turgon

    The point was matronly and it was as such relevant enough. I assure you, however, I am not interested in what you think is “spoiling” my blogs. If you want to be gratuitously offensive do it elsewhere. Alternatively try addressing the blog instead.

  • Ruarai

    Matronly, right.

    When you put it like that, the parenting status of the Home Sec is highly relevant to a review of her speech to the policing federation.

    Keep digging brother.

  • Turgon

    As Esther Addley has pointed out in The Guardian today, Mrs. May has openly and specifically spoken about this issue.

    Now address the blog or leave. Your choice.

  • megatron

    Turgon you own the opinion and not the comments section. What does “leave” even mean? Is this a place? Meta.

    To address the blog…

    It is striking how similar this is to the situation in 26 counties. Is this situation common in other jurisdictions?

  • Zig70

    I’m not a Tory supporter so my opinions are fairly worthless but here goes. Gove is a nerd, Boris a clown, can’t understand his popularity. Cameron is a populist dick who will chase ukip to the bottom. So May might have a chance. Do you think Cameron is done?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Turgon is one arsey c*nt.

  • Barnshee

    Cops federation brought it upon itself— Rank and file will now suffer for the clowns/liars who thought they were bomb proof

  • abucs

    Interesting piece Turgon. It is indeed an earthquake for such a politician to articulate the possible eroding (she said ending!!) of a large part of societies acceptance, support and identification with consent to policing. A real danger.

    Having a look at what has happened in the middle east in recent years (and of course in NI before that) as well as the shift to UKIP very recently, it would be beneficial to determine if she is correct and if so. have some understanding why it is happening.

  • babyface finlayson

    “Matronly, right.”
    Matronly usually means fat and unfashionable yet May is described here as ‘slight’ and ‘fashionable’

  • hugointerpreter

    Political Science is off the English national curriculum. The exaggerations of a pre-devolution based expenses rule book ensured the lowest general election turnout that anyone here can remember, (Tories vote). The perpetuation of image based voting behaviour is suspect, doomed or both. Victimization of English Police discrimination including a shoot to kill trend (omitted from May’s speech, but still sees her brave) is learning, but the hard way.